OU students and alumni spoke out against racial oppression and radicalized violence in an Instagram Live event hosted by OU’s African Women’s League Friday.
"A Call to Understanding Race and Prejudice" — streamed on the African Student Association’s Instagram — was hosted by Tatenda N.C. Dzvimbo, OU’s African Women’s League founder and president, and Joy Atakpo, president of the African Student Association. Miles Francisco, former president and co-founder of OU's Black Emergency Response Team, and OU alumnus Eduardo Campbell also spoke at the event.
The conversation comes as OU faces its own complicated history of racist incidents including blackface and professors using racial slurs. BERT organized a sit-in at Evans Hall in response to the incident involving OU professor Peter Gade.
During the event, the speakers outlined ways in which systemic racism affects society.
Francisco said police officers are often acquitted of murder charges in police brutality cases because the American justice system was built to criminalize black and marginalized people.
“These systems are not broken. They are working exactly as they were intended to work,” Francsico said.
Campbell, an Afro-Latino person from Panama, said he became more aware of his racial identity when he came to the U.S.
“Back (in Panama), people have this idea that racism doesn't exist because we are a mixed society,” Campbell said. “In the U.S., (racism) is more graphic. You can see it more. … For the first time, I realized I had to be careful of what I do, or do not do, because of my blackness.”
Campbell said it is difficult for him to believe that a country with deeply-rooted racism is allied with black people.
“Systemic racism does not allow people who look like us to have a comfortable life, to have basic human rights. … Our people have always been exploited for the benefit of the western world, and people are fed up,” Campbell said.
Dzvimbo, an international development and economics senior from Zimbabwe, said she hopes the event combats prejudice by opening a line of communication about racial injustice and systemic racism.
“I believe once we are able to eradicate our own personal biases and ignorances, then we walk away from this conversation and become better people,” Dzvimbo said. “We walk away with a different appreciation of our diversity and our differences.”
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, Francisco said he hopes this moment in history sheds light on the injustices in society and inspires tangible change.
“All of these things that happened are a part of a larger structure of racism and white supremacy,” Francisco said. “If we can begin to understand some of those complex things ... (we can) dismantle them and ensure these injustices no longer exist in our world.”
Atakpo said educating others on the many facets of systemic racism is crucial to creating a world of understanding and open communication.
“Many people lack an understanding of what’s going on because they are not knowledgeable of the history, and that's the main reason why there's so much tension,” Atakpo said.
Francisco said the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade have spurred support for the Black Lives Matter movement and drawn many white allies toward the cause.
He said it’s important for white allies to educate themselves on topics surrounding the racial injustices in America.
“It is absolutely crucial that you are not burdening your black and brown and other friends of color to educate you on all things of their oppression,” Francisco said.
In the face of oppression, Campbell said black voices are often silenced, and it is important for white allies to speak up.
“White folks, your voices reach places where we never can reach. … Your activism doesn’t have to be performative,” Campbell said..
Though the fight for equality has been long and tiresome, Dzvimbo said it is important to keep fighting — even when it becomes grueling.
“We might not get to the promised land right now," Dzvimbo said, "but we have to experience the uncomfortable to get where we are going.”