On Monday 1 May, Colgate University in Madison County, New York was put into lockdown when reports of an armed person on the campus began to spread. Official emails were sent out, warning students of the impending danger.
So far, so scary, with reports flying around messaging services over the following four hours about shots being heard; about the shooter committing suicide; of a second man running down a nearby road.
None of this turned out to be true. The all-clear was soon given, but not until after a SWAT team, the National Guard, the FBI and an armoured car had shown up.
What had actually happened was rather less dramatic. A 6’2” man had been spotted holding a glue gun which he was using for a school arts and crafts project, and had been wrongly identified as a threat.
Oh, and by the way, he was called Ben – and was black.
It soon became clear just what an overreaction this had been, and the underlying racism underneath it – even if the intentions had been to keep students safe (you can read the full story of the night’s events here).
It prompted a post by fellow student Jenny Lundt, which went right to the root of the issue.
Posing with a sword, she wrote: “THIS is what white privilege looks like. This is me, only one year ago on this very campus, running around the academic quad with a fucking sharp metal sword. People thought it was funny. People laughed – oh look at that harmless, ~ silly white girl ~ with a giant sword!!
“Today, a black man carrying a fucking glue gun shut down my ~prestigious liberal arts college~ for 4 hours. The limited information that was released put all black men on this campus in danger and at risk of being killed. That is the reality of the institutionalised racism in the United States. If you think for even a second this wasn't profiling, ask yourself why this sword is still in my room and has not ONCE made anyone uncomfortable. No one has EVER called the police on me. Understand that there are larger forces at play than this one night, and this once instance of racism. This is ingrained in our university and our larger society. White Colgate students, we need to do better. #blacklivesmatter [sic]”
After it went viral, she then edited the post saying:
“This post is getting far more shares than I ever imagined. I just want to remind everyone viewing/ sharing this that this narrative is not about me and my feelings. This story and the event that happened last week is about are people of colour that are oppressed each and every day by this institution and this country at large and I in no way meant to take the conversation away from them and their stories. Race and discrimination are just as much of a problem here today as it was on Monday – even though many people are not talking about it or even THINKING about it anymore. My privilege allowed me to share my story. My privilege and my influential friends and thus their influential friends made this post go ‘viral’. All of that is privilege at work.
“To those white people that are seeing this, use this as an opportunity and wake up call to confront the privilege in your own life. Have these conversations and find the own "swords" in your life – with things you could get away with that your friends of colour could not. There are many white people on this post trying to suppress the voices of others with comments such as ‘all lives matter’ or ‘white privilege doesn't exist’. CHALLENGE THAT. fight back. And not just on this post, but in real life. Challenge racist jokes. Challenge stereotypes and hold your white friends accountable.
“A lot of white people from different areas in my life have messaged me to have important conversations about race that we've never had before. That was my intention in writing this post – using a relatable narrative to help fellow white people acknowledge their privilege. Thank those of you for those of you who have seen this and been able to have critical conversations.
“However, let's please not forget who is actually affected by the campus events this week. Hint: It's not me. I am returning to my comfortable life in Southern California where I will enjoy a summer of traveling and interning freely as a white woman through South America (which is not without problems of its own). Part of the reason I am able to do that so freely and without fear has deep roots in colonialism, which I need to be challenging within myself each and every day now, in the US, and when I am abroad. POC [people of colour] at Colgate were traumatised this week. I was not. That is what should be remembered about what happens at Colgate – not a Facebook status.”