Why Must We Explain Ourselves?

By: Ruth Woldemedhine’21

On April 12, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson (two black men) were sitting in a Starbucks in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhood and were waiting for Andrew Yaffe for a business meeting. The men asked to use the restroom before purchasing anything and a white Starbucks employee said no unless they purchased something.

They were eventually asked to leave and fairly refused, which resulted in the employee unjustifiably calling the police. As Mr.Yaffe arrived for the meeting, the men were being led out of the cafe in handcuffs. They were arrested on suspicion of trespassing but Starbucks did not press charges as the two are later released.

The company’s chief executive, Kevin Johnson, issued an apology and announced it would close all store on May 29 to give anti-bias training to their employees. Starbucks has also since implemented a rule stating that you are able to sit in the store without purchasing an item.

May 7, Lolade Siyonbola was napping in the Hall of Graduate Studies’ 12th-floor common room at Yale. She is a first-year graduate student in the African Studies department and had book as well as papers spread out in the common room to write a paper. She had flipped off the lights to take a nap.

Another graduate student, Sarah Braasch, walked in, turned on the lights and said she was calling police. The police came which resulted in a racially tinged dispute that was aired live on Facebook and spread throughout the media.

When Lolade asked Sarah why she called the police, she responded with, “I have every right to call the police. You cannot sleep in that room.” Kimberly M. Goff-Crews, Yale’s vice president for student life, said in an email to the university community that the officers admonished the student who called 911 and that “the other student had every right to be present.”

In response to this racially charged act, Siyonbolas frustrated message to campus police officers and to Sarah was “I deserve to be here. I pay tuition like everybody else.”

In our own backyard of CSU, on April 30, two shy Native-American teens, Lloyd Skanahwati and Thomas Kanewakeron, were racially profiled by a parent in the college touring group who stepped away to call 911. She described their behavior as “just really odd” and they “really stand out.”She claimed the teens quiet disposition and dark clothing was really unnerving.

The campus police responded by pulling them aside, patting them down, and asking why they didn’t cooperate when someone asked them a question. Much of their reserved conduct is a cultural norm, especially those taught in their schools and communities to be humble, as well as thoughtful about how and when to draw attention to themselves.

In the brothers case, the questioning highlights the complicated cultural circumstances the Native American culture in mainstream areas, including university campuses.

The issue at hand is much deeper and bigger than just these examples, as we’ve witnessed through couponing while black, graduating too boisterously while black, waiting for a school bus while black, throwing a kindergarten temper tantrum while black, drinking iced tea while black, shopping for underwear while black, having a loud conversation while black, golfing too slowly while black, getting locked out of your own home while black, going to the gym while black, asking for the Waffle House corporate number while black and reading C.S. Lewis while black, among others.

In all of the actions mentioned above and more, there is no reason why any of these people should have the police called on them. When on CNN’s Don Lemon, former criminologist and LAPD officer David Klinger seemed confused as to why the young lady from Yale called the police. Instead, he suggested that Sarah should instead just walk up to Lolade and strike up a conversation with her, but why? Why is it that she would need to ask her who she was in a college. Many people don’t know everyone who lives in the same hall as them. There is no reason for her to question Lolades presence in general.On top of that, a form of identification is required to get into a dorm room, making her call to the police even more unnecessary.

The same common sense is applied in the Starbucks case. Although I do applaud the chief executive of Starbucks for the training, I don’t believe it will change something so deep-rooted in society in the time span of a day. Things like anti-bias training are a step in the right direction because it allows an openness for dialogue and allows people to further understand the severity of bias in our modern day society.

There’s a lack of understanding from people who look at these situations and only seem to see the simple version of things. David Klinger didn’t believe the Yale situation was racially targeted but seemed to also not have an understanding of why the situation then occurred.

As a community, we are constantly pushed to strive and work twice as hard to reach the level our white counterparts. Raising our children to respect every human being with their self-worth allows us to move in a direction where America will not have racially insensitive, hate-driven situations occur. If we are able to teach our younger generations that it is the quality of a person that matters, not their race, gender, orientation and anything else.

 

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