Op-ed%3A+The+Nation%E2%80%99s+Grief%E2%80%A6+Our+Response%3F

Alicia Goluszka | The DePaulia

Op-ed: The Nation’s Grief… Our Response?

May 31, 2020

Those who have not experienced American racism may have found a degree of solace in President Esteban’s letter to the university community — “The nation’s grief… and our response.” As an African American faculty who writes and teaches on race, I did not.  

For me, it was indicative of the way that racism is broached in our nation and at DePaul. Administrators readily focus on acts of overt racism that happen elsewhere, yet rarely if ever acknowledge the second, and perhaps most virulent face of racism — that which is embedded in institutional practices and behavior.

The racism you don’t see is that racism that is experienced every single day — it’s systemic. It’s the racism that determines who’s a part of the family and who is not — who’s promoted and who is not, and who’s voice is viewed as hostile and aggressive.

The late Terry Smith, distinguished professor of law, is DePaul’s George Floyd. He was brought up on Faculty Handbook charges of “a pattern of extreme intimidation and aggression toward colleagues.” Although he sued and settled out of court, the impact was no less stifling than that experienced by George Floyd as the Minnesota police officer pressed his knee into his neck. 

To think otherwise is to be dangerously naive. But, it’s always easy to believe that a black man has done something extraordinarily wrong and therefore deserves the harshest punishment.

I have witnessed all manner of disruptive behavior from white colleagues at DePaul that never even resulted in a slap on the wrist. We need to stop being shocked by the egregious and overt acts of racism, and pay closer attention to the more subtle acts of racism that are embedded in the way we perceive and respond to one another. 

There is a double standard at play that many white administrators, faculty, and staff are either unaware of or simply don’t care about.  It’s this double standard that gives rise to the racism we see in the street. It doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It begins in the hearts of those who don’t quite see people of color as they see themselves.

Esteban’s open letter encourages us to “pledge to work for change, to seek reform and to hold each other accountable.” For faculty of color, this is an occupational hazard. Holding white people accountable for racism comes at a hefty cost. And although whites are frequently in a position to use their privilege in service to anti-racism, they rarely do. There is privilege in sitting idly by, but it makes one complicit in the very system that is condemned.

There are those who will view the recent hiring of people of color as proof positive of DePaul’s anti-racism. This point of view is as misleading as the myth of blind justice. For one, it belies the fact that they are qualified — and that their appointments are not acts of benevolence; and secondly, it remains to be seen how they will be treated once they arrive.  

It is a fact: DePaul likes its faculty of color to be silent on issues of race. Those of us who are not, are labeled as firebrands, or not considered team players who are worthy of promotion. Well, guess what? That’s institutional racism. It’s similar to the manner in which whites incessantly police the response that people of color adopt toward racism. Even when racism is evident, people of color are expected to stay silent or protest peacefully, when in fact, there’s nothing peaceable about American racism.   

There is a lengthy roll call of administrators and faculty of color at DePaul who have either been forced to sue, been pushed out, or have left due to institutional racism. I know faculty of color who never experienced stress-related illnesses until coming to DePaul.  That’s the invisible cost that we rarely see, or even when confronted with it, our colleagues refuse to believe.  

Personally, I have had my fill of empty platitudes about racism. I am most assuredly frustrated by the egregious acts of racism that we see in the news, but I am more flustered by the way it’s always accompanied by white dismay and fleeting concern. It’s always accompanied by calls to “respect and protect the dignity of all.” But, it’s pure hypocrisy.

“The nation’s grief… our response.” For me, that is the question.

11 Comments

11 Responses to “Op-ed: The Nation’s Grief… Our Response?”

  1. shailja sharma on June 1st, 2020 8:03 pm

    Thank you Valerie for speaking out. Yet again.
    It makes me angry that a faculty of color has to say this and this analysis was not done by white faculty. This is a burden that faculty of color carry: to suffer racism and then to take a stand against it so they can be singled out again.

  2. Raja’Nee Redmond on June 1st, 2020 9:19 pm

    Thank you, Dr. Johnson, for continuing to speak openly about racism, to speak truth to power. You are powerful, inspiring, and so value to a community that would easily silence so many of it weren’t for your presence.

  3. Jeremy Rhoden on June 2nd, 2020 1:22 pm

    This embodies my entire experience at Depaul, from my time as a student to staff. I was removed from a committee for highlighting the incompetence of Title 9. Particularly when it comes to students and staff being sexually assaulted or harassed. I hope this article causes people to act.

  4. Michael Smith on June 2nd, 2020 5:47 pm

    Esteban’s open letter encourages us to “pledge to work for change, to seek reform and to hold each other accountable.” For faculty of color, this is an occupational hazard. Holding white people accountable for racism comes at a hefty cost. And although whites are frequently in a position to use their privilege in service to anti-racism, they rarely do. There is privilege in sitting idly by, but it makes one complicit in the very system that is condemned.

    Perhaps you can give an example or two, or three, from your DePaul experience where “Holding White people accountable for racism” did not occur. Better yet, perhaps you can describe and explain two or three instances where “whites have been in a position to use their privilege in service to anti-racism and have failed to do so”. What does this really mean, anyway? Operationalize this for me because I don’t get it. Should I part the Red Sea, or transform water into wine, demonstrate I am not a racist? What has to happen for me to pass your test? Help me understand how I, a white person of privilege, can use my position to truly work in service of anti-racism? Perhaps you can share a checklist, not unlike the one my wife prepares with the myriad chores she wishes for me to complete on any given Saturday? Certainly I, and my many white, privileged friends and acquaintances, could benefit by such an accounting by the titular expert this side of Don Lemon, on race relations. If life at DePaul University is that difficult, perhaps it’s time to seek better alternatives elsewhere.

  5. Alex Jacobs on June 2nd, 2020 6:40 pm

    Michael,

    The notion of a checklist is patronizing. Simply try to feel empathy and accept her words. This is her experience. It’s also the experience of her colleagues who are fearful of speaking up. There’s no need to sprawl into a defensive posture.

    But if you want a “to do” item, here’s one: the next time that Dr. Johnson says something insightful at a town hall, show support by clapping.

    Esteban can say the rights words (that are written for him). But those words are betrayed by his inaction and actions including overt ones like filling senior leadership positions at DePaul without a national search.

    For what it’s worth (not much), I’m white. Thank you, Dr. Johnson, for your enormous courage and leadership.

  6. Juan Mundel on June 3rd, 2020 11:44 am

    “If life at DePaul University is that difficult, perhaps it’s time to seek better alternatives elsewhere” really? This is the Vincentian response to a colleague who is having a hard time because of her identity? Thank you, Dr. Johnson, for your enormous courage and leadership.

  7. Lance Coardill on June 3rd, 2020 12:15 pm

    Relax, Juan, the quarter has ended and she’ll give you an “A” whether you write, or believe, this or not. Amazing what passes for “Enormous courage and leadership” these days. My brother spent his 34th birthday in south Vietnam during the Tet Offensive along with 25 of his best friends, only 17 of which made it back home. Last night I turned on TV and saw three Atlanta police officers intervene and save a proprieter’s business from the human cockroaches whose looting they prevented. The snowflake definition of “courage” and “leadership” traverses a slippery slope that lauds mediocrity at its finest. The previous commentor did nothing more than acknowledge that we all have choices in life. Stay where you are, gripe and moan and make life miserable for others, effectuate change where you are and be part of the solution rather than the problem or get up, ambulate to the nearest door, walk out of the door and never return to the offensive environment about which you/one complains. This has something to do with the grass rarely being greener on the other side of the fence. Perhaps I should not have used the word “green” here but doing so exhibits enormous courage and leadership on my part, given the plethora of other choices available to me.

  8. Alex Jacobs on June 3rd, 2020 2:13 pm

    Lance,

    It is a misuse of analogy to draw a comparison of Dr. Johnson’s experience to wartime tragedies. Just like it’s illogical to compare your brother’s experience to something even more horrific, as a way to minimize your brother’s experience. Context is key. So is compassion and kindness. Your argument is further diminished through insulting Juan and suggesting he’s paying this for a letter grade. There’s plenty of pain to share.

  9. Lance Coardill on June 3rd, 2020 4:03 pm

    Thanks Alex. How is this illogical? I mean, those of us who experienced war and spent time in the military know what true suffering entails and while I’ll stop short of suggesting that the good doctor has, herself, not experienced her own tumult (perhaps the janitor in Stewart Center, from Rybnik, averted his eyes when she walked by once) a relatively prudent person can make that distinction. I’m glad that you can sympathetically introspect with the author and know how horribly tragic has been her DePaul experience and that you feel the need to commend her for her strident acts of heroic penmanship. Me, I’m not that enlightened, hence my juxtoposition of what I consider heroic. And while we’re talking about our friend, Juan, both of you laud the writer for her “amazing courage and leadership” which leads me to believe that Juan may be an alias or that, perhaps you, too, have other motives for picking up the gauntlet as the apologist in chief for all the horrible privileged white people, like me, who are simply not doing enough on a daily basis to use our exhalted status to repudiate racism. Perhaps, you, Alex, can tell all of us what we should be doing. We truly know what we shouldn’t be doing, so should we just do the opposite? Please, Alex, let us know.

  10. Alex on June 5th, 2020 7:32 am

    Lance – I don’t know what it’s like to be in the military, nor do I know what’s it’s like to be a person of color. I don’t presume to know the answers. I respect Dr. Johnson’s perspective and am trying to be sympathetic – including your experience. I’d like to focus on the article. Do you disagree with Dr. Johnson? If so, please share.

  11. Dr. D. Tolliver on June 14th, 2020 9:01 pm

    Dr. Johnson,
    I appreciate you writing this Op-Ed. Your response to the letter that was sent to the community at large reflects the experiences of many current and former faculty, staff and students of African descent (including myself) at DePaul University.

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