Let’s Keep It Real


Let’s Keep It Real

By Huy Nguyen

GRANTHAM, Pa. – On Wednesday, Feb. 19, Messiah College Black Student Union (BSU) hosted an event/alternate chapel titled “Let’s Keep It Real.” It was a student-led discussion on topics pertaining to contemporary issues within African-American culture.

BSU liaison, Imani Studivant led the discussion along with a panel of six Messiah students, including BSU president Alaina Byers. According to Studivant, last year’s event featured professional speakers, but the BSU decided to go with a student-only panel this year.

“We want students to feel more comfortable talking instead of turning this into a lecture,” said Studivant.

The discussion began with panelists sharing their personal opinions on what it means to be labeled “African-American.”

“I don’t like the term ‘African-American’ since Africa is only a small part of who I am,” said junior Autumn Jackson. “I don’t go out and call white people ‘European-American’,” she added.

Byers, also a student of mixed races, echoed Jackson’s sentiment.

“I feel no ties to the continent of Africa,” she said.

Other panelists also agree that “African-American” is not a term that can fully describe who they are, but are comfortable being labeled as such.

“I won’t be offended if someone calls me African-American, because it’s partly true,” said senior Freddy Love.

“I labeled myself African-American just for the sake of checking a box,” said junior Cora Hines.

In the next part of the discussion, panelists expressed their concern regarding stereotypes erroneously associated with black culture. They specifically mentioned “ghetto” as a certain type of discourse that should not be associated exclusively to black culture. Some even wished to get rid of the word entirely.

“A lot of people ask me ‘why do I talk “white”?’ as if being educated is strictly a white thing,” said Jackson.

The majority of panelists pointed to media portrayal of black culture as the main reason why stereotypes like this still persist.

“Stereotypes are a cognitive shortcut, and a lot of times they create misconceptions. It doesn’t help that people keep being reminded of these stereotypes by media,” said junior Kalann Washington.

Byers, however, suggested there’s more to blame than just media: pointing  to her high school experience.  She witnessed black students being overly loud, committing crimes, and getting pregnant.

“I definitely see that a lot of people go out of their way to act out the stereotype, because otherwise you are considered abnormal and sometimes even not accepted,” she said.

When asked what makes them proud of their culture the most, panelists’ answers ranged from their hair to the feeling of community that black people share, especially here in Messiah College.

Above all, as BSU advisor and pastor Cathy Coleman added, is the perseverance that African-Americans have shown throughout history.

Finally, the panelists offered their thoughts on the term “diversity” and how it is often used in social discourse. For Byers, the term is too closely related to race.

“My definition of diversity is any difference. But oftentimes it is too tied to race and we lose a huge part of what that word means,” said Byers.

“To me, diversity is simply what you can bring to the table. There’s diversity among [black culture] as well,” senior Christina Thomas added.

In the spirit of the African-American History Month, the BSU hosted this event as an attempt to break down barriers and teach the true meaning of black culture. Students who are interested in learning more about black culture are encouraged to contact the BSU at blackstudentunion@messiah.edu.

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    “Stereotypes are a cognitive shortcut, and a lot of times they create misconceptions. It doesn’t help that people keep being reminded of these stereotypes by media,” said junior Kalann Washington.

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