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Campaign highlights racism at universities

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I too am campaign highlighting racism at universitiesSparked off by the I, Too, Am Harvard campaign, students from Oxford are sharing their experiences of racist microaggressions.

It’s an experience many, if not all, black and ethnic minority students have had: that time when a white student says or does something racist to you, and you only have two options when it comes to responding.

One is to shrug it off and pretend it didn’t happen, meaning that the person is unaware of how they just hurt you and may well go on to do it again; and the other is to confront it head on, get a reputation as being “that” kind of ethnic minority person, and possibly start an argument.

Or, you can start a bold, preferably humourous campaign that shows up just how often these microaggressions happen. One such is “I, Too, Am Oxford”.

A microaggression is something bigoted or ignorant that is said or done to an oppressed person that reminds them of the said oppression.

For a woman, that could be something like “Oh, women are just naturally bad at science.”

For a person of colour, it could be “I don’t even see race!”

For a LGBT person, it could be “I’d never have thought you were gay/bi/trans!”

And of course, it could be all of those things if you happen to be an LGBT minority woman, or any other combination of identities that are still not fully accepted into society.

When you are not white and go to university – not just Oxford – you come across these things all the time.

This isn’t to say they don’t happen outside as well, but university it is often the first time that you come across these things in force.

This is not only because universities – especially those in the Russell Group – are still dominated by white students, but also because it is simply bound to happen when some have probably never spent so much time in proximity to people of colour before.

They don’t realise what is and is not acceptable to say, even though it should be obvious.

It should be obvious that “I’m really happy I’m going out with you and you’re brown…it proves I’m not racist” is not something you should say (or even think) about your partner.

It should be obvious that “You don’t speak well enough to get into Oxford” is an incredibly racist thing to say that makes assumptions on how one should sound and speak in order to be accepted.

Above all, it should be obvious that when ethnic minorities are trying to talk about their oppressive experiences, you don’t respond with a campaign that essentially says “But not everyone feels like that!”

‘We Are All Oxford’ comes across as an attempt to negate and silence those students who DO feel like that and who HAVE experienced racism – and unconsciously, that is probably the intent.

People don’t want to hear about these things, because they don’t want to accept that racism is still happening every day, everywhere.

They especially don’t want to accept that it could be them who are perpetuating it.

When someone says “Ugh, I fell down those steps and broke my arm”, the response should not be “Well, I’VE never fallen down those steps, so clearly that’s your problem!”

The response should be, “Wow, that sounds painful. Maybe we need some railings or better lighting or something.”

Until that happens, people are going to keep falling down those steps – and they are going to keep being silenced about their pain.

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