Under The Radar: Racism at Michigan State University

November 17, 2011

Political Theory


Over this past weekend I made a trip up to Michigan State with my friend to visit his brothers and their friends. We needed a brief change of scenery from the gray skies of Ann Arbor and the Wisconsin/State game is definitely providing that for us. The Michigan State campus is beautiful. This wasn’t my first time traveling to East Lansing, so I knew how fun the weekend was about to be. The social scene at Michigan State has always been great every time I had made a trip up here. The sporting events and the parties that follow are never dull. Shortly after we arrived at State, we got ready for a night on the town. Even though it wasn’t game day, the nightlife was still vibrantly crowded with bar crawlers, neon-clad rave attendees, and partygoers alike. We decided to do the logical thing and bar hop around the campus. We noticed that since there were so many people in the streets, Lansing had bulked up on their police force for the night. There were even officers mounted on horses patrolling the streets, which was a bit pretentious for my taste, but I digress. The officers’ presence really didn’t  phase anyone, however.  It was me, my friend, his brothers, and a couple other friends with us. We went to a couple bars, but soon got tired of the same old scene over and over-enter a crowded bar, buy an absurdly expensive beer, and repeat. By the time we were over the bars, we weren’t even tipsy, but more so tired and hungry. I felt I needed to wake up a bit, so my friend and I decided to walk a couple blocks down to the 7-Eleven to grab a couple energy drinks. We were to meet up with the rest of the group at a restaurant adjacent to a couple of the bars we had gone to. My friend and I were gone for about 15 minutes. The rest of our group was heading to the restaurant when they ran into a couple of people they knew. While talking with them, a couple horse-mounted police officers approached the group, telling them to go home. One of our friends in the group, who I’ll refer to as V, was thrown off by the officers’ presence among them, believing it was a racially-fueled confrontation. I was actually the only non-black guy in our group, but as I stated before, I was out at 7-Eleven. Sometimes, such accusations regarding discrimination/racism have no basis to work off of, but V had a good reason to be inquisitive. They weren’t drunk and belligerent, and were conspicuous in their demeanor, they were just talking to some friends on the sidewalk. V’s inquisitive nature led to him telling the cops flat out that their confrontation was solely based on racism. V didn’t assault or touch any officer, he was only vocalizing himself, but this didn’t stop the officers from handcuffing V on the spot. V turned to one of our group members to tell him the number to his aunt’s home, who lived a couple miles away, so that she knew the situation. Without warning, V was tackled to the ground by a couple of the officers, with other officers coming to assist their fellow lawmen. V’s glasses were knocked off his face and landed on the concrete. One of our other group members bent down to pick up V’s glasses, but the officers wouldn’t even let him do that for V. V was then sent to the police station to be detained for the night. By the time my friend and I got back to the rest of the group, V was already on his way to the police station. There were several other bystanders who witnessed the ordeal, only to agree with the fact that such an act was totally uncalled for. Michigan State has been in the spotlight recently due to a few racially-driven events such as “racist messages being scrawled on doors; outright physical acts of racial intimidation; and the initial incident of a black doll being hung from a beaded noose in a chemistry lab shortly after the school year began in early September” (Smith 1). Now I am not saying that the incident involving V’s arrest was racially-driven, since it wasn’t explicitly racist, but it does make one wonder why police would solely approach a group of black people who were soberly talking to each other while there are drunken white girls stumbling about the streets. In fact, that very same night, I witnessed a drunken white girl stumbling down the street shoeless in front of a bar. Two white police officers walked by, looked at her, and kept walking. It might also be good to mention that this very same drunk girl , a mere 45 seconds after the cops passed her, began attempting (a big emphasis on ‘attempting’) to hit a black guy walking down the street and yelling explicitly racial slurs toward him. Social interactions such as these bring up a bunch of questions about racial perceptions in our society today. Was V’s arrest racially driven? If there was a black girl stumbling down the street shoeless, would those two white police officers react the same way as they did with the white girl? How rampant is racism today anyways? Have we really changed since the days of Jim Crow Laws, or are society’s perceptions of minorities still the same, but are able to lay under the radar better than it had before?

Works Cited:

Smith, Jay Scott. “Michigan State University rocked by racial intimidation.” thegrio.com. NBCUniversal, 06 Oct 2011. Web. 22 Oct 2011.   <http://www.thegrio.com/education-1/michigan-state-university-rocked-by-racial-intimidation.php?page=1&gt;.

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4 Comments on “Under The Radar: Racism at Michigan State University”

  1. chadmach Says:

    I would think that the United States has come along way since Jim Crow laws in the sense that we do not have laws that segregate or prevent blacks from doing certain things. However, I do think that racism is still a very big problem in our country. The example given has definitely provided strong evidence (at least on the MSU campus). Even elsewhere I feel that racism is still occurring. The high school I attended was predominantly Caucasian with only about 10 African Americas and even fewer other minorities. Something that has been a recent occurrence in my hometown is the presence of the Confederate flag. Now, I am from Michigan…not the south, so it always had confused me as to what these kids were doing. No when I go back I see many more trucks in the high school parking lot toting the Confederate flag and I can pretty much guarantee that these kids do not have that flag because they agree with Confederate desire of State rights. So somehow racism has been able to creep its way back into our society or maybe it had never actually left.

    It is a sad case (above) that those police officers did nothing about that stumbling girl who is clearly belligerently drunk and most likely under age. I thought that the time for racism among police officers was over, especially after the Rodney King incident in the early 90s, but I guess that racism still persists.

  2. erfreed3 Says:

    Personally, I am shocked to hear that this happened. If the story is completely in line (not withholding of details), I would say that the officers’ actions do appear to be racist. It seems that V’s decision to voice his opinion angered the officers and in order to silence him they arrested him. Right here, the police are violating the right to freedom of speech advocated by John Stuart Mill. Incidents such as this serve as a reminder that racism has not been filtered out of society. When I hear incidents such as the one with V, I am appalled, mostly because I grew up in a multi-ethnic community very sheltered from racism. Back in my hometown, I am friends with people of many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The idea of racism simply is not tolerated. I see this in stark contrast to chadmach’s comment.

    However, I have heard my fair share of racial slurs. I remember going up into northern Michigan with my friend and his family. The town in which my friend’s family keep there cottage is very small and made up of only Caucasians. One night we went to a restaurant to eat (the only one in town) and overheard another table. One man at the table cheered, “The Clan will rise again”, clearly in reference to the Klu Klux Clan. I remember at this time feeling incredibly angry, as well as uncomfortable. Angry because the Klu Klux Clan discriminates against people. Being raised in a multi-ethnic environment, I feel so strongly that discrimination is morally wrong. Yet, why do some people appear to think of it as right or even justified?

    In terms of the Jim Crow Laws, I do think our society has changed quite a bit. However, I would argue that there are still many parts in the United States, even right here in Michigan, that discriminate against certain people. The important thing to take away from stories such as V’s, is that we as people must no longer tolerate racist thinking. Especially those of us whom fall under the racial category of White/Caucasian. I believe that each of us no matter what racial category should speak out when someone is being racist. If we confront each other, promote equality, and show no toleration –
    even for a subtle racist comment here or there—then there is no reason why racism cannot go away. However, there is still a long road to go before we can say that our society has completely filtered out racism.

  3. cobyj17 Says:

    This is an appalling story. However, I think it is difficult to draw conclusions from individual situations. This kind of police action may also happen against white people, but we may be less on the look-out for it. That being said, I do think forms of racism are still alive in this country. While it is important to acknowledge the strides we have made as a society, we cannot allow visible cases (like President Obama’s election) to conclude that racism is over.

    In one of my other classes, we are talking about income inequality between different races. We learned that around 50% of whites believe blacks earn the same income level as whites. In truth, blacks earn only slightly more than half of whites. We also have discussed how discrimination is still holding back african americans and other minorities. In multiple studies, identical resumes with white sounding names were 50% more likely to be called back those with black sounding names.

    It is too easy for us to ignore the legacy of racism, and the current discrimination that still occurs. By not acknowledging these problems, we our absolving ourselves of responsibility to make change. For these reasons, while I think it is difficult for us to draw conclusions from stories like these, it is important for us to be talking about them.

  4. shmily4k Says:

    I think the arrest was obviously racially driven. The writer of this post provides a very good example on how the police arrested a dark-skin person who was just soberly talking with his friends, but at the mean time walked by a drunken white girl without taking any actions. According to the writer, V didn’t offend or touch any of the officers. He was just talking to the officer and saying it is unfair for the officers to approach them when they didn’t do anything illegal. Immediately, the officers decided to tackle him to the ground. I’m not saying V was completely right in this incident, because the officers do have the power to approach anyone if they feel suspicious about him or her. However, the officers that tackled V to the ground were absolutely wrong, as V didn’t do anything to offend anyone. The only reason for the action was racism.

    In fact, racism is also commonly seen in other areas in the United States. I drove to Canada with my friends in thanksgiving holidays. When I was passing by the immigration control at the broader between Canada and the United States, I saw several officers searching the car of some Pakistani, while all other people from different countries can pass by the immigration control without any interruption. To me, this is also a kind of racism. Therefore, it is doubtful whether we have really changed since the days of Jim Crow Laws. Maybe we have improved in some way, but clearly perceptions of minorities are still similar to the past except they are lying under the radar.

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