By Setota Hailemariam
In a 2016 Facebook post, journalist Shaun King wrote, “Racism is as American as apple pie, baseball, and handguns.” All of these traditionally “American” concepts have been a part of this country’s culture for as long as anyone can remember, and they don’t show any signs of dying out anytime soon — much like racism.
African American Studies Professor Jason Nichols of this university received two expletive-ridden, profoundly racist voicemail messages on Oct. 10. Both messages were around four minutes long and from a woman who had seen his appearance on the show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News the day before.
That same day, Nichols went live on Facebook, playing the messages in their entirety without comment — letting her hateful words speak for themself.
President Wallace Loh didn’t comment on the situation until three days later, tweeting, “If you have seen the despicable verbal attack on #UMD Professor Nichols, please join our community in showing support for him.”
A week has now passed, and though there was a media frenzy in the days following the incident, including a Buzzfeed article and a viral video from news aggregator ATTN, it has been almost completely forgotten by the public.
Why is that? Is it because racism is so commonplace in society that we’ve become desensitized to it? Or, similarly, do we figure another incident of hate is right around the corner, so what’s the use in dwelling on this one?
It’s all too easy to become complacent in the face of oppression. Why bother trying to change things, one might think. This is the way it’s always been and the way it’s always going to be.
This mindset is dangerous, for one simple reason: it causes those who have not experienced oppression to believe that it doesn’t exist anymore.
Cries of “we shouldn’t see color” or remarks about our “post-racial” society are so blissfully ignorant, it’s almost laughable. It’s shocking how many people think racial dynamics in America are without flaw just because humans aren’t owned as property anymore.
The voicemails Nichols received are graphic. They’re sickening. They’re eight minutes of pure, unadulterated hate — and that’s just from the viewer’s perspective.
“I’m not even going to lie and say that it didn’t affect me,” Nichols said in an interview with the Diamondback. To be the recipient of that woman’s vitriol, and have the courage to show the world what he endured took immense strength. Above all else, though, Nichols demonstrated an important lesson: people like this are still out here, loud and wrong yet delusionally convinced they’re right.
So the next time someone has the privilege to ask, “Why are they kneeling? What’s #BlackLivesMatter? Isn’t this America?” play them Nichols’ video, with a side of apple pie.
Featured Photo Credit: Dr. Jason Nichols, a University of Maryland professor in the African American Studies department, lectured in February 2016 on Latinx and African American history. (Julia Lerner/Bloc Photographer)
Setota Hailemariam is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.