Since I left my teaching position last summer to pursue my Master’s in Theological Studies, I have struggled to find a new route to take with this blog. Over the course of my three years in the classroom, it slowly turned into my reflections on teaching. The intent was always to make this a space to inspire people with stories, and I’ve been thinking recently of how to do so through others’ voices, especially millenials who often receive undue criticism and baseless stereotypes that seek to degrade us while we work to become who we are in this world.
I asked Natasha (Tash) Nkhama, a former student, to share her insights about an incident that happened in her first semester at Baylor. Our conversation is below.
Start with the story of what happened to you.
On Wednesday November 9, the day after the election, I was walking to class near the sidewalk of the Judge’s house [on Baylor’s campus]. A young man I didn’t know went out of his way to shoulder me off the sidewalk and knock me into the grass. He proceeded to say, “No n*****s on the sidewalk,” and as someone behind him confronted him about what he had done he replied, “I’m just trying to make America great again.”
What did that moment elicit in you?
Initially I was shocked and angry and didn’t really know what to say or do, so I went to class.
Afterwards, your peers organized a march on campus, called I Walk With Natasha. How did this march come about in response to that moment?
My friend Jaileen Garza urged me to share the video I had made [about the incident] on her Twitter because she believed that more people would see it. Which was true. A fellow Baylor student, who I had never met before, organized the walk. Her name is Gabrielle Metoyer.
Did you expect that many people to turn out for the march? How did that day feel for you?
I had no idea. In all honesty I was expecting about 20 people, maybe less and I don’t think I’ve ever felt such an overwhelming amount of love and support as I felt that day.
What was Baylor’s response to the situation? Were you satisfied with it?
As far as the Baylor community, I think students and staff are really trying to make a difference after what they’ve seen and I guess that’s all I can really ask for.
You made a really impactful speech at the end of the march, and you made a point to say that you prayed for the student who pushed you and made a racist comment toward you. What motivated you to say that?
In that moment, I decided throwing more fire to the flame wouldn’t help the situation; only love can do that. And even though that person was wrong, God continues to show the rest of us grace and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be shown the same amount of grace.
During the march, I spoke with someone who works at Baylor who talked to you after the incident. She said that you were less concerned with finding the student who shoved you and made the comment and more concerned with raising awareness. I have to be honest, I feel like these students should be punished by the institutions they attend and made examples of, but I know, too, that one example doesn’t uproot structures of racism from campuses. What was your reasoning behind your reaction?
I think he should be expelled as well because I would never wish that kind of vulgar treatment on anyone. But him being expelled doesn’t change what happened. It happened, so now what are we going to do to make sure people realize that such actions aren’t okay, you know?
There are a lot of stories circling the internet people of color are being urged to forgive quickly after racially charged incidents, or trying to show how easy it is to “be the bigger person.” How does that initial moment of racism against you stay with you, regardless of everything that came after? Is it important to you that people know the march was a powerful moment, but it doesn’t erase what happened? Or do you see it a different way?
It is really really really REALLY hard to be the bigger person when you didn’t do anything wrong. And it hurts that it has to be that way, but it is. Especially as a person of color. I imagine it was easy for people to support me because I didn’t respond in an angry manner, but what about the people who do? They should be shown the same amount of support because moments of racism are NOT their fault. The march was a powerful moment and I will remember it for the rest of my life. But so will the girl with the hijab who had eggs thrown at her. Or the boy who had “No N*****s Allowed” written on his car. All actual events that happened after the election. I think the march is an excellent reminder that we should stand together against hate, but we should also remember that stuff like this happens every day even if it isn’t happening to you.
I retweeted the video you made after the student shoved you, and a random Internet troll doubted the validity of the whole thing, saying, “I’m sure that really happened.” I was furious, but then I checked my privilege because I’ve never been doubted for telling stories about bad things that happen to me. I don’t know what that’s like, especially when bad things don’t happen to me based on my race or gender or any other identifying factor. Is this a common experience for you as a woman of color, or did you receive any other reactions like this? What’s your response?
Unfortunately, I did and I’m lucky to have people like you and other friends respond to such comments so I didn’t have to. In all honesty, I feel bad for people like that. That they are incapable to see the world through the eyes of others because we have so much to teach each other if we just listen.
How did life change after the march? Have you seen attempts by your peers to push Baylor forward after this, or was there a return to the status quo?
Being called a role model or a celebrity is kind of weird because I’m just me haha. I’d like to think that everyone does the right thing given the opportunity. I think this has given people a great opportunity to have those conversations about race that need to be had, especially on campus. And others genuinely want to be educated about issues that don’t necessarily affect them, but affect those around them. Campus is definitely changing, slowly but surely, race relations are being brought more to light.
How do you think this moment, both the incident and the march, is going to impact your life? Does it influence the work you want to do in this world?
I don’t think I’ve ever been more motivated to make change. I feel a responsibility to not stop here and be content that people were there for me. Now it’s time to be there for others. Now it’s time to continue to educate others and advocate for the change I want to see in the world.
For more insights from Tash, you can follow her at @melanin_medicin.