“Race, Memory, and Monuments After Charlottesville” remind us there is still more work to be done on race relations in Santa Barbara

Kiani Hildebrandt, Guest Writer

On Monday, March 2nd, Professor Louis Nelson from University of Virginia spoke to an audience in Hieronymus Lounge titled, “Race, Memory, and Monuments After Charlottesville.” The lecture was centered around the four statues located in the heart of Charlottesville and how all of them reinforce the message from the early 1900’s of white racial supremacy. Students came away enlightened about the topic but frustrated about a racial slur made by an older white male, from the outside community, when he used the “n-word” several times. 

The lecture skilfully combined several disciplinaries, including history, religious studies, political science, communication, and sociology. At the very end of the talk, the floor was opened for questions to ask Professor Nelson. Many students and professors brought up great points, and then the older man previously mentioned began talking about Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, and multiple characters, including a slave. While he was talking, he dropped the “n word” several times. Students tensed up as heads swiveled to see what people’s reactions would be. Hannah Nelson, a fourth year, said, “I immediately shut down. I couldn’t listen to whatever he said. I looked around and everyone was in shock… like what just happened.” 

Professor Ed Song said, “I think everyone had the same reaction. I was shocked and confused, and assumed that I hadn’t correctly heard what was said. But then he repeated it again, and maybe a third time, and I couldn’t understand how he could so casually drop the n-word and be so completely oblivious to the reaction that it was generating around the room.”

Amidst the confusion and frustrations, Dr. Kya Mangrum, a Professor of English, raised her hand. Courageously, she called out the man and explained when he said that word, her “insides churned.” She continued on by saying she’s not the only one that feels this way. She asked the room to turn and look at each other, and she said how many people in this room look like me? Including Professor Mangrum, there were three other African-American women in the room, all who were affected by hearing this word. 

Alesha Bond, one of the African-American students present, said, “From the shock of someone saying that word, I felt sadness and fear that people were still willing to say that word unapologetically and without remorse. It meant a lot that [Dr. Mangrum] stood up and said something but I was mad that she had to address that. I was mad that a woman of color who was offended, had to explain why she was offended. And I was mad that a white individual didn’t speak out and say hey that’s not okay.” 

That sentiment was felt in the room. Delaney Balza, a fourth year said, “Something that stuck out to me, as a white woman, I felt convicted that none of us spoke up. That it was Dr. Mangrum that spoke up. If she hadn’t said anything, no one would’ve. I asked myself why didn’t I stand up for my brothers and sisters of color and I realized that without Dr. Mangrum would anyone have stood up?” 

At Westmont students are taught about the power of naming. How as speakers we have the power to hurt, heal, and speak the truth with our words. Nelson emphasized that on Monday. He said it is our job as Christians to be truth tellers. He encouraged students to keep working where we are placed to spread God’s love, but this is not what happened in that conversation. On Monday words caused pain and suffering to the student body. 

The truth about Monday’s events is that we live in a fallen world. We live in a world where the “n-word” is still spoken aloud in front of 60 people. A word that history has laced with anguish and despair. Professor Ed Song said it correctly at the lecture, when he stood up after Dr. Mangrum and said, “That word should not be spoken… ever.” 

After the lecture Dr. Song said, “I don’t know the person at all, and I would be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t trying to be inflammatory and didn’t intend harm. But his total inability to see why that language was so grotesquely offensive is illustrative of the very things that Nelson’s lecture addressed. We can become so trapped by the myopic or partially true stories that we like to tell about ourselves, our history, or our institutions, that we become totally cold to the people who say that the story isn’t like that for them.”

In reflecting upon the lecture Professor Don Patterson said, “This is just evidence that there is something in the water in Santa Barbara that is rooted in white supremacy and white people don’t see it.” 

On Monday, Nelson continued on by encouraging the audience at the end that there will be work needed in this conversation. That the entire United States needs to look at the history that has founded this country. He emphasized that there is work to be done not only for the statues in Charlottesville, but also in Santa Barbara and at Westmont. While talking, Nelson pointed out the courthouse and the mural room, which contains racist pictures of Native American Indians. Nelson said that it took the 2017 riots over the General Lee statue for Charlottesville to realize that their town had deep seeded white supremacy laced into their systems. What will it take for Santa Barbara or even Westmont to realize it? 

Balza added, “It’s so easy to pretend that racial tensions don’t exist. I think this was a wake up call that this does pertain to us, that racism exists in our community here at Westmont. It’s a wake up call to especially white students. [Nelson] said today, white American Christians it’s time to get uncomfortable.”

This conversation surrounding race, especially at Westmont, is at a crucial turning point. With Jason Cha leaving this semester, many questions are in the air of how the conversation surrounding race will continue; and it is not something we can turn our backs on. The conversation must continue, and more students, professors, and staff must join if there is going to be a difference. With our voices and our words we have the power to enact change, love, and hope into the lives of those around us, we just have to choose to do so.