OUR VIEW: Barber indicative of larger problemBy CW Editorial Board | 01/17/2018 9:47pm
By now, most University of Alabama students, and many people besides them, have seen the appalling racist rants of Harley Barber, a girl who was an enrolled student and member of the Alpha Phi sorority as few as two days ago. It practically goes without saying that her vitriolic language was deeply offensive and hurtful, and any student who expresses those views has no place in our student body.
Barber was removed from Alpha Phi within a few hours of the video going public, and Stuart Bell sent out a statement Wednesday condemning the views espoused in the video and announcing that Barber was no longer a student. We commend the UA administration and Alpha Phi for reacting promptly and appropriately to her hateful language that clearly violates our Student Code of Conduct and basic human decency.
Students and others affiliated with the University have also quickly denounced Barber and her views, stating sincerely that she does not represent our University and that no one here, outside of a few hate-filled outliers, shares her beliefs or uses her language. And while these statements are no doubt well-intentioned, they are not only false, but alarmingly dismissive.
Racism is alive and well at the University. Perhaps those of us ensconced in white privilege do not encounter overt racism frequently, but almost every student of color on this campus could tell you about the instances of discrimination that they have faced. While Barber, for whatever reason, felt emboldened to put these views on social media, do not doubt that many others who feel similarly to her exist, holding these views in a quieter, yet equally damaging manner.
Racism is something that permeates the everyday fabric of life at the University, rearing its ugly head in a horrific, blatant manner in a seemingly annual spectacle. Perhaps this is not the University we want, but it is the University that we have. To deny this flippantly dismisses the problem of racial discrimination, all but ensuring that we will never be able to properly address it and change our ways.
Though others do believe that this racism is an everyday part of life in Alabama, they also seem to believe that it exists only at Alabama. Many people online have expressed their disapproval of the videos, but have qualified their criticisms with statements like, “It’s Alabama. What else can you expect?”
Unfortunately for Northerners wishing to absolve themselves of guilt, racism is not an Alabama problem, it’s an American problem. Barber herself is from New Jersey, and more than half of the University is now comprised of out-of-state students – as are a majority of members of this editorial board. As much as people would like to believe that this type of hatred is regional, that argument again dismisses a problem that we need to acknowledge exists before we even dream of fixing it.
There are valid reasons why people want to and continue to dissociate themselves from the vile racism of people like Barber. By claiming that she is merely an extreme outlier at The University of Alabama, or that she simply represents a hopelessly backward region of the country, we disconnect ourselves from the hard internal work that needs to be done to combat prejudice. We absolve ourselves, our friends and our communities of any responsibility for contributing to the ugly beliefs that still exist in this world. “This problem may exist,” we think, “But not within me. Not here.” When people of color talk about the discrimination they still face, we don’t believe them, because this would contradict what we believe about ourselves and our communities.
But think of all the Harley Barbers who have not posted their racist rants, or who express their racism more tactfully. Think of all her friends in the background of the video, egging her on, still students at this University. They are all around us. They are our classmates, our family members, sometimes our friends, and sadly, they sometimes represent the worst parts of us. To deny this not only denies the experiences of people of color, but also, makes sure that we will never work to change our communities or ourselves.
Harley Barber is not the disease, she is a symptom. Expelling her may rid our community of one of the more egregious manifestations of this disease, but by no means does it cure it. To do so requires effort and reflection from every single one of us.
Our View represents the consensus of the CW Editorial Board.