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5 Ways to Respond to Racial Tensions at the University of Missouri

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In the past week alone, the news has been quite numbing. From racial tension at my alma mater, the University of Missouri, to terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, my tissue paper heart can't take much more.

It seems like the world's problems are far too large for me to make any real difference. It seems like everything is crashing down much faster than I could do anything to stop it. However, I don't think we should throw up our hands and admit defeat. I think there are conversations that need to happen. I think there are changes we need to make so that we do live in a more just, more peaceful world.

I graduated from the University of Missouri in 2009 and have lived here in Columbia ever since. One thing I take pride in is how diverse the campus and community is. Reading the headlines, you'd think we lived in rural, all-white Missouri. But that couldn't be further from the truth.

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Sadly, the events that took place on Mizzou's campus over the past few weeks didn't surprise me. Racial tension was present when I was a student there and not much has changed since. No matter your opinion on the events that took place, I do think we could all learn a thing or two. Here are five ways to respond to the racism at Mizzou:

1. Seek to understand, not to be understood. I wish I could say this phrase was my own, but it actually came from a sermon in Columbia, MO that was given after the protests on Mizzou's campus. This phrase struck a chord with me and I think we could all learn something from it.

Regardless of what you believe to be true about racism, protests, and white privilege, it is worth noting that we just need to hear people out. Just because you disagree with someone's actions, doesn't mean their fight isn't just. Just because you haven't called someone the N-word, doesn't mean personal racism doesn't exist. We all have stories and our job as a human race is to value each one of them. If you don't understand what's happening or why someone is so angry, try to find out. Hear others' stories. Pay attention to lives that are different from your own.

Nothing good comes from living with blinders on. Instead, we must seek diversity. We must acknowledge the worth and beauty in all cultures around us if we want to see justice and peace in our lives.

2. Admit your racist tendencies. One of the first parts of seeking justice as it relates to racial tension in this day and age is admitting that we do have certain biases. If we can admit those things, we can tackle them head on and fight against our systemic ways of thinking so that real justice and real redemption can take place.

3. Understand that these incidents aren't random. The media certainly played on the message that this injustice at Mizzou was random and unlike circumstances across the nation. Sadly, Mizzou has always had a decent amount of racial tension. Systemic racism is happening in campuses all over the country. Personal racism and violence toward the black community is not a phenomenon. Knowing that these things are far more common than we realize will surely legitimize our need for justice.

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4. Seek diversity in your life. If your children are only ever around white people, change it. If all of your friends are white and of the same political party, change it. If you are living in a little bubble, change it. Nothing good comes from living with blinders on. Instead, we must seek diversity. We must acknowledge the worth and beauty in all cultures around us if we want to see justice and peace in our lives.

5. Talk about it. I've seen lots of folks say that they don't talk about race because it's a non-issue. I call bull on that one. Staying silent is being complicit. Keeping your mouth shut doesn't bring about change. Being color blind is missing the point entirely. We've got to talk about these issues with our families, friends, and communities. We've got to talk about race with our children. We've got to talk about it so that change can happen.

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