In his column on Sojourners, Jim Wallis writes about the student protests at the University of Missouri that have led to the resignation of the University President and the Chancellor of the Columbia campus where the protests have been taking place. The narrative of the story is captivating: students protest racist attitudes and discrimination on campus, are provoked and challenged, yet ignored by the administration. A student begins a hunger strike, calling for the President and Chancellor to step down. Then the football team realizes the power they wield at a Division I football program, and are, happily, supported by teammates and coaches. This leads to the resignations.
I know what some of you are thinking because it flickered across my mind as well: isn’t a hunger-strike overdoing it a bit? After all, it’s just college, right? I’m sure things are bad, but are they really THAT bad?
But give it one more moment’s thought: If someone is starting a hunger strike THINGS ARE THAT BAD. No one hunger-strikes for anything less than a dire situation, because that’s what a hunger strike means: “things are so bad that I am not only willing to die, but to starve to death, in order to change them.”
Many stories of this will focus on the football team, and they should, but I want you, especially those of you who (like me) are white, to focus on this final paragraph from Wallis:
I work pretty hard to be an ally to minorities, to see the world, as best I can, from their point of view, and to be aware of the institutional racism that surrounds our society. And STILL, my first thought was not to listen, but to dismiss a radical and courageous act of non-violent protest as “a bit much.” Who am I to say that? Like the administration, perhaps such radical action would not be necessary if we were less dismissive, less lukewarm, and if we would simply “learn to truly hear, [and] acknowledge,” what we are being told.