‘Think before you speak:’ A lesson still overlooked

“So what’s up with that nig*** homecoming?”

“I don’t know why they get their own [expletive]”

“Right, how’d they get so damn special?”

Close your eyes and pretend for a moment that you are black, minding your own business in a bathroom stall and overhear this conversation taking place just a few feet away from you. How do you feel?

This happened to me last Thursday, about a half hour after my Journalism 411 lecture. I stopped in the bathroom on the first floor, and that conversation was what I had to put up with for the duration of my bathroom break. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed.

Two guys, whose ethnicities are unknown (I couldn’t see because I was in the stall), were talking to each other at the urinals. I assume they thought no one else was around to hear their callous remarks about black people, or perhaps didn’t care who they were offending. I sat and listened, contemplating what I would say to them once I was finished, but before we had the chance to meet awkwardly at the sink, they had already walked out… without washing their hands.

I was disgusted, but not surprised. I mean, this is certainly not the first time I’ve heard “nig***” used to describe black people, or even been called it to my face. It’s something you get used to, no matter where you go.

Rather than make personal attacks on the two young men and make clichéd judgments about them, I want to use this instance as a chance to educate them on what homecoming is all about. After all, ignorance is not just one individual’s fault.

First things first, it is called “African-American Homecoming”. There have been posters and banners hanging up for weeks. Let’s answer the question of why African-Americans have their own homecoming. It was established more than 30 years ago when black students expressed their feelings of seclusion from the homecoming festivities. As an underrepresented minority group in the mid-1970s, they felt left out and unwelcome to the week’s events.

Those pioneers made it possible for African-American Homecoming to be a staple for students today. It offers more alternatives and adds diversity to events.

This past weekend included an amazing fashion show, a step show sponsored by the Black Greek Council and a number of parties to show off your dance moves. Everyone is encouraged to attend the events, and no one is excluded.

Not only is it an opportunity for black students to feel included on campus, it’s an outlet for non-black students to experience culture and meet new people.

Many have argued that having a designated African-American Homecoming is a way for blacks to segregate themselves. However, it aims to give a very small portion of the campus population, a little fewer than 4,000 of 40,000 students, something they can call their own, and something that makes them feel a part of the campus community. The cultural houses have a similar goal in mind. It’s not separate until others are discouraged from attending, making it an exclusive set of events. The Illini Union Board programming advisers and African-American Homecoming team have been openly promoting the events to everyone with signs and other publicity; it’s advertised for everyone.

The weekend was fun; homecoming was great and our football team made us proud. A small remark made in the bathroom can’t bring the Illini off this high.

Dave is a junior in Media.