A new phrase has entered our national vocabulary: “existing while black.” It is the theme of a growing list of incidents where Black people in America are met with suspicion and censure while carrying out everyday activities of living or working.
A disturbing incident emerged over this past weekend with a connection to our UW Tacoma community. On Nov. 16, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote about UW Tacoma student and Air Force veteran Byron Ragland. Mr. Ragland was asked by police to leave a Kirkland yogurt shop at the request of the owner and the shop’s staff, who were not comfortable with Mr. Ragland’s presence. The Times story has since been retold in local and national media outlets.
This incident and others, some of which have involved altercations and arrests, are deeply troubling. The idea that anyone, solely because of their skin color, would be subjected to increased scrutiny, reported to police and more should be abhorrent to us all.
I am troubled and horrified that the conditions still exist in our society that would lead to incidents like these. We are often quick to assume the worst in others and then often slow to reflect on the consequences of our own implicit biases. At UW Tacoma, we are committed to fairness and equity, and to rooting out the unconscious racism that at times seems to pervade our relationships with one another.
I will never truly know what it is like to live a life with the constant pressure of suspicious glances, where those around me are questioning at every moment my right just to exist and be left alone. However, I ask all of us in the UW Tacoma community to imagine ourselves in that place. We should ask ourselves what can we do — and do today — to do better.