Black Americans have been oppressed in the United States for hundreds of years and continue to be stuck beneath the systems that breed oppression. For many Wabash brothers, this is every day. Every time they wake up and step out of bed, they are already behind. Labeled. Afraid to answer the door. Afraid to go into the gas station or to drive across town. They have been pulled off buses. Stared down the barrels of guns. Accused. Beaten. Shot.
The following are just a few of those stories from Wabash men and their families.
Cam Montgomery ’86
From kindergarten to eighth grade, the student body of the Indianapolis school I attended was 99.9 percent Black. The first time I was in a classroom with White students was when I was bused to John Marshall High School. I didn’t think much about race then, but I did feel self-conscious about riding a bus because the White students got to drive to school.
As a Wabash freshman in 1982, there were approximately 30 Black students in the entire College. That didn’t bother me. When I joined Phi Gamma Delta, I became one of two Black members. I endured racial jokes, but that didn’t bother me either. What I allowed to make me feel less-than was affluence. Being a rare black opal in a sea of white diamonds didn’t make me feel self-conscious. It was having no green that did.
One time, I was sitting on the front porch of the fraternity house and a carload of teenagers passed by. They looked up at me and yelled, “Hey, nigger!” I bolted up off my chair and with the biggest grin on my face, waving wildly, I screamed, “Heyyyyyy,” like they were my best friends. I knew their intention wasn’t to see me laugh, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let them see me sweat.
It was after I graduated and moved to New York City that I got slapped in the face with a harsh reality: The combination of my skin color and my gender compelled law enforcement officers to frequently suspect me of “suspicious” behavior. Being stopped and frisked on the streets of NYC was as common to me as being asked the time.
I knew the drill like clockwork. I’d turn around and place my hands against the nearest wall. Officer: “I’m stopping you because you fit the description of…” Me, finishing their sentence: “…a drug dealer, mugger…” They’d frisk me, look at my license, send me on my way with a “be careful.” Every. Single. Time.
One time, I exited an ATM vestibule in Chelsea and a cop ran over and began his routine. I assumed the customary position and he began his scripted explanation.
After going through my wallet for my ID, he decided I wasn’t the one he was pursuing after all. He let me go with a “be careful.” When he left, I discovered every dollar I had withdrawn from the ATM had gone with him, too!
The same thing happened in Jersey City. A White cop sprinted toward me—revolver pointed directly at me—screaming, “Stop!” This time when he frisked me, I told him that I had X amount of money in my wallet, and after he left, I expected to have that same amount. Same-old, same-old. Stop. Frisk. I wasn’t who he was looking for. I should be careful.
This national upheaval isn’t about race. It’s about racists! As a nation, we must denounce racists and make it unequivocally clear that their rhetoric and actions against others will not be tolerated. EVER!
What I know for sure is that, despite all this civil unrest, I will continue to do what I’ve done all along: treat everybody the way I want to be treated. I don’t give a damn about race, creed, color, sexual preference, religion, politics, or whatever. Because you exist, I am treating you with compassion.
George Floyd was murdered. By a police officer. But his senseless death will NOT be in vain. It will evoke real conversations about racists and racism. It will call out racists and readily strip them of public platforms and/or employment. And most important, it will change laws!
I am Charles Andrew Montgomery Jr., Wabash Class of 1986. But for the grace of GOD, I could have been George Floyd.
Emmanuel Aouad ’10
When I was in elementary school, I made friends with some kids who lived on another street. We would hang out every day playing outside, building a secret hideout, riding bikes—just having fun. One day everyone was going to go to one kid’s apartment to play video games. As everyone picked up their bikes, my friend said to me, “Hey, Emmanuel, I’m sorry you can’t come. My dad doesn’t like Black people.”
In high school, White girls often told me their parents didn’t want them dating a Black guy, but they were okay if it was me. They thought they were giving me a compliment.
I’ve been pulled over at least 30 times. The only ticket I’ve ever received was for a seatbelt in college after the officer pulled me over for half an hour asking why I was in Lafayette if I went to Wabash College 30 minutes away.
I wish people understood the difference in thoughts that run through my head versus theirs, whether it’s being in a small town somewhere or being pulled over for no apparent reason. I know it’s not a majority I need to worry about. But it only takes one person to feel a certain way about my skin color for me to possibly die.
I’m just tired. And we can’t just flip a switch and undo everything. Everyone needs to challenge their own world views and urge their loved ones to be better. The viewpoints that have become so normal today have been taught and passed down through generations, and laws have been created to strengthen those viewpoints. We have to educate the next generations to value each human life as important.
COVID has allowed my husband and me to spend time running together. For me, running is one of the most anxiety-producing things we do.
My husband usually runs in front of me for two reasons. The first reason is because he is faster than me. When he is in front of me, I get to watch every time a car drives past him. Sometimes the car drives slowly, and I spend a few seconds agonizing about why they are driving slower. I wonder if they are about to ask him if he “lives around here” and attack him if they aren’t happy with his answer. I envision a gun barrel poking out the window of the car and shooting my beautiful, perfect, kind husband in the face. Every. Time.
The second reason my husband always runs in front of me is I don’t want someone to think he is chasing me if he runs behind me. White women have a horrible pattern of falsely accusing Black men of atrocities. So, if someone called 911 and told them a Black man was chasing a White woman down the street, they wouldn’t think twice about dispatching officers immediately. I’m terrified of what would happen then.
We have a rule in our house that if we ever have to call the police, I will be the one to answer the door because I’m afraid they’ll think my husband is the reason they were called. They’ll kill him first and ask questions later.
There will come a point when our kids ask us what we were doing during this revolution. I’ll tell them I had a lot of uncomfortable conversations, both in my own thoughts and with other White people. I’ll tell them I opened my eyes to the White-centric spaces I had accidentally created and consciously made an effort to listen to more Black people.
I’ll tell them the embarrassing truth that it took the isolation of a global pandemic for me (and the rest of White America) to really begin to feel the depths of the pain and discrimination their father and people who look like him have experienced their entire lives. I’ll tell them I can never fully understand his experiences, or theirs, but that I will stand with them always.
We have so many White friends who have kids who are getting their driver’s licenses, just like we do. But our fears are different. We are terrified that there is a chance our son may not make it home because of the color of his skin. Our conversation with our new 16-year-old driver has to be completely different:
“Make sure all your paperwork is visible so there is no messing around in the glove box. No matter if you feel he or she is wrong or right, just say, ‘Yes, Officer,’ and get the stop over calmly and quickly. Come home and let me fight for you in court, if need be.
Anthony D. Douglas II ’17
Medical school is extra stressful as a Black man, and I am exhausted. The physicians and residents who evaluate me most often do not look like me, talk like me, or understand me. I have to produce academically, and I also have to assimilate and constantly code-switch to fit in as a doctor. I am consciously aware of the plight of African Americans in this country and feel I have no power to change it.
James Baldwin said it best: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all the time.” It took a nine-minute video of George Floyd being suffocated to death for many Caucasians to feel that rage, even though there have been numerous other killings of unarmed African Americans. Where is the rage for the system of mass incarceration that imprisons disproportionate numbers of African Americans? Or the unemployment that disproportionately plagues the African American community? Or the African American infants who are two times more likely to die than Caucasian infants? Or the African American women who are nearly four times more likely to die from birth complications than Caucasian women?
Wabash is not exempt from these disparities. There is a unique camaraderie and unparalleled brotherhood that exists at our institution. However, not all Wabash sons have experienced or felt the sense of brotherhood our Caucasian brothers describe. I was active and invested in the culture during my time at Wabash, but I still encountered prejudice and moments where I did not feel included. I have been referred to as a “monkey” and told that the only reason I was accepted into medical school was because of the color of my skin—by my own Wabash brothers.
If this were any other institution, I do not believe I would waste the time to share these things with you. But I truly believe that if there is any institution that is capable of change and able to lead by example, it is Wabash.
Wabash is near and dear to my heart, but we need to recognize that there is more we can do in order to create a brotherhood we all can enjoy. We are not exempt from the ignorance, prejudice, and privilege that exist in the world. Together, by listening to one another, recognizing our own privilege, loving one another as true brothers and sisters, and actively condemning and fighting against racism, we can make America livable for everyone.
James Love III ’22
When I was in middle school, Trayvon Martin was killed. It was then I realized how short my life could be.
I’m scared because every day I live, it might be my last—just walking down the street or driving in a car. I might get pulled over, and it could escalate because I have to pull out my wallet or because I have a hairbrush in my hand.
Just because you like and retweet something that has somebody’s name on it because they got murdered by a cop doesn’t make you an activist. If you want to be with us, if you want to respect the culture, be there with us on the front lines when another one of us is shot down mercilessly.
I am human. I have a history that needs to be respected. My name is James Edward Love III. I will not be denied. I will not be silenced. I will not be erased. I will not be slaughtered. And I will not be anonymous.
Elijah Shadwick ’20
I do not expect you to understand the struggles of being a Black man. I do not expect you to understand what it’s like to have a father incarcerated or how a conversation on a cell phone with me could ruin his chance of probation. I do not expect you to understand the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I looked down the barrel of a gun—the man behind the trigger a fellow Black man who had every intention of killing me. Nor do I expect you to understand that the emotions, I felt in that situation were not anger or rage but pain and sorrow. This is a part of my Black history.
Behind every great Black accomplishment there are countless stories we will never hear, silenced by the discrimination and violence perpetuated through institutional racism and xenophobia. We criticize the contemporary issues of African Americans without acknowledging the systems of oppression that brought them about.
I don’t expect any person of privilege to fully understand our struggles. But I do expect you to understand that the system within which we all operate is skewed. The responsibility of educating against the ignorance surrounding institutional racism and White privilege no longer falls in the laps of African Americans. We’ve said enough. The streets have said enough. It’s a matter of listening now.
Micah Walker ’21
Our society has always exemplified a stance that tells Black Americans, “You are less.”
Before I was a Wabash man, before I was a man of God, before I was a Black man, I was—I am—human. As a human, and as an American, I have a right to certain freedoms and privileges.
I have the right to judge, critique, and protest. America is conditioned to believe that an acceptable outcome of citizens not fully cooperating with the police is death. There is no reason Black people—or anybody—should have to consider their own demise whenever they encounter the police.
The current disdain shown toward the police isn’t about individual officers and it never has been. It’s about the problematic structure of policing and the way it negatively affects citizens, especially Black ones. As one protester wrote on social media, “Judging a demonstration by its most violent protesters but not judging a police force by its most violent cops is the language of the oppressor.”
I feel hopeful about everything going on right now. I won’t applaud my White and non-Black allies for opening their eyes to the traumatic things Black people have been experiencing in America and standing up for what’s right because there’s more work to be done. I have seen allies beside us in these protests and using their social media platforms to fight against racism and discrimination. They are teaching family, friends, and ignorant bystanders within their own race how to be better allies. That is inspiring.