Brianna Jackson leading a march through Academic Row on Wednesday, November 4, 2015. (Zachary Garmoe for TRW)
UMBC’s Black Student Union held a peaceful march on November 4 in response to an offensive post shared on a Snapchat account, umbc.snaps. The snap showed an unidentified student turning to the camera with what is alleged to be a dark brown acne mask on their face stating, “I’m finally black.” Many in the student body have noted this as an instance of blackface.
BSU called for a “peaceful march to demand accountability and action,” on social media. “It’s time to talk about… #theREALUMBC,” their locally viral images read.
Anyone wanting to participate in the march was welcome to join. Attendees congregated in front of the Yum Shoppe at noon where Brianna Jackson, a junior majoring in sociology and Spanish and the secretary for BSU was there to welcome them. Among the group were students, faculty and staff.
Jackson started the event by heavily emphasizing that the march was to be strictly peaceful. Jackson also introduced the three chants to be iterated through the march, “Black students matter,” “say it loud. I’m black and I’m proud,” and “UMBC, we want real diversity.”
The march began in The Commons, went through the Breezeway, the entirety of Academic Row and ended at the Administration Building. Jackson addressed the crowd with a speech to not only introduce, explain and condemn the offensive snap but also go further than the incident that occurred.
Jackson said, “obviously an acne mask isn’t the problem,” and went on to explain the history of blackface and ignorance of the issue. “We’re organizing to highlight the fact that UMBC stands as one of the up and coming universities for diversity and for undergraduate research, but does that really reflect itself in the student body? Is that really reflected in the conditions that it has set up to create this social environment that we’re working in? There’s a lot of anti-blackness on this campus that has not been addressed and I feel like today is the day to address it,” she said.
Hunter McGuire, junior sociology major and BSU member said, “the march was able to bring people together and to let people know that [joking] about any race is not acceptable, and to let everyone on the campus know that this issues will not be overlooked nor accepted.”
McGuire added, “there are many cultures that are prevalent in society, and as a society we should be able to accept and embrace that diversity instead of making jokes and overlooking the historical and racial issues.”
UMBC’s President Freeman Hrabowski and Provost Philip Rous issued an official statement later the same day. In it, the incident was addressed and accompanied by a reiteration of UMBC’s core values of respect and support.
Hrabowski wrote, “we are greatly troubled to see recent material on social media that fails to honor these, our most fundamental, campus values. Our university community does not support or condone hurtful, racist or offensive language, imagery, or actions in any form.”
In reference to the march, Hrabowski said, “we commend and support the strong response from the campus community, including student organizations, expressing concern over racist language and calling on us all to work together to uphold and reaffirm our community values.”
While it did elicit a response, the march was not the last step for BSU.
Created by BSU, The Black Bridge Initiative currently in progress is described as “an effort to enhance UMBC diversity policy, build cultural awareness through education, and integrate the needs of black students and faculty with that of the greater campus community.”