Damage to Black History Month display raises racial questions

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Since 1976, the month of February has officially been recognized and celebrated as Black History Month by the United States. For decades, the dedicated month has been used as a time for cultures of America, as well as the world, to learn about one another.

North Central College Resident Assistant (RA) Jordan Patterson sought to ensure that this was the case. Patterson, a black senior at NCC, spent an entire weekend creating, designing and putting together a display spanning three sections of wall on his floor in Res/Rec.

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Photo by Kara Kots

The display consisted of three specific periods Patterson wished to draw emphasis to: the 1960s, the 1990s and the 2000s. Sections of the wall contained cutouts of famous and historical figures of black culture such as Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis and Barack Obama, with facts and tidbits around each.

On the next section, Patterson had taped a large fist made of black construction paper to the wall, formed from several different-sized cuts of paper. Though this fist has been historically associated with violence, Jordan explained why he decided to include it in his display.

“The black power fist simply is a way for black people to be strongly united. It’s a symbol that stands for the unity of black culture,” said Patterson. “That’s what it’s supposed to mean, though not how it’s always perceived.”

Well, as Patterson would discover, not everyone thought the same of the black fist. Upon returning from class on Wednesday, Feb. 8, Patterson noticed the fist was missing. Eventually, he found it thrown into a corner of the common area, having been seriously crinkled up. Though Patterson taped the fist back up, by Saturday morning it had all but disappeared.

Neither incident was a shock to Patterson; the fist was displayed as a test to see whether symbols of black culture would be accepted at North Central College, a predominately white institution. He recalled a conversation with his mother when he first thought of the idea, during which she warned him something would happen to it. For Patterson, that was the whole point.

“I wasn’t surprised, I wanted to see if it was going to happen,” he said.

Though North Central has several organizations across its campus dedicated to cultural diversity and education, it appears that there is a great deal of division to overcome. Patterson mentioned several students informing him that they had been called the “n-word”, and he himself experienced incidences, all of which indicated an underlying truth to him.

“North Central is a place that still lacks understanding of social and cultural diversity,” said Patterson. “You can sense the separation between cultures in Naperville.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 4.36.42 PMPatterson recorded and posted a video to Facebook detailing the events that transpired; as of Monday evening the video has reached over 30,000 views. While Patterson wants the event to be heard, he doesn’t intend to replace the fist display.

“It’s not about the act of having something there, it was about me putting that up and waiting for it to be torn down. From here on out, now people can see there is still a problem.”

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