As students sat sprawled out around the statue of Tommy Trojan on an uncomfortably warm Tuesday morning, a bespectacled blonde girl jumped to her feet to address the crowd. “As you all probably noticed, I’m a white girl,” she said.
“And I’m sorry,” she continued. “Because I have not experienced the racism and institutional discrimination that a lot of you have.”
The girl was speaking to a crowd of predominantly African-American students at a rally held in response to the grand jury decision in Ferguson on Monday to not indict Darren Wilson, the shooter of Michael Brown. She had been at a protest the night before, and received preferential treatment because of her race, she said.
“Somebody said, ‘All you white folk who are here, please go in the front, because the police are not going to hurt you.’ And that’s not okay.”
The USC crowd was not limited to black students alone. Caucasian, Asian and Latino students who joined the protest said that the news was poignant to all minorities who are vulnerable to discrimination. One African-American student toted a sign stating: “Black, Brown, Yellow, Solidarity.”
“It’s a human issue,” said Danielle Hixon, a USC junior who had coordinated the event.
Just moments before, most of the group had lain down on the ground in a four-and-a-half minute silence in honor of the request Brown’s family had made ahead of the decision.
A serene calm had swept over the air. Many of the young people had said it was their first public demonstration and spoke passionately about other prominent black contemporaries such as Eric Gardner, Ezell Ford and Trayvon Martin. Some passersbys stopped to take pictures and videos. Some took off their backpacks and joined the demonstrators. Outside of the circle, a university tour group awkwardly stood and watched.
“I’m very disappointed,” Hixon said of the decision.
Hixon said that being at USC in particular opened her eyes to racial issues. “It’s bothersome, definitely,” she said, adding that friends had experienced being the tail end of racist comments made at parties, especially on the row.
But “I’m not going to condemn the entire, whole of USC for like, a few dumb people,” she said. “I just feel like the racist, ignorant people—they tend to be the loudest.”
Ometo “MC” Anassiyzo, a junior at USC, said his disappointment by the grand jury decision was compounded later that night when he went on Yik Yak, a popular anonymous message board app, to see racist comments being made. “There was one comment about the black house at USC,” he said, in reference to a recent student government resolution to create a programming space for African-American students on campus. It said, ‘Why are they building a jailhouse at USC?'”
Anassiyzo, who was at the event with friends, told the crowd it was important to develop a “thick skin.”
“My best friend David Elliott came up to me and was like, ‘Pick your head up, man. Don’t even let your body language drop,'” he said.
Hixon said that many of her friends tended to avoid discussing racial issues. “I feel like most students who aren’t of color possibly don’t realize that, because they don’t have to experience… like, what a person of color goes through on a daily basis. As a black person, you realize you’re black everyday,” said Hixon, who comes from Woodland Hills, a predominantly white L.A. suburb. “And in these classes, you’re like, one of two black people.”
Hixon said she would consider the rally a success as long as it started a dialogue. “We just want to hear what you guys feel [and] we want to tell you how we feel,” she said.
Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, Hixon wasn’t sure how large of a turnout to expect. Glancing over her shoulder at the dozens of students behind her—a crowd that would gradually swell to well over a hundred people—she said she was happy at the attention the event had received. “In general, all of these people are new to me, and I’ve never met them,” she said, smiling. “I’m really proud that they decided to come out and support the issue.”
“I hope to have people stop trying to avoid the topic of race, and stop saying racism is over, because it is not over,” she said.
Originally written for Neon Tommy: CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY.
This multimedia story was produced in collaboration with USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism. I produced this along with Michelle Toh and Ani Ucar. I am responsible for the audio slideshow.