Living While Black: From Starbucks To Memphis To Yale, Where Is White Accountability?

Living While Black: From Starbucks To Memphis To Yale, Where Is White Accountability?


One of the goals of education is to challenge new ways of thinking, as well as create inroads which would develop pathways and options for discovery. No set of American institutions quantify this like the aura which follows Ivy League schools.

This May Lolade Siyonbola , black graduate student of Yale University, was sleeping in the common room of her dorm during finals week when a white Ph.D. student, Sarah Braasch (who is incidentally studying the effects of the phenomena of the school to prison pipeline-the irony is not lost here) called the police on her — for taking a power nap in the common area of the dorm. The police asked to see her student ID, questioned why she was there, and the almost-Dr. Braasch chimed in by saying, “You can’t sleep in that room.” After Ms. Siyonbola opened her door, Lolade protested she shouldn’t have to prove that she lived in the building. I have lived in enough dorms that in order to get in, you need an ID with clearance to even enter.

From this incident, the black alum of Yale, along with current students, have rallied to her defense, demanding Sarah be expelled. There is a hashtag #ExpelSarahBraasch circulating on Twitter. The grounds for her expulsion:  wasting police resources in a way that is clearly, and only, racially motivated.

“Someone who uses the police in the way that Sarah used the police should be held accountable. There needs to be punitive measures for people who act out of racially motivated bias.” -Lolade Siyonbola

I agree. Since the Emancipation-Reconstruction era, through The Civil Rights Movement to The War On Drugs, and now the Black Lives Matter movement, police have been used by certain white people as a social cleaning and cleansing service. They are called to move or remove offensive blackness from the view or vision of white people or white spaces. This has been done with impunity, with such callous regularity, that it seems to be as ordinary and unmoving as rain. There must be accountability!

There is no respect given, nor will be given, to black people whom white people find scary, intimidating, uncontrollable or ‘misplaced.’ In asking for accountability, we, as people of color, confront them in their racism they dress up in ‘concerned citizenry.’ In asking for the expulsion of Sarah Braasch, the black student body at Yale University is asking they, too, be granted both the protection and privilege of education. They are asking that they be treated as any white student is treated. They are asking for her actions to be seen just as they are:  racially motivated. Which according to the institution of Yale University, racial bigotry or bias, has no place there.

Why is this so hard?

This is so difficult because racism is insidious now. It hides behind keyboards and smiles and degrees now.  It apologizes because it wants to save face, career, and friends. It is hard to be held to any account because racists and bigots hate labels. In labeling something, you identify it without error or second thought–it can’t be anything else than what it is. Make no mistake– Sarah called the police on a predominately white campus at an Ivy League University because the black person she saw there in the common room either unnerved her or she wasn’t familiar with her. In making the police come and remove or make her  ‘show freedom papers’ her whiteness was assuaged — she remained in control with the comfort of law enforcement to rock her to sleep. Just as she was taught or shown.

While demanding accountability for her, and those who use the police as their meaner big brother, or as a pillar to officiate their white privilege or fragility, we expose the farce that is their ‘concern’. The only concern those of this ilk have is control, oppression, and subjugation. The only way to expose it is through confrontation, labeling, and accountability. These same things which insulate white supremacy and wish to inoculate those who believe white supremacy to be wrong, and morally bankrupt — will offer ‘concern’ instead to perpetuate the effective reach of white supremacy–even to a common room at Yale.

In the age of #BlueLivesMatter, shouldn’t this apply to their precious time? If there is a penalty for a false police report, should there not be some accountability for having the police called when black people are:  sleeping, checking out of an Airbnb, waiting on friends, coming late to college tour, moving into an apartment, laughing on a train,  going into our homes in a gated community or checking out a potential rental property? If whiteness is so intimidated by blackness, shouldn’t whiteness leave those spaces? But that would upset the balance systematic racism has put in place — where the others who are not of this white ilk are to be removed because they are less than.

Accountability must come, it will come. Justice, as it’s precursor, will always demand accountability. What better way to begin this surge towards it than in the halls of higher learning? If you can learn to be a racist bigot, perhaps you, too, can unlearn it.

Jennifer P. Harris

Jennifer P. Harris

Jennifer P. Harris is a lifelong St. Louis, Missouri resident, married mother of two, and founder of the blog The Ideal Firestarter ( since December 2016. She is a freelance writer, and contributor to the blog Write To Life. She is an independent author of several books available on Amazon, including the poetry series Love Songs Of the Unrequited, and her newest release, Writelife.