Numbness is an interesting sensation. Where pain can be bitingly cruel and pleasure can be soothingly sweet, numbness can be both everything and nothing at the same time. Ultimately, I sit here today talking about numbness because Wake Forest’s campus and the U.S. as a whole has become numb.
Almost three weeks ago — January 20, 2018 — a young man, Najee Ali Baker, lost his life here on Wake’s campus.
In the same weekend, a video documenting a young woman’s confession of hate-speech was reported to the University’s administration.
Almost a week later it was revealed that another individual was sexually assaulted the same weekend.
The weekend of Jan. 20 was a terrible one for our campus, yet Monday greeted many emotionally, mentally and physically taxed students with complete and utter indifference.
That morning, after having spent the previous 24 hours worrying about and checking on my community, I walked out onto the quad to discover that the events that I thought had taken place had not actually happened. No one had died, no one was sexually assaulted and no one was verbally abused in a building named after Maya Angelou, one of the world’s late champions for equality. My friends and I had hallucinated the entire weekend. The Wake Forest community was still the embodiment of “Pro-Humanitate.”
I must have been out of my mind. After all, there is no way that people could continue about their business as if none of those things had happened.
Secure in my knowledge that I had had an incredibly disturbing dream, I went to check my email and discovered that I am not the one who lost his mind.
I opened my email to discover that the nightmare I had been having on Jan. 20 at 12:58 a.m. had been a reality. In fact, it was well-documented in my inbox. I was still — am still — living it.
I discovered that death and assault and racism are hidden on every corner of this campus. Unfortunately, the majority of this campus’ inhabitants have embraced a moral and emotional numbness.
Ultimately, with every class that passed without mention of the person who died and with every jubilant greeting, the numbness hanging over our university seeped into my bones. So did another, more violent sentiment: fury. Fury at the lack of reaction. Fury at the lack of action taken by most of my professors and the majority of University administrators. That haze melted into the marrow of my bones and left me on fire with the need to move, act and react yet simultaneously immobilized by the numbness I felt.
This numbness is not the same as the numbness afflicting the majority of the campus. My numbness is the result of debilitating overstimulation caused by attending a memorial for Najee Baker and watching his family slog through air so saturated with collective grief that the weight of it was physical. My numbness is the result of seeing that even now, in 2018, a black man’s life, a black woman’s humanity and another woman’s agency still do not matter enough for people to address their theft.
No, my numbness is not the same numbness that enables people to carelessly conduct business as usual. My numbness is not caused by indifference. It is a pre-cursor, the calm before the storm. A warning of things to come.
Yet it is still exhausting and emotionally damaging. I, and many others, can see the way that numbness is splintering into sharp edges — edges which are beginning to pulverize the mask of which Paul Laurence Dunbar spoke. Those of us who look underneath the surface see the “torn bleeding hearts” with which we smile. I see it in the emotional instability of my friends, and I see it in the way that many people of color fled Wake Forest’s campus to escape a reality many thought only lived in history books. I see it in the way a woman in my residence hall discussed her prospects of a one-night stand with a man she acknowledged as racist because he was “really hot.” I see it everywhere, and though I burn to combat it, no plan of action exists.
I do know one thing: we cannot let these events go. Everyone needs to address the realities of our situation. The world we live in is balanced on the psychological slavery of the masses.
Unfortunately, I am resigned to accept the reality that not everyone is willing to acknowledge these fundamental truths.
All the while, as long as the numbing haze of indifference exists in our society — in any society — and as long as people choose to let this numbness anesthetize instead of incentivizing them, Wake Forest won’t ever get to a place where “Pro-Humanitate” is more than just a slogan. The U.S. will never be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”