It was a seemingly normal day, a Friday, last Friday to be exact. Classes were done for the week but the day was full of meetings. During a break in one, I happened to get on Facebook and see an article in this here Sun about some Black Students Union. Of course, I was confused because Cornell doesn’t have a Black Students Union. We have Black Students United, but no Black Students Union. It also later came to my knowledge that some of the people quoted in the article were not asked if their quotes could be used or to double check them as is usually Sun policy. In addition, for the record, this is not the first time The Sun has misquoted, misnamed (only to have to issue an apology and adjust the name after the fact) or misrepresented Black Students United. Hence the outrage.
If you look at the article on the website today you would never know that this “bluff” was made. Do not get me wrong, I do not believe anyone at the Sun intentionally got the name of BSU wrong. Maybe that makes me naive, but I would like to think we have more integrity than that. What is problematic about all of this to me is that no one caught the mistake. Of course, if members of BSU had been consulted about the article before it went to print, maybe this would not have happened.
Every letter in a sorority’s name has a meaning. Our parents often named us what they did for a reason — there is some value, lesson, or nostalgia behind our name. What we call ourselves matters and how people interpret, react to or understand our names matters as well. It matters because Damari often cannot get the same interviews as Daniel because employers are less willing to call him back, even if his resume demonstrates that he is more qualified. It matters because Alejandra might be even less likely to get a call back than Damari due to both sexism and racism in the workplace. My name matters so you better call me by it, and if you are not sure how to pronounce or spell it, then ask.
Black Students United’s name has a purpose. Now, I have not been a BSU e-board member since my sophomore year, so do not go saying someone on BSU wrote an inflammatory column in the Sun because that is not the case. But, I have always personally understood the naming of BSU to represent not only the structure and system behind Black student clubs at Cornell, but to also demonstrate something unique about Blackness in general. Our diaspora is made up of many different countries, cultures, names, ideologies, movements, etc. but at the end of the day we all share the common thread of being Black. Even when we want to get all Stacey Dash and act clueless about where our roots come from, to the rest of the world, no matter how we feel, we are always Black. Thus, we always carry whatever comes with that label — good or bad. So Black Students United’s name, I believe is a tribute to the beauty and diversity of our African diaspora, both as it is represented at Cornell, and how it is actualized in larger society. We are Black. We are Students. And we are United, often in-spite of and because of our differences. We are not a Black Students Union because that is static, and Blackness is always more than that. Blackness has always been more than that.
So, when I ask you to call us by our names, I do so because I want you too to see and come to understand the beauty and diversity of thought, experience, skin tone, hair texture, hot sauce preferences and a million other things that make me and the sister or brother next to me different, but Black together all at the same time. You were probably a bit thrown off when you read the title of this column. “The Cornell Daily Reporter, what’s that?” you may have thought to yourself. Or maybe you thought, “How dare she mis-name and in the process mis-represent The Cornell Sun.” See, names matter. Call us by ours.
Gabrielle Hickmon is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gabbing with Gabby appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.