Campus Reform | Blaming Jim Crow, Northwestern student journalist says the way White people walk on sidewalks is too racist

Blaming Jim Crow, Northwestern student journalist says the way White people walk on sidewalks is too racist

A Northwestern student newspaper opinion editor wrote that White people at the school walk on the sidewalk in an annoying way because of internalized racism.

He added that “the racism that undergirded Jim Crow” is to blame for this behavior.

The opinion editor of the Northwestern University’s student newspaper recently published an article asserting that White people walk awkwardly on sidewalks because of their internalized racism. 

“When I first got to Northwestern, I wondered why walking around on campus could be so frustrating. Even when sidewalks were relatively empty, I would often have to walk way around people to pass without bumping into them,”  wrote Kenny Allen of The Daily Northwestern, “At first, I chalked it up to the geographic diversity of the school; maybe the people that came to this school were used to different ways of moving through a public place.”

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However, after “talking to [his] Black friends about my experience,” Allen concluded that “people at this predominantly White school would not move out of our way on the sidewalk.”

Laying out the claims by University of Richmond sociologist Bedelia Richards for determining “whether one’s university is racist” -- such as which groups feel most “at home,” whose “norms, values and perspectives” are legitimated, and “who inhabits positions of power” -- Allen concluded that “white people” meet most of the criteria. 

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Allen then asserted that “the formal rules of Jim Crow were accompanied by a set of informal ones that governed the way Black people approached White people in public space and vice versa.” This social order “required Black people to yield to White people whenever possible” -- such as “stepping off the sidewalk when a White person was walking past.” 

“White people came to expect the right of way in public spaces,” he added. “White people who were accustomed to moving through the world like that — intentionally or not — taught their kids to move through the world in the same way. And the racism that undergirded Jim Crow wasn’t eliminated just because the laws were no longer overtly racist.”

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Allen concluded that “many White people walk around campus having unknowingly absorbed this particular facet of White supremacy, and the leaders of the institution do little to make us believe that White supremacy is something worth challenging in the first place.”

Campus Reform reached out to The Daily Northwestern and Northwestern University for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow this author on Twitter: @BenZeisloft