Whoever put that banana on the dormitory door of those black Temple University students messed with the wrong women. The four who live in that suite may be freshmen, but they are "woke," as the kids say.
Those four African American undergrads took one look at that banana on their door handle Sept. 11 and saw it as a jab at them for being black. They didn't just get mad. They also notified their resident adviser in Morgan Hall North on the 1600 block of Broad Street, tweeted about it on social media, and gave interviews to local reporters.
"It's not a coincidence that a banana was placed on our door," said Madison Brown, an undeclared business major from Upper Marlboro, Md. "I was upset because I felt like people were basically targeting our race."
"The first thing that popped in my head was the negative connotation of black people and bananas, you know, how they call us primates or say we're primitive," she told me Monday. "I felt that way because we are the only entirely black room on the floor."
Temple University Police, University Housing and Residential Life staff, and Campus Safety Services have been investigating to determine if the students' suspicions are true. After all, that kind of animus has risen sharply lately, as evidenced by last month's neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. On Saturday, Sennia Vann, a student at Cabrini College in Radnor Township, returned to her dormitory room and found the words "Go away n–" scrawled on her door.
This summer, two Philly incidents involving nooses were reported — one fashioned by a white employee at the U.S. Mint who left it at a black colleague's work station, and another discovered in a tree near Penn Medicine's Rittenhouse location. Police told me Tuesday they are still investigating the tree incident. And officials at the Mint said the employee accused of making the noose is on paid administrative leave.
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, at California State University in San Bernardino, recently released the results of a new study showing that hate crimes are up about 5 percent nationwide — and up 50 percent in Philadelphia.
"This is a terrible thing," Brian Levin, the center's director, said after I told him about the Temple allegations. "We have to speak with one voice in condemnation of any incident that degrades someone's dignity."
Temple officials issued a statement last week saying they wouldn't tolerate racial or ethnic harassment on campus. The alleged perpetrator could be disciplined for violating the student conduct code and face criminal charges. Privacy issues prevent them from giving out more information, but the allegations have been covered extensively by the campus paper.
Tyrell Mann-Barnes, Temple's student body president, is organizing a forum on diversity for next month in response to the incident. The dorm mates say that the offending student no longer lives in their residence hall but that he has since stopped by their suite to apologize.
"We talked to him, and he said what he had to say, and my roommates said what they had to say," Halle Ray, an 18-year-old social-work major, told me Monday. "I barely said anything, because I didn't feel as though I need to talk to him."
I can't say that I blame her. These students may be warriors, but they're still awfully young and impressionable. The two I interviewed, Brown and Ray, had attended Catholic schools and were surprised that something like that would happen on a campus as diverse as Temple's.
Kimberly Russell, Madison's mother, said of the girls: "As my mom would say, they have a lot of moxie, a lot of self-awareness. I'm really proud of them."
"Racism is here. It's not going anywhere," Russell said. "Unfortunately, my child and her roommates felt it in the most unexpected way."
The experience has been a good lesson on just how ignorant some people are when it comes to dealing with other races. Brown told me her biggest takeaway from the ugliness is an understanding of how much more "woke" she is than some of her classmates.