Black Menaces showcase ignorance


Photo courtesy of @blackmenaces on IG– Sebastion Stewart-Johnson of Black Menaces interviews members of the LGBTQ+ community at a Utah pride parade.

Liam Beran, Staff Writer

You know them. 

They’re Brigham Young University’s firebrands, provocateurs who dare to ask questions that fly in the face of honor codes and campus administration. 

Armed with cell phones, open minds and the backing of 728,000 TikTok followers, the Black Menaces now interrogate systems of power and discrimination at majority-white academic institutions throughout the country. 

And I’m glad that they’re doing so.

As reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, the group originated after a Latter-day Saints leader and professor of religion at BYU, Brad Wilcox, provoked controversy by suggesting that a ban on Black men joining the priesthood being lifted 1978 in was tertiary to “the whites and other races have[ing] to wait until 1829”. 

The nascent group’s response? A tongue-in-cheek video in which a group of students jokingly agree with the lecture until Wilcox mentions “the whites”.

From there on, the Menaces took to the walkways of BYU’s Provo, Utah campus with aplomb, walking up to random students and asking them their opinion on issues of identity and discrimination that are often unquestioned on a campus that is 81% Caucasian and >1% Black

The responses are infamous, and the jokes that flow from them are prolific. 

One such joke is “I’d have to see what the honor code says about that,” drawing inspiration from what’s perceived as a cop-out phrase for questions like “Should LGBTQ+ students who marry be able to get their diploma” (at BYU, LGBTQ+ students can face disciplinary measures and/or expulsion for being in queer relationships).

 As students at UW Oshkosh, these conversations should be at the forefront of our university as well.

 According to our Office of Institutional Research’s Fall 2021 “Five Year Ethnicity” Fact Book, only 1,842 (15.4%) of the 7,512 undergraduate students enrolled were students of color, with 1.4% of students being marked “unknown”. 

Phrased differently, that means that nearly 83% of students at our campus are white.

I’ve heard insensitive and inflammatory language from fellow students, many of whom claim ignorance of how their statements are discriminatory. 

Others among them claim that they shouldn’t feel a need to “censor” themselves or that their racism, homophobia and transphobia are jokes. 

Yet for marginalized students, these jokes are rarely funny.

This is why I find the Black Menaces so compelling. 

Their methods of interview, though non-confrontational, showcase ignorance and bigotry that is often overlooked by non-marginalized students. 

Centering the interviewees is a key component of this process; by allowing a non-judgmental space for their subjects to speak, we as an audience gain a better sense of what they really think, often with uncomfortable results.

From these interviews, the Menaces have achieved an admirable degree of virality. 

Their website now showcases merchandise, a news page and scholarship opportunities; they identify themselves as “a coalition of students from various universities across the nation fighting to empower marginalized communities through social media.”

 As college students, we have unique opportunities to affect change and shape the course of our future. 

Discussions about race, sexuality and other marginalized identities have to be at the forefront of this change, and our ignorance cannot be an excuse for inaction. 

The Menaces utilize their platform to showcase how prevalent that ignorance can be.

 And it seems like people are listening.