The common room was off-limits for sleeping

Another one of these – another “___ while black” item. This time it’s falling asleep while working on a paper in the dorm common room while black.

Other entrants include: couponing while blackgraduating too boisterously while blackwaiting for a school bus while blackthrowing a kindergarten temper tantrum while blackdrinking iced tea while blackwaiting at Starbucks while blackAirBnB’ing while blackshopping for underwear while blackhaving a loud conversation while blackgolfing too slowly while blackbuying clothes at Barney’s while blackor Macy’sor Nordstrom Rackgetting locked out of your own home while blackgoing to the gym while blackasking for the Waffle House corporate number while black and reading C.S. Lewis while black, among others.

I recognize several of those without following the links – the graduating too boisterously one, the Starbucks, at least one of the buying clothes, the locked out of your own house.

Siyonbola is a first-year graduate student in the African Studies department at Yale. She had papers and books spread out in a common room while writing a paper Monday, but had flipped off the lights and went to sleep, she explained in her Facebook Live video.

Another graduate student, Sarah Braasch, walked in, turned on the lights and said she was calling police. The common room was off-limits for sleeping, she added.

There’s a slight gap there – between a claimed rule about not sleeping in the common room and calling the police. There are intermediate steps between a minor rule violation and calling the police. Life is full of rules, explicit and implicit, but they don’t all involve calling the police in cases of violation. It’s a rule violation to use the “10 items or fewer” line at the grocery store if you have 20 items in your cart, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth calling the police to deal with it. Sleeping in a dorm common room seems high on the list of non-police-worthy violations. It actually seems like the kind of violation it’s ok to ignore if it’s not bothering anyone. If Brasach wanted to do something in the common room – watch tv, work with the lights on, chat with friends, whatever – surely she could have just done that, leaving Siyonbola to move to her room to nap or go back to writing her paper according to preference.

Agitated, Siyonbola went to Braasch’s room, aiming a cellphone camera at her, and demanded to know why she had called the authorities.

“I have every right to call the police,” Braasch said after snapping a photo of Siyonbola. “You cannot sleep in that room.”

I don’t think that’s even correct. The police frown on frivolous calls. I don’t think we do have “every right” to call the police over a small rule violation. Do parents call the police when their children talk while chewing? I doubt it.

The issue is, of course, much bigger than Yale. People have picketed coffee shops and received apologies from CEOs and college presidents over viral issues of bias that spread at the speed of the Internet, giving institutions an instantaneous black eye.

And with the “while black” incidents piling up, the aggrieved parties have begun to point out the similarities — sometimes in the very videos they post.

And this is one of those places where “identity politics” and “standpoint epistemology” come into play, simply because white people don’t realize how much this kind of thing happens because it doesn’t happen to us. It’s fatally easy to do that homemade epistemology thing of rifling quickly through one’s memory for examples of the kind of thing under discussion, turning up nothing, and concluding that nothing is all there is. It’s fatally easy to forget that one’s own experience can’t always be assumed to stand for everyone else’s experience.

In a post on her Facebook page a day after the incident, Siyonbola also acknowledged that other black people have endured similar treatment.

“Grateful for all the love, kind words and prayers, your support has been overwhelming Black Yale community is beyond incredible and is taking good care of me. I know this incident is a drop in the bucket of trauma Black folk have endured since Day 1 America.”

Then she invited anyone reading her post to share similar stories.

By Thursday, 1,400 people had commented.

Maybe some day we can do better.

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