When the now viral video of University of Alabama student Harley Barber shouting racial slurs first made its rounds on social media, fellow student Brittney Thomas says she was in complete shock.
“Wow, she is really bold to have recorded herself saying these things,” the African-American junior from Atlanta, Georgia recalled thinking at the time.
Thomas, 20, was enjoying her day off after classes were canceled due to inclement weather. It also happened to be a national federal holiday: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Her day of peace quickly turned upside down when she noticed the shocking videos on her Twitter timeline.
A day that was supposed to honor the slain Civil Rights icon, who fought against racism and segregation, was quickly marred by Barber’s racist videos in which Barber shouted, “I don’t care if it’s Martin Luther King day. N****r, N****r, N****r. I’m in the south now bitch!”
Outraged, Thomas says she quickly retweeted the videos of Barber hurling the N-word.
“My intentions were to inform students and have a call to action so that the school knew that we were taking this seriously and they should too take it seriously too,” Thomas tells theGrio.
The Video: pic.twitter.com/tfrugmJWh9
— Brittney K 🐣❤️ (@_thebrittneyk) January 16, 2018
A history of racism on the Alabama campus
Perhaps unsurprisingly this isn’t the first time Thomas claims racism has hit the university’s campus. In October 2016, she recalls that a white student threatened to kill a Black student on social media. “I’ll kick your black (expletive). I’ll kill you n*gger, don’t speak to me wrong,” Ryan Parish wrote on Facebook.
The university released a statement saying, “The University does not condone the use of hostile language or threats of violence in any situation. Proper authorities are being notified about recent social media posts, and incidents will be addressed.”
Thomas says, at the time, she and other Black students on the campus felt that the university’s response to the matter wasn’t good enough. Parish, she said, was suspended but not expelled.
As a predominantly white institution, she says Black students at UA deal with their fair share of racist microaggressions. However proving racism to the administration, she says, can be burdensome. “It’s hard to identify passive racism. It’s really more of a systematic racism type of ordeal,” she says.
“I think maybe because of that past situation everybody was kind of like we’re not going to let this die this time,” says Thomas.
A call to action
Thomas not only retweeted the initial videos but launched a firestorm of tweets to her more than 2,000 followers calling on the university to act immediately.
“This is Harley Barber. Harley Barber is AΦ and thinks that she can throw around the N word and not be held accountable for her actions. @UofAlabama let’s prove her wrong. Racism and Bigotry will not and can not be tolerated. Period,” Thomas tweeted.
She also created a Twitter thread listing the names and contact information for administrators including the director of greek life and the vice president and provost.
What Thomas didn’t expect, however, was for the video to get the attention of people far beyond the confines of the university’s southern campus. The clip of Barber’s racist rant became a national story.
Thomas’ retweet of the videos received nearly 4,000 retweets and over 500 replies.
“All I wanted to do was to inform the public and create a call to action for Alabama [University] to take her through the process of code of conduct. I was like ‘we’re not going to let this one go,'” Thomas recalls.
Other students and student-athletes joined Thomas in rallying for justice. Current University of Alabama football players like Damien Harris also helped make Barber’s videos go viral by posting them to Twitter. “This girl goes to the same university as me but they say, ‘racism is dead.’ Unfortunately, this thread says the opposite,” he tweeted.
Former Alabama player Landon Collins, who now plays for the Giants, also expressed his outrage.
“Alpha Phi, ‘Be weary of the company you keep for they are a reflection of who you are or who you want to be,” Collins posted to his Twitter account. “Harley Barber didn’t wake up this morning and decide to spew racist rhetoric for the first time in her life. Therefore, I believe I speak on behalf of my brothers and myself, when I say, the Bama football team does not need the support, cheers or high fives of anyone who condones this type of intolerant, hateful behavior. #BuiltByBama.”
— LANDON COLLINS (@TheHumble_21) January 17, 2018
On the heels of the public outcry on campus and social media, Barber, 19, was eventually kicked out her of sorority Alpha Phi and the university issued a statement announcing the New Jersey native was “no longer enrolled.” Thomas points out that it doesn’t necessarily mean Barber was expelled.
“I know they were still going through the process of going through the code of conduct. They might have gone through with it, but I’m not sure. You can withdraw from school. So maybe she withdrew,” she adds.
In an interview with the New York Post, Barber said that she felt “horrible” over the videos. “I feel so, so bad and I am so sorry,” she said. “I did something really, really bad. I don’t know what to do and I feel horrible. I’m wrong and there’s just no excuse for what I did.”
As for the student body at the University of Alabama, Thomas points out that it wasn’t just Black students who expressed outrage over the videos.
“All Alabama students are upset about this. I know sometimes people feel like when racially motivated or derogatory comments are made toward African-Americans, that it’s just African-Americans who are upset and that’s not how it is. It’s the Alabama student that’s upset,” she says.
While she’s doubtful that the Harley Barber viral video will be the last racist incident on campus, she does hope this situation serves as a wake up call for the entire campus, students and faculty alike.
“Racism is still a very big and important issue on the campus of The University of Alabama. We have to continue to address racism when it occurs and continue to seek disciplinary action for each and every offense,” Thomas says.
“We have to do better in this fight against racism and bigotry, all of us.”