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A University of Alabama student from New Jersey posts racist rant and is sent packing

The University of Alabama is reeling from a viral racist rant this week by a 19-year-old student from New Jersey who defended her repeated use of the N-word by saying, “I’m in the South now.”

That didn’t prevent Harley Barber from immediately being kicked out of her sorority Alpha Phi, which she had proudly cited during her rant, and expelled from the University of Alabama.

Her vicious harangue brought condemnation from near and far, including a member of the Crimson Tide football team, running back Damien Harris.

On Wednesday University of Alabama president Stuart Bell said, “I find the videos highly offensive and deeply hurtful, not only to our students and our entire University community, but to everyone who viewed them. We hold our students to much higher standards, and we apologize to everyone who has seen the videos and been hurt by this hateful, ignorant and offensive behavior.”

Barber posted not one, but two crude tirades, the first in which she recorded herself at a sink turning off the water as she says: “We don’t waste water because of people in Syria. I love how I act like I love black people because I f–king hate n------—–."

Stung by the negative reaction on social media, Barber raised her volume and vulgarity Monday, the national MLK holiday, and posted a racist-laden attack on critics. When a laughing friend in the background cautions Barber about her language, the teen responds: “I’m in the South now, bitch…I’m from New Jersey, so I can say N----- as much as I want.”

The incident received national coverage including the New York Post, which had a brief interview with Barber in which she told the paper she was packing to return to south Jersey: “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 one poster on the Alabama school newspaper noted, this will follow Barber for the rest of her life: "Her ignorance written in 'permanent ink' on the internet for every HR Department in the country to see....forever.")

On social media, University of Alabama students complained that people were blaming Barber's behavior on the fact “it’s Alabama.” They pointed out Barber is from the supposedly more enlightened northeast.

Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, now NFL-bound, addressed that aspect of Barber's rant on Twitter:

The point is reiterated in an editorial in the University of Alabama student newspaper:

Unfortunately for Northerners wishing to absolve themselves of guilt, racism is not an Alabama problem, it’s an American problem. Barber herself is from New Jersey, and more than half of the University is now comprised of out-of-state students – as are a majority of members of this editorial board. As much as people would like to believe that this type of hatred is regional, that argument again dismisses a problem that we need to acknowledge exists before we even dream of fixing it.

There are valid reasons why people want to and continue to dissociate themselves from the vile racism of people like Barber. By claiming that she is merely an extreme outlier at The University of Alabama, or that she simply represents a hopelessly backward region of the country, we disconnect ourselves from the hard internal work that needs to be done to combat prejudice. We absolve ourselves, our friends and our communities of any responsibility for contributing to the ugly beliefs that still exist in this world. “This problem may exist,” we think, “But not within me. Not here.” When people of color talk about the discrimination they still face, we don’t believe them, because this would contradict what we believe about ourselves and our communities.

But think of all the Harley Barbers who have not posted their racist rants, or who express their racism more tactfully. Think of all her friends in the background of the video, egging her on, still students at this University. They are all around us. They are our classmates, our family members, sometimes our friends, and sadly, they sometimes represent the worst parts of us. To deny this not only denies the experiences of people of color, but also, makes sure that we will never work to change our communities or ourselves.

I am linking to a copy of Barber's second video here, but caution you it's repulsive. I agree with the student newspaper; it's sad Barber is surrounded by fellow Alabama students who did not call a halt to her hateful performance.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.