Photo: Ken Beljour
To be black at a predominantly white institution is interesting. I am not going to say it’s bad nor is it great. If I had to label it, I would say that it’s different. Different in the sense that it introduces me to new perspectives into the human condition. This is especially true when you’re one of the only persons of color within the majority of your friend groups, as well as your classes. To be black at a predominantly white school is different in the sense that you take on new challenges.
These challenges include figuring out your identity and representing your race from the minute you wake up to the minute you rest your head at night. This could take on numerous forms, such as having to constantly correct people about how their comments are offensive, their false realities of how black people are, and what it means to be black.
Now, these are challenges that many students of color on this campus must face. When it comes to representing your race, it’s like balancing the world on your shoulders without collapsing. Sure enough, this sounds exhausting, but you know what? It is something that many of us usually endure as freshman and to top it off, we start at 17 or 18 years old.
When I usually think of being black on this campus, it just makes me think of the constant stereotypes and microaggressions we face. Usually I hear things such as, “you’re the whitest black guy I know”, “you don’t act like a normal black person”, “why do you sound white”, and many more. This is tiring to go through day in and day out. Sometimes I feel as if they expect black people to be like the stereotypical black people that you see in crime movies. The most annoying stereotype that I have ever heard, and still hear to this day, is the one where people say, “you’re the whitest black guy I know”. Not only is this disrespectful to me, but it is disrespectful to all people of color. That is basically telling me/us that you group us all together. It seems as if they try to link us all together with the ones they look upon as thugs. Just because I listen to different genres of music besides rap, I play lacrosse, the majority of the people I hang out with are white, and I am well spoken, doesn’t make me any less black. Now, doesn’t this seem exhausting to have to deal with day in and day out?
In the majority of my classes, I feel isolated being either the only or one of the only people of color. Sometimes, I feel like I have a spotlight on me being the only person of color in the classroom. This usually then leads to me representing my entire community through the words I speak. Which is sometimes shameful within itself, since I don’t know nearly as much about sustainability/nature then say people who grew up around it their entire life.
I am from New York City, and we did not discuss issues of environmental sustainability where I went to high school at, which made freshman year a nightmare. When it came to Images of Nature, I sometimes felt as if I was lost because students from the New England area knew all the national parks and things that impact nature. When I came here, I had no idea about more than 3 national parks, so when I would get asked about things regarding that, I felt lost. This then made me feel like I was getting judged by all the non-students of color, because I was ignorant on things that were hardly taught in my high school’s curriculum.
Especially when it comes to difficult conversations such as, “why can black people use the n word, but I can’t?”, “how are black people still not free when slavery was abolished? “or my personal favorite, “you aren’t like the other black people I know/seen before”. These are just some of the irritating things that people of color hear on this campus.
Being a person of color on a campus like this usually results in me being exhausted. Usually, I find myself being in situations where I feel as if I am having my mental health tested. Certain incidents where I found myself losing my sanity were in classrooms due to people’s ignorance and emotionally charged conversations. The following incident paints a vivid picture of such an incident.
Last year, I was in a situation where the professor brought up the controversial subject of what do we think of police brutality. Of course, a person who has never felt fear when being stopped by the police had something to say. Vaguely, I remember their comments being somewhere along the lines of the following:
“People don’t realize how hard it is to be a cop, you have to put on a badge in the morning and protect the community. If somebody looks suspicious, it is their job to arrest them, so police brutality is not a real thing”.
Then the person tried to validate their point by saying she comes from a family of police officers, and that they are “tired of black people trying to make enemy of the police”. Not only was this hurtful, but it was incredibly disrespectful and inaccurate. The sole fact that the person who said this statement believed that black people are making enemies of the police because, we are tired of seeing one another die is completely barbaric.
Per usual, I found myself having to speak up against this type of ignorance being that I was one of the only people of color in the classroom.
If you have never been in the situation where you have felt your skin color is looked upon as a threat, I don’t want to hear your opinion on how me or people of color in general should react when we are being met with resistance. Especially if your reasoning for it is because you have family members who are police. It’s all irrelevant to me. Mainly because, being a cop is a job and being black is an ethnicity.
Call it what it is; privilege. It is a privilege to walk around without having the feeling that you may not be able to breathe when the people who swore to serve and protect you, arrest you.
It is a privilege that:
∙You don’t get nasty stares when you walk into town because people feel as if you don’t belong here.
∙That you don’t get followed around a store because people’s own ignorance causes them to believe that you are going to steal something.
∙Not to feel the ongoing pressure of feeling the need to prove yourself to your white peers.
∙To not have the statistic of, 1 in 3 people who look like you will go to prison in their lifetime.
∙You don’t have to tell your children/siblings about systematic oppression and the harsh realities that are out there.
∙You aren’t affected by the negative implications/stereotypes that are buried deep within American society, and most commonly get perpetuated through the media.
∙You don’t have to deal with people telling you to “get over slavery, that has been abolished since 1865”.
You see, to be black on a predominantly white campus is to be emotionally drained most of your day. You hardly get a chance to destress. Whether it be in Chartwells, walking in town, grocery shopping, class, etc. People of color here, do not get a break. We are forced to be black and code switch for the liking of those around us. At times it feels as if we are 2 different people stuck inside of one. The person who we truly are which is who we tend to hide ourselves away from because of the ongoing stereotypes that we are forced to endure.
Then you have the other side, which is the one where we make ourselves more acceptable to white people. You may have noticed the differences in how many of us POC converse with one another in comparison to how we converse with our non-people of color friends. It all comes down to the diverse ways in how we code switch. The majority of us must switch the dialect we speak at home or with our friends in order to duck the stereotypes that if we talk in the way that we are accustomed to, we are referred to as “hoodlums”. Which is ironic because African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a part of the English language; it is a dialect that has been traced back to slavery.
Now, I am a senior at this institution and at times I feel as if racial issues don’t get acknowledged as much as they should. Personally, I feel as if this school either turns a blind eye to a lot of the constant issues that impact the people of color on campus or they only care when it is beneficial to them. We can see the evidence that this is the case, since so many students of color tend to leave the school. Every single day we must endure this continuous cycle of feeling as if we aren’t being heard. When will it stop?
The only way that I believe it will stop is when this school begins to accept and recognize the diverse needs of students of color. They must understand that we exist, we are important, and we will be heard.