Ignorant and bigoted questions from this semester at school
Just to state from the beginning, I won’t mention names here but you can obviously google what school I go to. I am not alone in feeling isolated and tokenized at a PWI. This stuff still happens all over the country and I argue it is still the fault of institutionalized racism. I deal with it on the micro or macro level every day and with this many ignorant people on my campus, their bad days are my worst days. In general I feel I can’t always bring my whole self to school. But with my friends and a few good ideas I keep pushing for better more inclusive days.
Is that you hair, how to do you style it like that?
This year I started thinking about how I really hate putting a wig on every day or being limited to braids and why not wear my hair like it comes out my head? Thus comes in the slew of commentary, where straight flowing hair with a little curl gets normal compliments. But my natural hair, which is very different, understandably, got a different level of interest from the people that had already been working with me for a semester. But I wasn’t expecting to be asked ‘what style I put on it.’ The answer is water! I resigned later in the semester after fielding the same questions weekly from the SAME person.
Is your Black friend always angry?
I hate it when White students expect me to talk about other Black students with candor and interpret their actions for them. Also the assumption that I know the other Black person well enough to interpret anything really really got under my skin. But I was constantly being told things about other Black students like it was either a credit to ‘my people’ or I was being asked questions to explain it for ‘my people.’ Things like, Does [she] have a chip on her shoulder? Oh I like [her], she is really level headed, I can get along with her and ‘talk’ to her. It’s really obvious what is happening when the only other Black person in the room is being asked these questions….!
Let’s have a kumbaya
More than once last semester it was either suggested or I was tricked into having a fake sharing of feelings and histories. First off, the use of the word kumbaya is cultural appropriation of African culture so I wish the term would stop being used that way. I grew up singing different versions of the song as an actual SONG, not a campfire routine. Secondly, kumbaya rhetoric is lip service to the idea of inclusive circles without actually doing anything, and often takes the place of action as it does in my school. It also does NOT guarantee a safe space for people of color. In two instances this kumbaya idea was used to actually shout at me or the group, in a room full of other people. (wtf?!)
“We will rescue the students of color when we can….”
As I jump down the throat of this person who uttered these words and watch as blood vessels, pieces of food and other neck stuff passes by I am reminded that generally people aren’t being malicious, they intend to help but they are purposefully being as ignorant as possible as they go about it. They also get to do it on their own terms and unless that privilege is pried from their hands they won’t ever think of themselves as anything but the sun with which we revolve around. Student government at my school generally holds to this tradition of doing as little as they can for underrepresented students.
It was the wind….
Early in the fall semester my Black student support group put together a float for the homecoming parade that paid tribute to Black Lives Matter. The day of the parade the float was vandalized and obviously torn apart while all the other floats that were stored with ours suffered no damage. Still, the people from student government that were responsible for the storage of the float assessed the situation and told us that the wind did the damage. Ha!
There is obviously a lot of work to be done at my school. But currently there really isn’t a safe space for students of color and there is a lot of push back from administration and student government to have specifically named spaces for students of color. We need quality locations and dedicated professionals to create intentional and inclusive spaces and that will empower the student leaders but also take some of the load off our backs.
But I will end with this, students of color can’t turn the tide of an institution on their own but that does not mean they have to make themselves a slave or pledge loyalty to the people in charge of making the real change. I have been told multiple times that I need to PROVE the need for changes with research…and I ask with what time and resources on my part? Life could be slightly better if my experiences could stop getting constantly questioned at school and maybe once the freshman campus read was about the true effects of racism.