Students of Color Burning Stages

in Opinion by

The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Clarion, its staff or the institution. If you would like to submit a response or an opinion piece of your own, please contact Editor in Chief Maddy Simpson.

Will Kah | The Clarion

You probably read the title of this column and thought to yourself,

“Here we go again, another article about how Black people have it so bad.”

I understand your frustration. Segregation has ended, Martin Luther King has become the new Jesus, white kids listen to Hip-Hop, black students get a lot of money if they attend college and black women are on the cover of Vogue now.

I start to check the tone of voice I use, asking myself, “Am I too loud? Do I sound too black for him?”

Trust me, I know what you’re feeling, I can even go as far as saying I agree with you. Black people are finally able to perform in the talent show. Some of us are just happy to get in the building to hear the performers and cheer them on, the special, the few, The Amazing Blacks, and the Talented Tenth. There is no way in hell black folks should be angry about racism. You liked the sound of that last sentence. Our friendship is about to take a turn and exit the stage. Here is where I choose the road less traveled.

I am a black student at Bethel University, a predominantly white institution. I wake up everyday feeling blessed that I have the opportunity to earn a college degree. I also wake up everyday knowing I am still in the process of auditioning for America’s talent show. The process begins the second I step outside of my dorm room. Every code I have ever known and lived by switches when a white face comes along. I do not look the sleepy eyed white male in the face for too long afraid that he might think I am angry. I say, “Hello. Good morning brother” so he understands that I am educated, not the stereotype that society has made me out to be. I start to check the tone of voice I use, asking myself, “Am I too loud? Do I sound too black for him?” This all takes place in 30 seconds, before exiting onto the mainstage, into the general population of my college campus.

Thirteen percent of Bethel University is non-white. In the eyes of some people we’ve made it. Some people of color are okay with just being in the mix no matter the percentage. I do not judge my brothers and sisters who hold that view. I, on the other hand, believe that we must demand full integration no matter the circumstance. Lack of money, location, resources, staff and current programs are the few excuses I’ve heard as to why my university and many more lack true integration. You may be thinking, ‘Well, you attend a private Christian institution that is predominately white, what do you expect?’

My friend Merriam Webster defines expectation as such, “a feeling or belief about how successful and good someone or something will be” According to Merriam, you expect me to fail because I am a black student amongst white people, holy Christian people at that. You expect me to fall flat on my face, forget the routine I’ve planned for 21 years, and miss the notes my grandmother has taught me to sing for the last two decades.

You want to put this article down and go back to the white privilege you are used to. You don’t want to deal with it. You are Simon Cowell and I am Fantasia, but I am not looking for your approval so I can move up in life.

I attend a university where the expectations for students cause them to lose their personal identity and fade into the biased society around them. The expectations go as such:

  1. Do not ever speak in your native tongue, dialect, or accent. White people need to know what you are saying.
  2. Dress like the majority so white people can be comfortable when they come around you.
  3. Do not speak-up against race. White students have never been around someone like you and they do not need to feel threatened.
  4. Stop cooking food from your native country in your dorm room. The smell is discomforting for the white noses around campus.
  5. Black girls should not get mad when white students come and touch their hair. They are only fascinated by the difference.
  6. Faculty and staff of color cannot show special attention to students of color. White students need to feel like they’re seen too.
  7. Do not advertise your ethnic events, because white students don’t know if they belong. They are struggling to find their identity.
  8. Keep your success to a minimum. White students who are failing are going to feel even worse that a black student can get good grades and they can’t.
  9. When you go home and are ready to come back to school, keep the person your family loves, adores, admires and looks up to there. White students can’t handle you.
  10. Laugh at racist jokes white students make and pretend like it’s not a problem.

This is when the microaggressions start to come into play (microaggressions are actions or words that keenly disregard people, and makes the dominant culture seem like the norm, and the minority culture as the wayward outlier). Some white people reading this are beginning to feel offended. You want to put this article down and go back to the white privilege you are used to. You don’t want to deal with it. You are Simon Cowell and I am Fantasia, but I am not looking for your approval so I can move up in life.

Do not let a soul tell you that your struggles aren’t real.

For too long people of color have had to wait on the cosine of white people to gain basic humans rights. Native Americans were deemed as barbaric until whites came along, cut their hair, stripped their clothes and saturated their language until it became a whisper in a sandstorm. Latinos are labeled aliens till they show papers of citizenship, and then maybe someone may view them as real humans. Asians aren’t valued till their GPA meets the standard, and the white professors say they have made their families proud. Black people stopped living in the grave of humanity and finally came to the surface after Jim Crow Laws grudgingly deteriorated. We, the ones labeled as minorities, have always been treated like the end of a cigarette in a German smoke room: thrown out of windows, stepped over, passed down to people who don’t want us. These are facts, not assumptions, but I am not concerned about proving them to those who won’t listen.

To my fellow college students of color, first, I want to thank you for taking time to read this, I know midterms are killing you. Remember why you are where you are sitting. Many souls have passed the torch down to you. They have fought the gruesome parts of the battle so the struggles you have aren’t as bad as theirs. Do not let a soul tell you that your struggles aren’t real. We may not be sitting in the back of the bus, attending segregated schools, drinking from different water fountains, restricted from migrating to the U.S., having our clothes burned, hair cut, or placed in internment camps due to the fears of a white nation, but we still are restricted from justice daily. We have to lower our self-worth so the judges we perform for can feel okay enough to give us a pass to the next level of their talent show. To hell with the talent show and screw the judges. We will not stand in the back to watch the Talented Tenth, nor will we allow our identity to be killed in order to gain approval from the majority. We will graduate with honors, accolades, awards, degrees and most of all, our true identity. Racism is not dead, but neither are we.

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