The following piece was submitting by a first generation woman of color at HWS.
Your commentary on how you think black people are inherently inferior, loud, and ghetto, and how black people should be nicer to the police if they don’t want to get shot all the time don’t really have a place in my college experience. Now, don’t get scared away too quickly. When I’m saying “your”, I’m not homogenizing an entire group of people, if you’re one of the people I am talking about, you know you are. Comments I hear in passing or even commentary that some of my white peers make that immediately lead to a nod and abrupt walking away isn’t me supporting or condoning your thought, it’s the literal refusal I have to deal with your nonsense. The small percentage of people of color attending the institution is magnified to me on a daily basis. The occasional pops of color in the seas of homogeneity that increases your visibility, vulnerability, and awareness of yourself and your space is something I felt from the moment I stepped on campus. The gorgeous lake and elite feel of academia from the quad and across campus are a constant reminder of the elite bubbles of academia, and white privilege. Yeah, I know, I go here too. This is supposed to be the level playing field right? I overcame so many obstacles to get here and this should be the deep breath right? I should overlook the accusations of affirmative action, the condescending looks and comments, the imposed feeling of inferiority and less than, and just believe that this is the eradication of racism and jumpstart to a future of equality? I am not saying this to ignore the privilege that comes from being here and obtaining a college degree. We learned human capital theory in my econ class, and I am definitely adding to mine while being here. However, it’s still at an institution on stolen native land, an institution with a KKK photo in its yearbook, and an institution that resides in a system of white supremacy that is the American state. Uh oh… too radical right?
A large part of the liberal agenda is preaching understanding and love. If a system quite literally has its boot on your neck, do you have to ask it how its day has been going? Someone yells at you and you respond with a poem of love? What is this level of understanding, compassion, and level headedness that people of color are expected to have when faced with hatred and disrespect? I am human. I get angry, I get annoyed, and I raise my voice. With that being said, there’s no use in getting upset or even condemning your actions and comments because all it does is waste my energy when you’re just a product of the larger problems of our society. You can’t teach love or even attempt to push people to unlearn hate. If I’m being honest, I don’t care if you don’t like me. Your racism and hatred is irrational, and if you apply the archetype of the angry black woman on me, all you’re doing is hurting yourself, showing the power the media and the state has in making you hate an entire group of people based on images in the media, stereotypes, and maybe even a handful of interactions. You can hate me all you want, but as soon as you serve as an obstacle to my life and goals, that’s where we have a problem. When I critique whiteness and white supremacy, I’m not always even critiquing white people. I have white friends, white professors I like and respect, and white people I know that make a genuine effort in understanding their privilege and positionality in the world without encroaching on spaces for people of color. Rather, I’m critiquing and challenging a system of dominance that has been built and sustained through generational oppression and subjugation of people of color. The coercion, manipulation, criminalization, and hundreds of other tactics to sustain the state and capitalism. Let me slow down, I feel like I’m getting too “radical” and using too many “isms” or the worst one- not appreciating all the hard work black people before me have done to make sure I can sit in the front of the bus. Sorry, that was too harsh. No disrespect, and I want to make it clear I respect every black revolutionary and activist that has made it possible for me to be here today, but seriously- stop throwing that in my face. Whenever saying anything that deviates from the co-opted viewpoint of what non-violent resistance looks like, it turns into a “what would MLK do” discussion, or you pin me as an unappreciative millennial and remind me that “things could be much worse”. Me critiquing the system isn’t me not appreciating activists before me, or being unappreciative to the privileges I know that I have. College is an immense privilege, one that is not awarded to everyone, and being able to attend an accredited liberal arts university with a generous financial aid package that relieves me from a lot of the economic burden is one that I am very grateful for. Opportunities to study abroad, intern, culture clubs on campus, amazing people that I’ve met and fostered phenomenal friendships with are all aspects to my experience that I acknowledge and appreciate. I do this in conjunction with the reality that is being a black woman on campus, in America, and in the world. When speaking of the obstacles faced due to my identity, it turns into an automatic attack on yours… why? Can I not critique a system or an institution? Can I not acknowledge challenges, acts of hatred, and violence enacted on the black body? Can I not get tired of asking for recognition and just be? Stop the squeamish reactions to conversations surrounding racism. You have to deal with a talk and we have to deal with constant demoralizing and dehumanizing comments and behavior. A walking target on our back, racial profiling, the psychological stress of always having to prove yourself, not fall into a stereotype, and be as non-threatening as possible for survival are just some of the constant factors at play for many people of color. The lack of networks and nepotism and white privilege post-graduation is extremely daunting when thinking of entering the workforce, and even building one’s resume to apply to opportunities before graduating. This isn’t a piece to generate guilt, or even compassion really, it’s an encouragement to people of color to really center themselves in the now. Whatever your major is, dedicating time to understanding oneself and your personhood as human first, and not the labels of your race/gender/sexuality through readings of amazing writers like Audre Lorde, Frantz Fanon, Assata, and so much more transcends the creation that is “race”. As stated by Audre Lorde, The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. So instead of trying to forge a seat at the table built at my expense, I would rather make my own table, one that accepts all that I am and who I want to be.
That may have been a long ideological tangent, but everything I have said was informed by the classes and professors that I have taken here. The critiques I have of the institution and the country and systems are ones that I have come through by the challenging questions asked to me by my professors and readings assigned to me in my classes. Study abroad has influenced my ways of thinking and moving about the world. Leadership opportunities in clubs and organizations as well as my jobs on campus have taught me the importance in collaboration and activism. My appreciation doesn’t suppress my activism or critiques. Both can coexist. I love my friends, my professors, and am appreciative of my opportunities, but that won’t stop me from striving to make this world a better place. So when answering the question of my experience in race and diversity on campus, it’s one that’s indicative of society at large. I critique the institution because I critique the way the world works and need it to stop the subjugation of people of color. I appreciate my opportunities and love the experience I have but still feel out of place in certain spaces, and tokenized and unwelcome. When I critique Hobart and William Smith, I am critiquing America. I am appreciating the space it has given me to foster and develop my thoughts and come to consciousness, to mobilize and catalyze change. So to wrap up, my experience here with race and diversity emulates a lot of my experience with being a black woman in America. It is hard, has its challenges, but is one that has given me the perspective, power, and understanding of self in the face of adversity that inspires me to advocate for those who don’t have these opportunities or even a voice to speak out on the injustices occurring to them on a daily basis. Read, challenge your thoughts, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to say what’s on your mind… even if its racist (I know right!) after all, there’s more harm in suppressing how you truly feel for “political correctness” and have it manifest in larger ways that oppress people of color, than having conversations and understanding why we think the way we do and how we got here, and most importantly- how to change it.