At my university, every freshman has to take University Seminar a.k.a the class everyone hates. There are about a million different types of professors that teach this class. If you’re lucky, you get the one who doesn’t really care and doesn’t take attendance. Or you could be like me, and have a professor who LOVES teaching the class and you actually have to read the book. I don’t mind that class, my professor is pretty chill and I genuinely like the discussions that we have, except when I don’t.
This year, for our Common Experience Program, every student is “supposed” to read Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody. I am a huge book nerd and I can honestly say that this book is kind of fantastic. It’s the autobiography of Anne’s life as she grew up “poor and black in the rural south” right smack dab in the middle of the fourties and fifties, where racism was a norm and being born African American was equal to being impoverished and mistreated as well as stuck in social and economical boundaries.
Now, most of our class discussions mostly come from this book and like I said earlier, I love most of them. Except there’s a slight problem.
I am the only African American in that class.
99% of my class is Caucasian and the other 1% are Hispanic. Now this wouldn’t be such a big deal if this was a large lecture class and most our time spend was with our heads down and scribbling notes. But it’s not. There’s twenty people tops, and I can feel every single pair of eyes on me.
I feel like because I am African American and we are talking about racism, everyone in the room expects me to have an opinion on everything we talk on. I feel like it’s expected of me to bring up every injustice that African Americans had to suffer to prove a point, or to make note of all the mentions of racism in the book.
Being the only African American I can feel the awkwardness of everyone anticipating for me to make a spectacle of myself, and I hate it. I hate the pressure that I feel to make sure I don’t fulfill the “Black Stereotype” . I hate having to think about what I wear to class because I don’t want to be lumped into a bin where I don’t belong. I hate having to think about everything I say over and over to make sure I don’t sound like I hate white people or America, because I don’t.
Sometimes I just want to stand up and say “MY ANCESTORS WEREN’T SLAVES!” Because they weren’t. The first person from my family to come to America was my dad to come get a job as a nurse. He came here willingly probably around the late 1980’s early 90’s. My mom came afterwards when she married my dad, and then had me. She’s now a pharmacist and even with her Ph.D and RN certification, she still tells me about the injustices that she faces in the workplace, even from people who are less qualified than she is, purely because of the color of her skin.
I hate how people tip-toe around the edges whenever racism or prejudice is talked about. People are always quick to say, “I’m not racist because I have black friends.” or “I can’t be racist, I talk to black people.” People even have the gall to say that racism and prejudice doesn’t exist anymore.
Well it does.
The only way that we can get rid of it is if we attack it head on. Change is hard, change comes with backlash but change is good. Now, I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not claiming that everyone is a closet racist, that would just be ridiculous. But I am saying that I hope that by the time I have kids or when my kids have kids, we no longer live in a world where parent’s like mine don’t have to tell me to “Remember that I am black and that I will be treated differently because of it.”