My Race Topic for the Day
As I'm sure most of you realize, my first college was in California. My entire time at that university was a large exercise in culture shock. The first annoying example of this was learning that it was a tradition for Black students on campus to post their SAT scores on their dorm room doors. I was told that posting my score would allow the White students on campus to feel comfortable about my presence and prevent them from feeling I had "stolen a spot" from one of their friends. When my reaction went along the lines of "they can suck my..." people looked at me as if I was the inappropriate one. As I continued into my freshman year, I learned that most of the Black students in our freshman class attended high schools in which they and their siblings represented at least 50% of the school's Black population. A girl down the hall, my roommate, and I were the only exceptions. The others were so used to being surrounded by White people that racist treatment was an accepted norm for them. It was so normal to them that they oftentimes did not recognize their treatment as racist or negative. This is best illustrated by a friend of mine (let's call her AA) who thought "nigger" was an affectionate nickname given to her by her White classmates. AA did not realize "nigger" was a bad word until she heard a friend's mother tell the friend to not call her that in front of her face. AA was twelve at the time. My point is to say that fighting and standing up for one's self against White people had been taught out of my classmates; posting the SAT scores was a necessary and just act to them. My refusal to post brought ire from both Black and White students. They felt I was being anti-social and combative. Fuck them.
Academically, however, I was in my element. My first quarter there, I earned two As and two Bs. I was highly disappointed in my 3.5 GPA, but others held a different view. One day during the first week of Winter Quarter, I walked toward the front of my dorm while the resident fellow rode his bicycle past me. He stopped and said to me, "I saw your grades. You got two As. Congratulations. People like you rarely get any As here. Getting two during your first quarter is outstanding." People like me? I responded with a fifteen-letter sentence (the first word was "you").
Shortly thereafter, I spoke to a friend of mine who attended what most people who live outside of Connecticut would call America's premiere university. She relayed to me a story of an exam she took. It is important to know this was the first exam of the semester. To prevent grading bias, her professor (it may even have been a university policy; I forget) did not permit students to put their names on the exam. Each student, instead, put a unique number on the exam. A week later, the professor announced in class that one student had scored so high above everyone else that he wanted to shake that student's hand in front of the class. The professor announced the student's unique number. My friend (BB), a 5'10" African-American woman, began walking to the front of the auditorium. Still, the professor kept announcing the number as if he never saw BB. When BB stood next to the professor, he announced the number once again. She tapped his shoulder and told him that she was the student he sought. He told her that she was wrong and that he was looking for the student whose number was [the number]. BB informed the professor that she was indeed that student, and he told her that she must have been mistaken and that she couldn't possibly have earned the highest grade on the exam. Once again, she identified herself as that student. He responded by reporting her for cheating because he could not believe she could have scored so highly on his exam.
The point of these stories was not to complain about racism. I wanted to show how perception shapes what people perceive reality to be and how these preconceived perceptions cloud judgment and fact. I believe that all of the negative -isms in our society will remain problems for us as long as the people in charge remain closed to the ideas that their preexisting perceptions may be wrong.
*Tomorrow I'll write about the experiences of some of my biracial friends (I'll leave poisontaster out since she's here to share her own tales). No, the entire week will not be filled with stories of negativity. I'm an eternal optimist, and you will see that later.