So today has been inspired by two things: the infamous article telling African Americans to stop appropriating African culture, and by the many complaints heard at my PWI. In this “post-racial” world, many people think nothing of race, assuming that the systems of oppression designed to put down people of color are far from here. In actuality, the 60s and 70s, when the movement was going strong, was not that long ago. My parents were actually born around that time, so I know that I am still affected.
Those with privilege enjoy having it while simultaneously denying that it exists, while the rest of us move around in stores and the like, hoping that maybe we won’t get followed around because we “look to Muslim” or “like a thug.” Well, two days ago, a black person around my age was tased by the police for no other choice than that he looked “suspicious”. After which, the cop gloated to the guy’s white friend about how the guy was now going to have to go to the hospital. This sounds just like everything else, except for the fact that it happened in the grocery store that I go to all the time. It’s also 5 minutes off Duke University’s campus.
I came to Duke because despite this being a PWI, I saw potential for this place. I saw the education it could give me if I took advantage, I saw the opportunities it held, I saw the amazing financial aid it provided me, and I saw the black community as a haven, nothing I have ever experienced before.
Moving out of the tiny apartment in the ghetto to Duke’s illustrious campus, I knew it was a gift, and that I was so blessed to be here. But people both inside and out of campus have used this opportunity against me. Surprisingly, I’ve had my opinions about the university and what goes on invalidated because “I chose to be here, so I should just accept that things go this way,” or because “it’s simply a first-world problem.” Which I can understand that my problems relative to being constantly hungry and not knowing where I’m going to sleep tonight are probably less than. But when you put it in the context of a history of white supremacy in which black people and black women like me have been continuously kicked out and ostracized in society, along with other people of color who fail to assimilate to whiteness.
When I surround myself in blackness, I embrace it. I have struggled with it for years, being black, understanding the implications, understanding that it means that I’ll have to sit up straighter, enunciate my words, try to never show my culture, not get upset when I see another black body strewn out in the street on tv. But being black, while I know it is one of the biggest burdens I have to bear, is one of the things I hold so dear to me. I have been provided with the gift of family, the ability to have a collective history if overcoming, and so much more.
White students at school often complain that black students tend to stick together, and whenever we have something that bears the adjective of “Black” it causes controversy. Well, nobody ever talks about the many groups that tend to exclude people of color, save for the token. Nobody discusses the groups of white people who stick together and are rather exclusive. Nobody talks about the racism surrounding the girls fetishizing the basketball team. What they see is the black kids “self-segregating”.
What I see is a space created to protect ourselves from the systematic oppression that continues to plague us. I see a space where I don’t have to code switch, where I can let out all the “ain’ts” and “y’alls” and ebonics and not be judged for it. I see a space where I can go and talk about my culture without someone expecting me to teach them to whip or nae-nae or whatever dance craze comes along. I see a space where people don’t say I’m “too pro-black,” or whatever it is.
We need these spaces because our history is not the norm. We live in a world where a group of mainly white men decide what goes in to history books. We live in a world where most people believe that all Hispanic people are Mexican and all Asian people make Chinese food or do nails. We have these spaces labeled as such because we need places were our voices can be heard without restriction, where our culture can be appreciated without appropriated. Nobody is stopping you from joining in, but you need to understand that we do this not to exclude, but to find a place that fits us without draining us. And if that’s too much to ask, then just far from racism are we, by your standard?