When I committed to attending an ivy league university for four years, it was with the understanding that I would be the minority. A quick google search told me that black students make up about 5% of the Cornell population, but in my mind 5% of 14,000 undergraduate students had to be enough for us to have decent representation on campus.
Never did I think that throwing myself into this situation would be both a blessing and a curse.
I attended a high school where the black population was almost equal to that of the white population on campus. Despite this fact, I always found myself being the only person of color in my honors and AP classes. Back then, there were times when I felt out of place, but it was never something that lingered on my mind too much and after a while, it was simply something that I learned to expect.
College ended up being a whole new world that I knew existed but didn’t want to acknowledge. No longer was I the only black person in a classroom of thirty kids. I was now one of twenty black people in a lecture hall of 400 students.
Nothing could have prepared me for this.
This was really the first time where my color became something that I had to be aware of pretty much 24/7. Many people at this school have never really spent extended periods of time with black people, so you learn to expect that many will judge you based on our portrayals in media. This comes with an enormous burden, because as a black female it now becomes my responsibility to be a positive representative for people who look like me.
It wasn’t until I came to Cornell that I first heard the term “microaggressions”. When it was finally explained to me, I had a moment of self reflection and realized that I had been experiencing these since high school but didn’t exactly know what they were or how to process them. Looking back, I wish that I had recognized what was in my face the whole time.
I am no different from my white peers so why am I treated as such?
Just the other day, my roommate, who is a black female that happens to wear braids, came home outraged because of a question her professor had posed during class. According to her, each student was doing their individual work when this professor asked her in front of everyone whether or not her hair was real.
Instances such as these make it hard for us to fit in on this campus. Black women are not the only ones who wear extensions or wigs so why is it that we are the only ones who get asked about the authenticity of the hair on our head?
In these situations, we are faced with a few options:
1: Confront the person and ask why they think its okay to ask such a question, especially in front of so many people.
2: Lie and say that it is your hair
3: Tell the truth and explain that they are just extensions
Many times we are tempted to go with the first option but then we fulfill the stereotype of being loud and aggressive. Being black on a white campus is a burden, because we can’t even stand up for ourselves without gaining some kind of label.
Over the past few weeks alone, there have been protests on college campuses that call for equal opportunities for people of color. I was saddened when I logged into Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app, and read the opinions of my peers at Cornell. The worst comment that I saw said that they were glad a real tragedy (the bombings in Paris) had happened so now the people at Mizzou and Yale “can stfu.”
When will our struggles as black people be recognized?
Personally, although it has been hard, I do feel like having this type of college experience was necessary for me to grow as person. I am no longer ignorant to events going on in the world that don’t directly affect me. If I was the same person I was two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought to look into the issues going on at Mizzou, Yale, Dartmouth, etc.
This was also the first time in my life that I have had so many friends that are black. In hindsight I realize that we gravitated towards each other as a way to combat the feelings of alienation and loneliness that comes with being a minority.
Truthfully, I’ve been wanting to write a post like this for a long while but I always find myself being overwhelmed with emotions whether its sadness, anger, or disappointment.
I live everyday hoping for a change I might never even see in my lifetime and this thought alone is scary.
Until next time,
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