Since classes have transitioned to being online, I have had a lot of time to reflect and to think about my Freshman year. I will say that this past year has been arguably the best year of my life. I finally graduated High School with my Best friend (aka my soul sister), had one of the most eventful summers of my life, and started college. I have learned so much about myself and about other people. I have made more friends, started to work toward the career of my dreams, and began to learn how the adulting world really works. Inevitably there have been some not so amazing parts of this year too. It is not that I thought racism would magically disappear once I got to college. I guess I was naive and thought maybe, just maybe, I would not have to deal with it quite as much. And to be honest, I was kind of right and I have not. St. John’s is extremely diverse ( a quality that I looked for in every single college I even visited) and it is both culturally appreciative and aware. Of course my experience here does not speak for everyone’s. On top of that, living in NYC, which is one of the most diverse cities in the world, was one of the best decisions of my life and I never feel alone or like I’m “the only one.” But it was not always like that for me.
I can put it in simple terms. I went to what you might call a “White High School.” Throughout high school, I was the only Black female in my class of about 30 kids. Usually when I tell people this they react by saying things like, “Omg, how did you do it?” or, “That must have been terrible for you, I am so sorry.” Sometimes I even get “Why did your parents put you through that?” or, “Why didn’t you go to a HBCU then?” Usually, I just awkwardly reply by saying “I don’t know.” or the classic “I turned out okay though.” accompanied by a fake smile and laugh. There were countless times I secretly wished my parents had sent me to the public school down the street that consisted of plenty of people who looked just like me. I had friends who went there. They showed me videos of their parties, their proms, and their pep rallies. It looked like it was straight out of the movies. But, instead my parents chose to put their hard earned money to use and send me to private school. I still believe I owe a lot to my school. It gave me the tools I needed to succeed, introduced me to healthy academic competition, and prepared me to be able to get into the school I wanted to and to be able to do well there once I made it in. But what it did not, and quite frankly was not able to do, was provide me with an environment that was always inclusive of people with my complexion. I dealt with some people being insensitive of my culture, ignorant of what was going on around them, and in some cases, blatantly racist. I was never the immediate victim of the inappropriate language and behavior, but until my Senior year I also never really stood up for myself either. I guess I thought there was no point, or they would not listen. I even told myself that they did not mean it. So obviously, if I was not going to an HBCU, I was definitely going to a diverse school where in my head, I could escape what I went through in High School and forget about it. That is where St. John’s comes in.
Like I said before, St. John’s does a great job at being inclusive and I love the sense of community here. I also enjoy not constantly being the minority anymore in class like in High School. But, ignorant people still do exist. And in my experience, more than outright racists in college, are people who are the effects of racism or just do not care. People blurt the lyrics they have no business singing. They use the terms that were once used to degrade us as a greeting or a term of endearment with people who also have no history with these words. I have to mentally prepare myself to go to parties at school. And once I am there, I am either listening to see if people will slip up or trying to block it out because I just want to have a good time. I know this is small on the big scale of the problem we have with racism, but it still matters. It is important to note that instances like this are how racism still manifests itself on college campuses today.
I would like to tell you what I wish someone told me in High School and what I wish I learned earlier. People know what they are doing and it is not ok. It is ok to be angry and it is even better to do something about it. Whether it be speaking up or reporting it, anything is better than nothing. Your voice deserves to be heard no matter what. You have the power to make change happen. So be unapologetically you and remember that you have the right to not ever feel ashamed of it. We have come way too far to just be silent.