Black History Month Ended But There Are Issues We're Not Leaving Behind

I myself have never experienced the discrimination that students of color, especially women of color, do on a predominantly white campus, and in a predominantly/historically white Greek organizations. But my experience as a white woman in a foreign country made me sympathize with women of color, as they are targeted and discriminated against in the country that they call their own.

I recently got back from studying abroad, where I was surrounded with both blatant racism and some that was harder to distinguish. I’m going to be quite honest. I hate myself for realizing so late that it is a bigger problem than I thought. I had to witness it first hand in another country before I realized that it is in my power to do something to raise awareness for these issues. To get insight on issues specific to my organization and my campus, I reached out to a couple of my sisters to see if they would be willing to share their thoughts with me. In order to avoid any conflicts/remain confidential, the names of my sisters have been changed to generic Sister A and Sister B.

I asked two very big, very important questions as a guide: “How has being a woman/student of color in a mostly white organization impacted you during your college experience so far?” and “What are some incidents and things you wish people in our organization/on our campus would care more about and how can we fix them as allies rather than bystanders?”

In response to the first question, Sister A told me that she learned the importance of speaking up, advocating, and even calling out problematic behavior.

The answers to the second question, I felt, were more important as a kind of wake-up call to others on our campus. I wanted to know how to get the word out about big problems, and how to take even bigger actions to solve them. Both of my sisters emphasized the presence of microaggressions within our organizations and around our campus.

Sister A commented, “One example, in particular, is that I was told that I was being aggressive in a specific position, but another sister had acted the same way when she was in that position.” She followed up her statement saying that it may have seemed harmless, but it was one time of many where she felt portrayed as an angry black woman, and what made it hurt the most was that the comment came from another sister.

Sister B did not give a specific personal experience with microaggressions but rather gave me insight on common examples in day to day conversations. Many people feel there is nothing wrong with the way they are speaking, because they may not think about it, or no one has ever called them out for it. Microaggressions can sometimes be involved when someone is trying to empathize, but it comes off as sympathy instead.

Another issue to address is the bias of white-passing individuals. One of my sisters had brought up that just because an individual has lighter skin, does not make them any less of the race they identify as. Light skin does not automatically mean a person is white, and it also does not give someone the right to disregard their racial identity and background.

These students want their voices to be heard, but they also want something to be done about it, rather than white people pretending they understand what they are going through and how they feel. As someone who has struggled for years to find her voice as an ally of this fight, my advice is for you to take everyone as they are by the love in their heart, and not by the color of their skin and be a friend to those in need.