I am often questioned or teased for not seeming comfortable enough at this school.
“You always seem to be in another world” they say or, “How come you don’t talk much?” (I get that one a lot). The answer is simple: I don’t feel comfortable.
Partly this is because I am an introvert at heart, but the main reason is that I am uncomfortable at Earlham.
Since I have been here, I have been asking myself , “Why?”
Why do I feel weird here? Why do I feel not like myself?
When I came to Earlham, I felt like I had left half of myself at home. I thought this would change after freshman year because, let’s face it, freshman year is difficult.
I was constantly asking myself what was missing. However, it wasn’t until I had an interaction with another student at a house party my spring semester of freshman year that I had an inkling of what it was.
I was at this house party watching all these white kids dancing to Usher’s “Yeah”,when a black female student walked up to me.
She said, “Hey, you can’t be here.”
I turned, confused and said, “What?”
She replied, “There is only supposed to be one black person at a party remember?”
I looked shocked and she laughed. She answered, “Come on! You don’t know that line? From Not Another Teenage Movie? “
I remembered it and laughed. As she walked into the dance crowd, it hit me and I stopped laughing. She was joking, of course, but it became so serious to me all of a sudden. I knew what I had been missing: black people.
I realized that I had left my family, my home, that had black people of all different shapes, sizes, and colors behind me when I came to the middle of nowhere called Richmond, Indiana.
I had good reasons to stay. Well, I had one actually: the financial aid. With that in the back of my mind, I decided to make the best of it.
College is supposed to be the best 4 years of your life, right?
So I began to assimilate.
Freshman year and sophomore year, I dated the white men and laughed with them when they asked me what exactly I do to get my hair so kinky and curly. I laughed when a white friend of mine made a joke from a Dave Chapelle skit that I have heard and seen a thousand and one times. I sung along when a friend of mine started to sing an old, really old, rap song from the early 2000’s. I laughed when they made a black joke. I agreed with a girl when she said that Malcolm X was a really cute black guy.
I thought I was doing really good. I got invited places, and took lots of pictures and had inside jokes, and even got drunk a lot. Even as I did all of this, I was dying on the inside.
It wasn’t until I returned home for the summer that I came to the realization that no matter how well you play nice, jump and shout and say, “Hey! I’m one of the good black people!” Nothing will change. Nothing will change.
I had wasted my first two years at this school just hoping that white people here would see me differently. All of this doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, I’m still black.
Nothing about my outward appearance will change, my background won’t change, nothing that I consider to be part of my identity will change, and when there are school breaks and I leave this campus, I am still going home to my shitty neighborhood.
I thought that if I played along and listened to my neighbor in my dorm tell me a story about how she had one black friend once in the 3rd grade, that maybe one day she would wake up and see me as an individual and not my skin color first.
That was never going to change. She was always going to see my skin color first and my personality second.
When I returned to this school for the fall semester of my junior year, that was when I made up my mind not to care and just to be myself. Spending time here got better and I felt better because of it.
Trying to assimilate did nothing but keep me from who I really was and how I really felt.
It’s a sad game we play, this assimilation game. Do you sell yourself, your personality, just to make yourself at home? Or just be an independent, not fitting in anywhere with anyone?
One of my favorite bloggers, Danielle C. Belton, Author of The Black Snob, wrote a blog post about assimilation for African Americans in today’s society. In the blog post she says, “Racism has played some pretty horrible tricks on black people but the worst is the one that teaches you that if you just modify your behavior, if you just dress, talk, walk, act differently, the doors will open and the prejudices will melt away, but that’s a lie. The prejudices stay the same, but your individual treatment might slightly improve.”
I hate this institution for making me conform and turn myself into a watered down version of myself who is just struggling to not fall through the cracks academically. I hate this institution based on the fact that I need it to better myself for the future. I hate this institution because all of this work, all of the all-nighters, studying, writing papers, presentations…. It all amounts to a sheet of paper with my name on it in fancy script. I hate this institution because in the end it wasn’t made for me but for my white, pale faced peers. I hate this institution for making me hate myself and my life. I hate this institution for making me feel less than equal and alone. Lastly, I hate this institution for making me doubt my intelligence and the value of education.