The unbearable blackness of being

The unbearable blackness of being

One student’s musings on the conversation of race in Utah

Recently I was involved in a discussion about experiences of racism among some friends on campus. A white girl interrupted the minorities who were speaking and said, “I’m so sick of you guys complaining. Racism would probably go away if you just didn’t talk about it so much.” Without any hesitation, my group of friends responded simultaneously, “No, it won’t.”

 

Racism will not go away if minorities stop talking about it. Moreover, non-minorities speak of racism so selectively, that minorities feel a sense of urgency to participate in the discourse that affects our lives daily whenever possible.

 

I have been told by a lot of white people that maybe there’s a bias or a negligence or an ignorance towards black people in Utah, but it is not near as bad as the racism that one would encounter on the east coast or the south. I’ve had Caucasians relate to me their experience being the only person of their race at a job or at school. They tell me, “I know what discrimination is like.” They also tell me that it’s not as bad as I think.

 

Having lived as a black woman in Utah, on the east coast and in the south, I’d like to explain what I feel is the difference.

 

Much of the racism I encountered on the east coast and in the south was so blatant that you could not dismiss it as anything else. When I experienced dismissal or disrespect as a result of my ethnicity, I was also in a diverse community where others like me could empathize. They were able to encourage me and reassure me that the instances of injustice were, in fact, unjust. When something happens that is obviously discriminatory, there’s almost a comfort in the ability to know that it has nothing to do with you, but with someone else’s myopic worldview.

 

I use the word “comfort” quite literally because being the “only one” is lived with a certain amount of discomfort. On the east coast, for example, Martin Luther King Day is a big deal. People aren’t just talking about it on panels in college but on the front porch, around the dinner tables and at the parade. While people here in Utah take the day to say, “Look how far we’ve come,” the southern response would probably be, “Yeah, we ain’t far enough!”  The east coast might take a look around the valley and say, “Yeah, define ‘we’?”

 

In this age of political correctness, most people know better than to say and do what will get them sued. Much of the racism that I have confronted here in Utah has been so subtle it’s easy to internalize and justify.  I will think things like, “I know they judged my work unfairly but perhaps they don’t like me as a person and it has nothing to do with being black.” When I talked with a white psychologist about my experiences with a lot of people here, she told me, “You seem to have a problem of very black and white thinking.” In response, I told her that I literally have some very black and white experiences.

 

I started at this university when I was fifteen. I’m the first black woman to graduate with a philosophy degree in the entire history of the school, which is strange to think about. My very first semester I got called into professor’s offices on a weekly basis with concerns that I had plagiarized. Never once was I found guilty of it, because I never submitted any work which was not my own. However, I concluded from these experiences that I was not supposed to write as well, or in some cases better than, the white males who were in most of my classes.  From that semester to this day I am more paranoid and thorough about citations and bibliographies than anyone I know.  I had never heard of the phrase, “token black person,” until college and found myself disoriented by my constant labeling as such.  I was alienated and excluded from study groups and review sessions even though my excellent grades were well known. I learned quickly that if I were to attain a degree, it was going to be quite a lonesome undertaking.

 

I’m older now. Looking back, there were things I accomplished wwagainst odds that now seem pretty enormous. I’ve adjusted to the kinds of quirks you find in a lot of mostly white places. I’ve gotten used to racial jokes, listening to justifications for slavery or being told that I look like every famous black female on television.  I know how to answer questions like, “What’s the black perspective on the death of Michael Jackson?” I have learned how to constructively confront other students who have justified my success in my program with the excuse that affirmative action put me here. There’s been a curious rise in the usage of the “N word” this semester and I rarely hesitate to tell the person who used it that if they continue to be so lacking in self-awareness, one day, someone somewhere, will probably beat them within an inch of their life. I figure it’s nice to warn people.

 

There are maybe some folks who after reading this article will think, “Yeah, but I’m not racist.” Maybe this thought will be followed by, “I have a ton of black friends, or black family members.” This reply always startles me in two ways. First, the underlying tone is, “I’m not racist, because I happen to know and enjoy other people who are not of my race.” This is a sentiment that can usually be expressed by the privileged alone and it just sounds silly. Secondly, the black friends being referenced might say, “There’s a difference between friends and friendliness.” Unfortunately, a lot of white people think they are on better terms with the black people they know than they actually are.

 

There’s this funny phrase recently developed in academia called, “post civil rights.” It’s funny cause it feels like the leftovers in the fridge that look fine on the outside but you don’t trust it enough to nuke it or ingest it because of what’s lurking in its depths. To me the phrase smacks of careful avoidance, because I feel like we aren’t “post” anything. There are more black men ages 18-25 in prison than in college. Segregation, environmental exploitation, latent white supremacist thinking and discrimination in almost all social systems flourish in ways that aren’t civil or right or, least of all things, in the past.

 

Acquiring my degree in a white, male dominated program has been difficult. My survival kit for hard days consist of Tupac albums, calling my friends from out of state and developing a healthy balance of anger and patience for the meanness that targets me so often. There’s a palpable tension resulting from my presence in classrooms the first few weeks of class. There’s a lot of staring and, on my end, there’s a lot of smiling. Overall, though, there is hope inside me – not that racial problems will be over, but that people around here will more readily accept the fact that they aren’t.

 

By FELICIA JOY
Opinions Writer

11 Responses to "The unbearable blackness of being"

  1. George   October 3, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Any minority who goes into Public Policy, Law or Psychology faces the same problem that you do. Asians used to face the same problem in the MBA schools in the 1980s until Indian professors basically overwhelmed the US business schools in the mid 1980s….as business schools became more mathematicals and quantitative. Ag never hired a minority or any minority foreigner in colleges until white math standards literally cratered at a time when some of the ag schools were becoming very technical with emphasis on biostats. Engineering was always minority (Asians…dont call them whites because the yare not)..and women enrollments have increased sharply, mostly Asian women. Actually white female enrollments in engineering schools have fallen in the past two decades. Each school with a stereotype, I guess!

    Reply
    • DaveHG   October 4, 2011 at 12:26 pm

      What is your opinion of:

      Africa for the Africans,Asia for the Asians,white countries for EVERYBODY!

      Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

      The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.

      Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

      What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

      How long would it take anyone to…

      Reply
  2. Larry   October 3, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    White people can never disprove they are “racist”, their very existence is seen as a form of “racism” by the so-called “anti-racists”.
    Who are they kidding? Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

    Reply
  3. SpinRabbit   October 4, 2011 at 4:25 am

    The simple fact is that massive third-world immigration and forced integration is being foisted upon EVERY White country and ONLY White countries, and according to the UN this is genocide. Anti-Whites will talk about anything but White genocide. The word going around is that anti-racist is just a code word for anti-White.

    Reply
  4. DaveHG   October 4, 2011 at 9:34 am

    “In this age of political correctness”

    Why is it that in the Politically Correct religion it is OBLIGATORY to be anti-white and to support white genocide?

    So-called “anti-racists” all just so happen to always advocate demographic elimination (genocide) just for white populations globally?

    We all know that targeting a racial group for demographic destruction is an act of genocide……DON`T WE?

    Africa for the Africans,Asia for the Asians,white countries for EVERYBODY!

    Anti-racism is a codeword for anti-white.

    Reply
  5. Skylar Hayes   October 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    “Racism, one of the most baneful and persistent evils, is a major barrier to peace. Its practice perpetrates too outrageous a violation of the dignity of human beings to be countenanced under any pretext. Racism retards the unfoldment of the boundless potentialities of its victims, corrupts its perpetrators, and blights human progress. Recognition of the oneness of mankind, implemented by appropriate legal measures, must be universally upheld if this problem is to be overcome.”

    – The Universal House of Justice

    For those who have commented so far, if this article does not apply to you personally, great!

    …..but to buy into; racism does not exist at UVU or the US; this is a problem. I believe that although there has been progress, racism still exists (if more covertly than before) to a significant degree.

    Your defensiveness leads me to question your innocence 😉

    Reply
  6. Sierra Wilson   October 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks! Your article provided a very interesting perspective and answered some questions I’ve had lately. Best of luck to you!

    Reply
  7. Jason Stratham   October 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    I am very hurt that racism seems to always be a one-way street. Every official form I fill out asks if I should be given special consideration based on whether I am Latino, Native American, or African American. I can not count the number of times I have been told “Maybe we can help you on the price of your [education, insurance, etc]. Are you a member of a minority group?”

    “No, I’m Anglo-Saxon. And I’m a man.”

    “Oh…”

    When will a scholarship for white males between 18-25 be made available?

    When will Uganda, Liberia, Mexico, and Japan be pressured by the international community to accept large numbers of each other’s immigrants?

    Reply
  8. Amy   November 4, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you for writing this; I feel more justified in my opinions after reading this. I’m a recent transplant from the east coast, and I really miss the diversity there. My coworkers here have tried to tell me that Utah isn’t racist, and that they have never personally come across racist people here. I’ve been educated to think that as products of American culture, everyone is racist, albeit some only on an unconscious level. This is not a welcome viewpoint here.

    Reply
  9. KM   November 5, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Thank you for this measured and articulate description of an ongoing problem. So far, about half of your respondents only serve to prove your point. Stay strong.

    Reply
  10. Nathan   November 19, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I’m a white person who happens to not be racist. I hope you meet more like me here in Utah; I like to think we’re not terribly rare. Maybe the computer science building is an exception and I need to get down to the philosophistry department more to really see racism in action on campus…

    I have seen plenty of ugliness and racism in this great state–particularly when the topic of illegal immigration is discussed–but I have hope that the majority is disgusted by any displays of bigotry (whether it be racism or otherwise). Small-mindedness will never completely disappear, but we can each make our circle of influence a little cleaner and brighter by not tolerating its exhibition.

    Reply

Leave a Reply