On Friday, Sept. 21, I attended the forum "Being Black in Geneseo" with little expectations of what would be said or who would be there. I came to support not only the students in FARI, but to truly support the fight against injustice in my community.
The forum had an excellent turnout. Yes, of course there were many people of color at attendance but the host, Cortez Jones, seemed surprised that more than half the audience was comprised of white students. But, why was he surprised? And why was I taken aback by his comment that "they" were there for extra credit? This notion fueled my need to make a statement, to put myself out on the line and advocate for the students and the members of the community who want to get involved, but hesitate because they fear they would be misjudged or accused of being a racist if they say the "wrong" thing.
It was great hearing the various perspectives of the panel speakers. One student's account of their experience in the classroom took me back to when I attended college at a private Christian university and my experience in the classroom as literally being the only person of color. I thought about my struggles growing up in New York City and being followed around the store because I might steal something. I think back on the times that my family and friends said that I would never amount to anything; that out of all my friends, I was top three to be either arrested or get pregnant as a teen; and that it would be a surprise if I graduated from high school, let alone go to college.
So I was at this panel discussion about racism and discrimination on campus and hearing stories about personal experiences and I was truly offended by the comment raised by the panelist that it is not the job of the black community to "educate us on how to treat black people." But seriously, how can we learn about the struggles of others if the affected population does not speak up? There is no denying that our students' experience on campus is profound and should be taken seriously. But, let's take a step back and put things in perspective: Discrimination does not only happen to black students, it happens to other ALANA (African, Latino, Asian, Native American) groups, the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) community, the obese, the disabled, those with different learning abilities - to all people.
What is the bigger picture? Based on the comments made by people in the audience, there is a lot of misconception going around about groups. A young black lady made a comment that black students are just like everyone else, that they can be approached and befriended like other people. She continued to express what she believed to be the misconception that Asian and white people have about black people. I understood what she was saying, but couldn't help but wonder how she came to learn about this misconception.
The truth of the matter is that all people have misconceptions of groups outside of their own circle, and that we all internalize oppression. We suck in so many stereotypes and generalizations about ourselves and about other groups that we start to believe them.
One solution is to address our own bias and prejudice towards other groups. We have to explore our past to understand why we think and react the way that we do. Ask yourself: Do white/black/straight/gay people really think these things about me or could it be that I think they see me this way?