Things That Remind Me I'm Black by Toni
16 Sep 2019 1:43 PM
I don’t consider being Black to be a major part of my personality but somehow, it’s the first thing that people notice about me. I don’t walk around campus constantly thinking about the fact that I’m Black but every once in a while (meaning very often), something happens that brings it to the forefront. Here is a list of the most common things that remind me that I’m Black:
- Being Late: Every time I walk in late to a class and I feel everyone’s eyes turn, it’s hard not to assume what everyone is thinking. We’ve all heard the phrase “colored people time” to describe the stereotype that Black people are always late to the function. Nothing reminds me that I’m Black more than living up to negative stereotypes.
- My Hair: This one is a bit of a two-parter. First, having natural hair after years of putting chemical relaxers on my scalp to straighten my hair serves as a reminder of my Blackness. I decided to go natural two years ago as a way to help me embrace my culture, and it has. However, it also seems to invite random people to touch it and comment on it and ask how often I wash it. Which is super fun for me.
- Seeing Other Black People: An incredible phenomenon happens when Black people at a PWI (who don’t often see other people of color) spot another Black person. We smile, greet each other, ask how we’re doing, regardless of whether or not we’ve actually met before. Funny enough, I’ve actually made friends because I saw the same people multiple times and we just started talking. In my opinion, this is one of the best parts about being Black on campus.
- Not Seeing Other Black People: On the other side of the same coin, there’s nothing more draining than going to class after class, looking around at your peers, and not seeing a single face that looks like you. I feel like I’m sticking out like a sore thumb and I don’t want to do anything to draw even more attention for myself, so I sit by myself and don’t answer any questions and feel uncomfortable.
- When a Professor Mentions Race: I end up in this situation surprisingly often for a STEM major. A professor brings up slavery or civil rights or Barack Obama and everyone else in the classroom looks at you like you’re the only person possible qualified to speak about Black things. This is especially fun when you’re the only Black person in the room* so they have no one else to look at.
*Bonus points if there’s two Black people and you get to make awkward eye contact across the room while it’s happening.
Sharing Moments of Common Experiences: Every Black person seems to live different versions of the same life and it can be so revitalizing to share common experiences. If you get any group of Black people together, chances are they’ll start joking around about being forced to clean the house every Saturday morning by their moms, what the oblivious person from small town Iowa asked them about their hair, and other things that we’ve all lived through. I have never laughed harder than I have during these conversations, but humor aside it’s like a mini therapy session to bond over shared trauma.
"Are You Sure?" : Almost every person of color (especially women of color in STEM fields) has been in this situation. You’re doing a group project or working with a lab partner when you’re asked a question that you’re 100% sure that you know the answer to. But when you tell your partners the answer, they ask you if you’re sure, continue to debate the question even after you say yes, and most of the time they pick a different answer only to have the professor say that your original answer was right all along*. It’s not that I’m any less intelligent than my peers, but that they subconsciously have less faith in my ideas because I’m a woman of color.
*Bonus points if someone ends up saying the exact same thing as you but everyone agrees when they say it.
Fake Compliments: I look like Rihanna or Beyoncé. My mom looks like Michelle Obama and my dad looks like Tiger Woods. Every Black person has a list of Black celebrities that someone has told them they look like in a misguided attempt to compliment. Of course these compliments are rarely ever accurate and are born out of the idea that all Black people look alike, but I’m not too upset. After all, all my white friends look like Taylor Swift.
Stares: It’s exhausting to sit down in a restaurant and have patrons staring from across the room or to walk in a store and have employees watching your every move. Seeing a group of radiant, laughing people of color out in public in the middle of Iowa must be shocking for some people, especially for those who grew up in towns with little to no people of color. At least that’s what I tell myself when people stare whenever my friends and I are out in public.
Or maybe they’re just staring because we look like Beyoncé.