Racism 101: Race and the College Freshman

by Guest Contributor Alana M. Mohamed

Experiencing Racism CoverMaybe I’m naïve, but when I stepped on the campus of my New England public university, I was dumbstruck by the whiteness of it all. I was literally the only person of color in a sea of white people. This had never happened to me before. I grew up in New York City and had never been to a school that was predominantly white. As such, I was partial to the color-blind politics of the day. This is not to say that I never experienced racism, but I was lucky enough to discount the few times I had encountered racism as the statistical outliers of my life. However, I was surprised to learn that my peers at university had rarely come in contact with people of color and often times lacked any sort of tact when dealing with people of color. After revealing that my last name is Mohamed, the questions and comments that followed without fail went something like: A) “You don’t look Muslim! Are you religious?” B) “Is your family…y’know, religious?” C) (A look of relief when I revealed that, no, they aren’t that religious) “Oh! Good, cause I know how crazy they can be.” My friends at other universities felt the same alienation and we started to really pay attention to the racism surrounding us.

Most of my class and dorm mates were white, middle class kids who lived in small, predominantly white towns. As a light skinned Guyanese-American woman, they found me hard to peg and I was privy to my share of racist “jokes.” Once, during Black History Month, our dining hall happened to be serving fried chicken and watermelon, in addition to numerous other options. A girl on my floor dim wittedly cracked, “What a way to celebrate Black History Month!” Half the room shared an uneasy silence, while the other erupted into laughter. I was shocked into silence and, looking back, I wish I could have said something. Since then, I’ve found that dealing with racist jokes is best handled by playing dumb. A simple, “I don’t get it,” and a couple of leading questions will encourage them to try and explain their joke and help them realize that relying on tired and racist stereotypes isn’t funny or clever in the least.

I’ve also encountered a very common situation: People saying racist things, but not realizing, or refusing to acknowledge that they’re racist. The most bizarre example of this occurred as a group of friends and I were walking back from a party. Shortly after chastising someone for using the word “Jiggaboo” to describe his black friends back home, my roommate and another girl began to discuss the physical differences between white people and black people. A snippet of the conversation? “And why does their hair do that? Like, why is it like that? It’s like they’re a whole different species! They kind of,” here she lowered her voice, “look like animals a little.” I shared a look with another friend and simply said, “Whoa, I’m not even gonna participate in this conversation.” However, my roommate and the girl she was talking to still didn’t understand why what they said was offensive.

In this case, I was too tired and too overwhelmed to say anything else. I still get overwhelmed every time I think about this scenario because I can’t possibly conceive how they would think such banter is acceptable. I wish I had asked them why they think it’s okay to liken black people to animals and expand from there. Engaging them in a conversation would have helped me to sort out my own thoughts, while helping them to understand the underlying racism in their statements, but at the time I felt too emotional to understand that this could have been a key moment for dialogue, or, at the very least, a witty retort.

The scariest sort of situation was dealing with hostile, purposeful racism. At the beginning of the year, when people didn’t know I had a Muslim last name, or that my father was Muslim, I heard a student loudly decry, “Fucking Muslim scum, fucking ruining our country. Motherfuckers,” at a party further down my hall. I also heard cheers, egging him on. I was in my room at the time and couldn’t see who had said it. And quite frankly, I was too terrified to go see. When it comes to direct confrontations, I draw the line at putting myself in dangerous situations. I wish I would have told my RA, but I was too scared of stirring up trouble so early in the year. As a consequence, I often felt unsafe and alienated from many of the kids on my floor.

My first year of college went badly because I was often made to feel like the Other. I suffered most of it in silence because I was lucky enough to have this all be a new experience for me. But silence is rarely the way to handle racism. Earlier this year, Alexandria Wallace’s rant against Asians at her school shocked YouTube viewers. The media was quick to demonize her and use her as a figurehead to purport America’s supposed color-blind agenda. But how can we act so shocked when the same things Wallace said are repeated amongst friends “just sharing a joke” all the time on supposedly liberal college campuses? Wallace was surrounded by a culture that encouraged racism. I imagine the UCLA campus is probably ripe with racist jokes about Asians that go unchecked.

This fall, I’ll be attending a college in a more culturally diverse neighborhood in my hometown of New York City. But as the back-to-school-shopping ads start to filter in, I can’t help but wonder if there will ever be an escape from the racism touted by the “ironic” white teens that fill many of today’s college campuses at overwhelming majorities.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/5YW7F65MA5WAVBWEPVR4SVSH7Q Daniel

    The sad thing is you may just encounter it back home here in NYC.  The newest wave of transplants seem to be all the sheltered small minded kids, that the few opened minded different people used to leave behind in their small towns to come here, have started coming and bringing that small minded mentality here.  The bad thing is that they are culturally isolating themselves with their fellow transplants, so they never have to acclimate and change their mentality.  It’s not fun being treated as other by someone who just arrived in the neighborhood you grew up in and being looked down upon as if you’re the one out of place.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1164481042 Mieko Gavia

    “I can’t help but wonder if there will ever be an escape from the racism touted by the “ironic” white teens that fill many of today’s college campuses at overwhelming majorities.”
    I doubt it. I went to one of the most progressive colleges in the nation, and still had to deal with this ish.  And because of its reputation and history as socially progressive it was really hard to get through all that post-racialism crap and explain why it was not ok to imitate “black people-voice” or touch my hair without permission, or DO BLACK OR BROWN OR NATIVE OR ASIAN FACE, or even make rape jokes.

  • PatrickInBeijing

    Thanks for this story, and all of the others.  These stories, and many more should be collected and made required reading for all white college students before they enter.  In any case, this information is part of an important historical document, that we all need to read.  Thanks for reaching through the pain and struggle to share with us.

  • Tj

    Well at least it’s good to know that this isn’t  just in my head.

    As a person of color who is currently attending a predominantly white college in the middle of nowhere of Ohio, I can definitely relate to this article. Prior to college I guess I was lucky for attending a diverse high school. but when I first started college at my predominately white university, I was definitely in for a culture shock. I’ve dealt with the alienation of being a minority at a white college and the hopelessness which accompanies it; my dining halls celebrating black history month by serving greens, yams and chicken and resisting the urge to wreak havoc;  and the ‘innocently racist’ comments from my white peers.  It’s disheartening to deal with a relentless amount of  racist comments from my fellow students: from the ” I only been accepted to college  because I’m black” to those who say  ” I don’t consider you black at all…you’re like a white person”.  Keep in mind that these comments are from those ignoramuses  who think we live in a post racial world and that racism is irrelevant.  Bullshit.  Just last semester, there was a blatantly racist article in my school paper that basically stated that African American students there on average score less on the SAT than their white counterparts and thus implied that blacks were inferior. The year before,  my ex-roommate even had the gall to tell my friend and I that she doesn’t date black people because she thinks they’re unattractive and ghetto. Needless to say, we’re not roommates anymore.  It’s extremely alienating. I’m getting ready to start my  senior year of uni and I still don’t feel like I  belong to this community. 

  • I_Sell_Books

    Funnily enough, I had the reverse happen to me.  I grew up in northern rural New England- I was one of the only poc in my town (pop. 10k) and I only heard one racist comment (from a substitute 6th grade teacher, which was awesome) when I was growing up. 

    When I went to college in Ohio, well, that’s when it started for real.  The majority of it came from the black community, who also felt the need to  do the whole reverse racism bit on a) anyone who dated non-blacks, b) anyone mixed race (Hello!), and c) Feminists.  Why Feminists, I don’t know, but I do love the fact that my black roommate was Definitely Not a Feminist but was looking forward to law school. 

    Hmm.  Yeah.

    Which isn’t to say racist incidents haven’t happened to me, it’s just that they’ve not been verbal.  And those are even worse, for that’s when most people have told me it’s all in my head.  Thankfully those have been very rare, and in the last few occurrences have been recognized by others for what they are.

    Overall I’ve found that the further south I go (beyond the Vermont border) the worse it is, or perhaps that’s just endemic of larger populations and the stressors therein.  I think times are (sloooooooooooowly) changing, and The Youth* hold the promise.

    *like my son, with his white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes.  I’ve already told my husband that I’m prepared for the day he comes home from school and tells me I’m not his mommy because I have dark skin.  He didn’t believe me, but then, he’s a white European and has never had to deal with issues of race.  Mostly he doesn’t it.

  • I_Sell_Books

    Funnily enough, I had the reverse happen to me.  I grew up in northern rural New England- I was one of the only poc in my town (pop. 10k) and I only heard one racist comment (from a substitute 6th grade teacher, which was awesome) when I was growing up. 

    When I went to college in Ohio, well, that’s when it started for real.  The majority of it came from the black community, who also felt the need to  do the whole reverse racism bit on a) anyone who dated non-blacks, b) anyone mixed race (Hello!), and c) Feminists.  Why Feminists, I don’t know, but I do love the fact that my black roommate was Definitely Not a Feminist but was looking forward to law school. 

    Hmm.  Yeah.

    Which isn’t to say racist incidents haven’t happened to me, it’s just that they’ve not been verbal.  And those are even worse, for that’s when most people have told me it’s all in my head.  Thankfully those have been very rare, and in the last few occurrences have been recognized by others for what they are.

    Overall I’ve found that the further south I go (beyond the Vermont border) the worse it is, or perhaps that’s just endemic of larger populations and the stressors therein.  I think times are (sloooooooooooowly) changing, and The Youth* hold the promise.

    *like my son, with his white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes.  I’ve already told my husband that I’m prepared for the day he comes home from school and tells me I’m not his mommy because I have dark skin.  He didn’t believe me, but then, he’s a white European and has never had to deal with issues of race.  Mostly he doesn’t it.

  • Anonymous

    This topic strikes a particularly painful chord with me, as my son, who is only twelve, got to experience blatant prejudice and racism for the first time at a two-week summer program.  Perhaps as parents we were naive, thinking that because we live in a culturally diverse city in the 21st century that racism would be less of an issue for him. His negative experience served as a reality check for our entire family.  But after reading Ms. Mohamed’s piece, I think the advice we gave him about how to handle prejudice was right–there are ignorant people everywhere, and as a person of color you just have to learn to deal with it and not let racism cripple you or stop you from achieving your goals. Unfortunately this is the exact same advice my grandparents gave to my mother FIVE DECADES AGO.  Sad, but true.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

      advice …about how to handle prejudice…-there are ignorant people everywhere, and as a person of color you just have to learn to deal with it and not let racism cripple you or stop you from achieving your goals.

      -przora

      I’m not sure what the etiquette or rules on this blog are for a person to comment on the same subject more than once. But if this were a real live conversation, if I would wait for some one else to make the points I want to make about what you said, and if no one else did I would say this: The advice that you gave may address in a general sense WHY there is prejudice-”there are ignorant people everywhere”. But it doesn’t really explain why that is so.

      And saying that “you just have to learn to deal with it [prejudice/racism], doesn’t say HOW a person should do this. The ending portion of your comment “and not let racism cripple you or stop you from achieving your goals” is another WHY, in this case a why should people learn to deal with prejudice/racism. But that WHY puts the blame on the victim of racism/prejudice if he or she is affected by that racism/prejudice.  After all, racism/prejudice CAN AND DOES impact a person’s mind, body, emotions, spirt. And prejudice and racism CAN AND HAS stopped people from achieving their goals. Besides the historical documentation of these facts, note the comments above of the students and former students who mentioned how their achievement in college/universities was negatively impacted because of the racism that they experienced.

      It seems to me that People of Color have to be more concrete in our advice about WHAT TO DO  when other People of Color are confronted with racism. It’s true that it depends on the situation, but for examples of specific on the spot responses/reactions,  should a person
      * ignore the racist/prejudiced statement and/or actions* verbally confront the person who said or did something racist/prejudiced at the time the words/actions take place* report the action/statement by writing about it (with or without names) on blogs/facebook/newspapers including the university newspager * report the action/statement to someone in authority (depending on where/who did this prejudicial/racist action from the parents/guardians of a child to the head of a daycare center, camp, school, university dean to the police* physically confront the person who said or did something racist/prejucided [though I wouldn't recommend this one]This is what I mean about suggesting the kinds of things a person can do when faced with racism/prejudice.  

  • Essence

    excellent article, alana. really well written. i survived U of M. i loved it, but there is the same atmosphere of liberals who think it’s okay to be racist because they have black/gay/insert-the-marginalized-identity friends. just curious – how do you define yourself racially? i asked a guyanese friend – he copped out and said ‘west indian’ before admitting that the majority of guyanese are either black or indian or both, and he’s both. some of your anecdotes make it seem that you are ambiguous enough to pass as white. thanks!

    • Alana Mohamed

      I, too, find it difficult to define myself and usually just say West Indian or Caribbean, even though those aren’t really races.  So, technically, I would be considered Asian.  I’m not ambiguous enough to pass as white (at least I don’t think so), but I am ambiguous enough that people don’t know how to peg me at first, thus thinking it would be okay to say certain things in front of me.

  • Anonymous

    The problem here, DA, is that you are making some core assumptions about this space which are not true.

    1. Racialicious is a POC space. We talk to each other, across racial groups, about how oppression works and operates. There are white people here (about 30% of our readership) but most of the white folks who are a part of my community understand point 2.

    2. This is not a Racism 101 space designed to educate white people, to their satisfaction about the ways of structural racism in America. The folks who participate here are fleeing other spaces where white people who are only just starting to think about race derail conversations over and over again, but doing what you just did – complaining about the overall conversation and wanting it to suit your needs, without paying any attention to the fact this space serves a different purpose.

    I suggest reading our friends at Resist Racism, who put together a handy dandy racism 101 guide:

    http://resistracism.wordpress.com/racism-101/

    and after that, read this:

    http://resistracism.wordpress.com/we-heard-it-before/

    But I’m going to remove you from the broader conversation, since it is all too easy for spaces about race to be co-opted by people who are more interested in lecturing than listening.

  • Anonymous

    Okay, I’m going to end this here.

    Devil’s Advocate, you are making some core assumptions that are messing you up. I let this comment slide, just to see what would happen, but usually you would be moderated out because everything about your comments screams you really want to have a conversation about race on a racism 101 level. “This is how I feel as a white person.” So you come into this space, and post and lecture and talk about the choir, not really noticing or caring that this isn’t a 101 space and this isn’t a space made to educate white people.

    Racialicious is 70% POC. We’re here to talk to each other about the things we go through in majority white spaces. The white people who do well here have advanced through the basics on anti-racism discussion, and can handle conversations that involve POCs talking among themselves without feeling the need to inject their opinion and force the conversation to go their way.

    To use a different analogy: A lot of people study science, and have conversations about science, but there’s a big difference between the earth science you learn in Jr. High and a quantum mechanics class you take in college. What you learn (first about matter, then about the interplay of matter and energy) happens in an order so you can grasp and build on that information. But a space where people are talking about quantum theory isn’t the place for you to come in with your Earth science understanding level.

    Racialicious is a space where POC come to talk about things like racism on campus or racism in True Blood without the usual derailing we receive in majority white spaces. You are receiving hostile pushback from people on this board because we’ve heard it all before. Our friends at Resist Racism even have some handy phrases in times like these:

    http://resistracism.wordpress.com/racism-101/

    And when you’ve finished that, read these:

    http://resistracism.wordpress.com/we-heard-it-before/

    Ultimately, I can understand your goal, but this isn’t a space where we handhold white people through conversations of racism. If you aren’t comfortable with listening when brown people talk, and not controlling the convos, this isn’t the space for you. I would suggest finding a space that is more in line with the types of conversations you would like to have. If you are really interested in discussing and learning more about racism, all of this and the links above will make more and more sense as your journey goes on.

    But for now, I’m going to remove you from the conversation, so that people who have experienced this same alienation can speak to each other in a space where they will not be silenced.

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    Going to FAMU was perhaps the best decision I made in my life.

    • Big Man

      Yeah, going to Howard University was definitely top 3 for me.

  • http://profiles.google.com/aiyana.knauer Aiyana Knauer

    I just graduated from a majority-white school in Westchester, NY. Like you, I come from NYC and had never gone to a school where most of the students were white. It was a shock. I never really saw such blatant racism as you did, but I felt terribly isolated, and there was virtually no forum for me to discuss my discomfort and alienation among my peers. At the end of my senior year, when I publicly called some RAs out for wearing blackface (a photo I found from a few years ago; long story, but they claimed the whole “we didn’t think it was blackface” thing), I was demonized by many as “personally attacking” the people involved and received a lot of criticism from some of my fellow students. Of course, many people supported me as well, but the whole experience left such a sour taste in my mouth. Publicly calling people out on their shit is a hard fight. I hope that you have a better time back at home in NYC! It feels damn good to be back home here.

  • Mickey

    If someone makes a racist statement, I usually take the “Two can play that game” route. I’ve grown up in an environment where things were racially diverse, even if it was predominately White. I also grew up watching televisions shows like The Jeffersons and listened to certain comedians, which helped me with my witty skills on how to call  people out on their racism. As a result, I’ve broken too many faces to count.

  • KW

    Great article. And I agree with the majority of comments that were posted. Going to a college as a freshman in Florida in 2004 (Bush’s reelection) definitely was an interesting experience. I roomed with a white roommate who grew in a predominantly white town and another white roommate who was dating a Latino. Needless to say the prior roommate and I just did not get along at all. And later after she requested to be transferred to another room she told my other roommate that she never experienced black people before and that all her preconceptions on blacks were from television. She also had nasty things to say about Moroccan men that as an anthropology major made me cringe to hear. Her reasoning behind these statements were that she knew FEW Morrocan men who did an exchange program at her high school and they behaved in a specific way so that mention all Morrocan men were like that.

    Coming from New York City where I did experience some racist behavior my high school, I was shocked when I went down South. Not only did Some whites display Confederate flags proudly but some blacks down South were completely cool with it. What’s worse was that some of these blacks also questioned my authenticity as a black person. I can’t count how many times I received the comment: “you can’t possibly be fully black because you have long hair. What are you mixed with.”. Whn I tell them that my parents were from the Caribbean that was when the barrage of ‘I knew you were fully black, none of you Caribbean are’ started. It was disheartened to hear because it felt like I couldn’t share their struggle because I was from the Caribbean (Aruba and Curaçao).

    But in any case great read and it’s amazing the read the shared the experiences.

    • Anonymous

      “Coming from New York City where I did experience some racist
      behavior my high school, I was shocked when I went down South. Not only
      did Some whites display Confederate flags proudly but some blacks down
      South were completely cool with it. What’s worse was that some of these
      blacks also questioned my authenticity as a black person. I can’t count
      how many times I received the comment: “you can’t possibly be fully
      black because you have long hair. What are you mixed with.”. Whn I tell
      them that my parents were from the Caribbean that was when the barrage
      of ‘I knew you were fully black, none of you Caribbean are’ started. It
      was disheartened to hear because it felt like I couldn’t share their
      struggle because I was from the Caribbean (Aruba and Curaçao). ”

      Ugh.  Oh, God.  The whole “you’re not black” bit.  If you thought it was fun just going to college in that shit, imagine wading through that in middle and high school, too.  That was my experience in a nutshell.

      Plenty of black classmates, including my own 8th grade Georgia History teacher, when she got tired of me sleeping in class all the time, in south metro Atlanta (Morrow, Clayton County): “You Africans think you’re better than us!”

      Also, I ran into my first black Confederate Bullshit apologist in my first semester (Fall 2002) in Milledgeville, GA.  During the Welcome week before classes, she was part of a forum in the auditorium, where she told us that just because your white roommate hangs the Confederate Battle Flag over his or her bed in your dorm doesn’t mean that that white person’s a racist.  Even way back then, at 18, I called bullshit and I still call bullshit, now.  Sure, your new rooming buddy’s not a racist just for doing it, but unless he or she somehow genuinely missed learning about the history of the South in the 1950s and 1960s in class (a high possibility for certain parts of Georgia, believe it or not, but no one in the metro Atlanta area has any excuse at all for that happening — there are still parts of Georgia that celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday in lieu of Martin Luther King, Jr’s and cover only black history month for a WEEK.  I’m serious.), and never watched any TV about anything on the civil rights movement (there ya go!), that active ignorance about basic history concerning the Civil War and the Jim Crow era is no excuse.  That Battle Flag stopped being about “Southern Heritage” (lol — from me, whose parents were ex-Biafrans who had, at least, a legitimate gripe, this is fucking hilarious) a long-ass time ago, especially when the Ku Klux Klan co-opted it early last century and white people APPARENTLY WERE ALL FOR IT, telling by how many state flags incorporated it into their post-50s ones, including Georgia, and many kept them that way for years and years (and still do now! Mississippi…) and only dumped them due to outside pressure from groups like the NAACP (Georgia was one of the few where it came to a vote).  Also, there were a couple of white liberals here and there, my Biology instructor at Milledgeville and one of my Literary Criticism professors at Georgia State years later, who also humored the whole “War of Northern Aggression/War Between the States” BS momentarily and thought that Southerners could qualify as a marginalized minority, respectively.  Funny enough, they were both atheists and big hard rock fans — which, for my Biology teacher (he only had a Master’s), went down really well in Milledgeville — some students complained to the Dean that he cursed and bashed Christianity too much in class (he argued with a black minister’s daughter (who may have been a Republican — who knows?) about why is she a black Christian, of all things in class,) and he almost got fired, prevented perhaps by my other Biology classmates who spoke up for him at the hearing.  When there’s plenty of exposure to how the whole idea of celebrating one’s “Southern Heritage” is a bunch of Bullshit™, especially if you’ve grown up in Atlanta like I have, you’re either actively delusional and ignorant (sorry, but that’s just the way I feel), or you’re an actual racist.  Meanwhile, I don’t want to say mean things about black folks who apologize for this crap — maybe they genuinely feel it’s not a big deal.  Biased as I am, I suspect that’s what they tell themselves to cope because they can’t move.  No one in Atlanta, as far as I’ve observed in my 27 years on this planet (I’m from Mars! I kid.. or, do I? :o), ever really gets away with really believing that.

      I have a story about college racism, too, but I’m still not done after 9 years, so it might be depressing to read. o.o

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

    It seems that a number of commenters here who are attending or who attended majority White colleges/universities recognized/recognize the value of finding a support system made up of Persons from their race/ethnicity and/or from other People of Color.However, there are other roads that Students Of Color who attend majority colleges/universities might choose to take. As a way of being accepted by their White peers, one of those roads that a Person of Color might take is to be lulled into the role of the ”exception to the rule/ you’re not like those other [insert your race/ethnicity] or you’er [race/ethnicity] is better than [insert other race/ethnicity of color]. 

    I traveled that road only for a brief time before I recognized its emotional dangers, But I know some people who chose that route while they were in university and/or afterwards. In my opinion, they sold their soul for relationships and social lives that could never be real, and later for career positions that certainly weren’t/aren’t worth it.       

  • DevilsAdvocate

    I may be an insensitive asshole, but sometimes, even though I know a joke is racist before I make it, I just feel like letting it out. For me as a fellow New Yorker (full disclosure, yes I am in fact white) racist remarks like “What a way to celebrate Black History Month!” are not intended to offend any ‘POCs’ but rather serve as a dark humored reflection  on the absurdity of the stereotypes I may be acknowledging.

    Not trying to stir things up to much, but I think there are many ways to look at or think about the same phrase. Not all racist comments are made without thinking, not all those that make racist comments are racist, and sometimes it may in fact be total satire.

    Of corse as a last note, context is extremely important, and I really don’t doubt the thoughtless townie mentality that probably drove the examples you use, but I see only comments of agreement, and a conversation about race is entirely ineffective if all of the input is from one side of the table.

    • Anonymous
    • http://dont-read.blogspot.com Angel H.

      Intent isn’t what’s important; it’s the impact. If someone didn’t mean to hit you with their car, it still isn’t going to heal the wounds any faster.

    • Aiyana

      Sigh. I don’t even know if this is worth responding to. Context is irrelevant. What matters is whether or not it hurts someone. You have probably never been on the receiving end of any hurtful racist jokes. (If jokes are made about white people/culture, they’re almost only funny because we all know how privileged white skin is, so it’s comical to make fun of it for a second.) I don’t know if it’s really possible for me to explain what it feels like for your history/culture to be constantly poked fun at, even if it’s in “jest.” It serves as a consistent and ugly reminder of the oppression and racism that has long been faced by communities and individuals of color. I don’t buy the devil’s advocate position for a second. And, dare I generalize, that position is almost always taken by white people who have no personal lived experience of being the butt of racist jokes that evoke, essentially, a history of discrimination and a reminder of being a second-class citizen.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, have you ever seen Louis CK’s bit on being white?  I think it sums up what you are saying here really well…

      • DevilsAdvocate

        While writing that first comment I knew that I would get this kind of response. I tried to shy away from stereotypical justifications that white people frequently use, such as pointing out that one of my best friends who I hang out with just about every other day is black as midnight (and yes we trade bad jokes of this nature all the time), or pointing out that I live in a black ghetto and find myself on the receiving end of racism ALL THE FUCKING TIME, (For instance yesterday I was referred to several times as ‘cracker joe’ by someone I had never met, while I was minding my own on the street.) But YES this is an important context, and just because these kinds of justifications are stereotypical does not mean they do not hold any truth.
         Please do not try to tell me context is not important when I hear the N word being thrown around every day, but no one cares because I’m not the one saying it and everyone else in the room is black.
        When someone makes so called ‘reverse racist remarks’ in my direction I try to dissmis it as a product of constant ‘true’ racism aimed at them, but of corse the context is important to me too. If I am in the company of friends I understand that it is in good humor, when I am in the company of strangers the context becomes even more important.
        I am not trying to argue, as some do, that in this day racism is largely irrelevant, what I am trying to say, if nothing else is that context is VERY important.

        I do not feel comfortable bringing up questions of race frequently, and even less so in a serious context, I fear that with out dark humor and satire I would probably never address the subject at all out of sheer discomfort. This may sometimes offend people, but if it provokes someone to confront me in a situation where we can have a serious dialogue about race then perhaps it is not so condemnable to put someone outside of their comfort zone, thats how we learn things about each other right?

        In brief.
        I feel, the dialogue means little if it is only being traded amongst members of the choir. It is healthy to acknowledge that not everyone who makes racist on insensitive comments is doing it because they are racist or insensitive (are black people who make the same exact jokes self hating?) 
        Satire and dark humor are age old methods of examining subjects that we are otherwise too uncomfortable to talk about.
        So forgive me for wielding my ‘hipster racism’, but I am a stereotypical awkward white boy, we live our lives gaffe to gaffe, but I also welcome any serious discorse that comes as a result.

        • http://dont-read.blogspot.com Angel H.

          what is this i don’t even

          Please do not try to tell me context is not important when I hear the N word being thrown around every day, but no one cares because I’m not the one saying it and everyone else in the room is black.

          What is it with White people and their need to say call someone a nigger without repercussions?

          I do not feel comfortable bringing up questions of race frequently, and even less so in a serious context, I fear that with out dark humor and satire I would probably never address the subject at all out of sheer discomfort.

          Imagine how WE feel!

          This may sometimes offend people, but if it provokes someone to confront me in a situation where we can have a serious dialogue about race then perhaps it is not so condemnable to put someone outside of their comfort zone, thats how we learn things about each other right?

          But it’s not about you. Discussions about race (or any other kyriarchal privilege) should NEVER be geared towards the comfort of the privileged party. Why should discussions about race be not be made to accomodate White men. Period.

          So forgive me for wielding my ‘hipster racism’, but I am a stereotypical awkward white boy, we live our lives gaffe to gaffe…

          And we’re the ones paying the price.

          • Anonymous

            Why do some white people act like they’ve met every black person in America and claim that we all say the “N word”?  The ones arguing this are just too obsessed with using it, and I’m not sure why.

            Oh, since Lil Wayne uses it in a rap, I can use it and I can you it and how dare you object.  Whatever.

            Must be nice to be able to ignore race and only think about it when  you are stirring the pot. 

            Devil’s Advocate clearly didn’t see Louis CK’s bit.  He points out, “How much can being called cracker hurt me? Yeah, reminds me of when I owned land AND people.”  It’s a great point. Calling him a name is the worst thing those people can do to him.  He does not ever have to answer to anyone who looks like them.

        • http://twitter.com/DYomoah Doreen Yomoah

          Um, I don’t think you belong here. Why don’t you try a blog that is more an introduction to racism?

    • Alex

      Do a number of White people (who are on the receiving end of racist jokes) leave the end-result of the joke feeling like:
      a. the joke teller hates them and wants them dead.b. the joke teller doesn’t want them there at all.c. the joke teller wants them deeply injured and/or humiliated?I ask this because the crux of why I (I’m a Black woman) don’t like racist comments and jokes about Black people is that deep deep deep deep down inside, I believe that if the joke teller could do anything without consequences and without witnesses, that my ass would be injured or dead. 

      The level of disdain and hatred *within* the joke or comment being uttered by a White person that is within earshot or visual eyeshot of people like me–Black people–makes me feel I must protect my physical and psychological safety.I mean, it wasn’t that long ago (my parents’ generatio) that White people could say anything they wanted to Black people, and back it up with a lynching or bombing without legal consequences for it.When I received racist comments from White people or jokes in a predominately White environment, I did not feel safe. Passive aggressiveness via racist comments and jokes feels like aggression when I am the recipient of it and the feeling of powerlessness gets compounded if I am one of a few or just the only Black one in a predominately White environment.  Why? Because I could stand up for myself at risk for my physical, psychological, academic, social safety. 

      • DevilsAdvocate

        If my response to the comment bellow passes moderation (which I imagine it will) you will see that my thesis on this subject is that context is essential. When I hear stories in the news about old white folks in my hood getting killed by mobs of black kids, I see the history behind such acts, but I also have just as much of a right to some of the same fears as you do. 

        I respect this argument, but I think at the stage we are in today in race relations it is no longer a one sided coin, and it is no longer an end all talking point. 

        • Alex

          If you respected this argument, you would talk about race in an academic setting and you would even address the topic of this conversation.

          I am offended and sickened that a discussion of race on college campuses led you to pull out “Old White folks getting killed by mobs of Black kids”.  and “the history of it”

          Your statement sounds similiar White folks who were saying that mobs of Black people were killing White folks during slavery, during Jim Crow and during the L.A. riots which was based on rumors created by some White people’s fear of Black people.

          By the way, I notice that you used the N-word in this discussion.

    • Alana Mohamed

      My friend, I think you’ve missed the point here.  Your repeated attempts to brush aside the plethora of people here telling you that you are wrong is proof enough.  I’m sorry you feel this way but hopefully further browsing will encourage you to take the views of POC into more serious consideration.

    • Anonymous

      It’s practically all in the name, here.  Doesn’t help that your screen name practically screams “HI, I’M TROLL BAIT!  WANNA BITE? :D”  x.x

  • Matt Pizzuti

    I had a similar experience of “discovering” racism in college, but in my case I am white and grew up in a suburban community that had plenty of racism… I was just totally blind to it.

    I remember a girl in my high school who told me she faced more difficulty for being black than for being a lesbian.  I just could not fathom how that could be true; my definition of prejudice is whether people used overt slurs against you on a daily basis.  I only gradually came to recognize what she was talking about.  

    Comments like “I’m just not physically attracted to ____ people” or “_____ is a dangerous neighborhood” (not based on experience but simply because it’s majority is people of color)  or complaining about affirmative action on a campus that was 97% white.  What was interesting is that some of the same people who are constantly saying and doing racist things would simultaneously entertain conversations about how racist some other group of people is, such as Southerners, poor white people, Republicans, etc, totally blind to their own issues.  

    Once, in an English Literature class where we spent several periods on reading through “critical race theory,” the conversation was, for three days, on the topic “does racism still exist” or how white people are unspoken victims of racism, or how oppressive political correctness is.  The people advocating the concept of white victimization were more passionate than I’d ever seen someone be in a class discussion, picking the most obscure and irrelevant things as examples of how they were disadvantaged.  I didn’t have the language or tools to answer, but it deeply bothered me thinking there was no way students would feel comfortable having such a hostile conversation had there been a single person of color in the room.  

    I hate that conservatives call this kind of education “liberal,” because even pushing multiculturalism, the message ended up white supremacist.  

    I think one answer is affirmative action.  Cultural education isn’t worth crap when it’s taught and discussed by a monolithic group of white people, and when there are hardly any people of color there I imagine it is extremely intimidating to speak up for yourself without being marginalized.  I saw white people putting a lot of pressure on my friends of color to suppress their personal feelings of racism.  

  • http://commentarybyval.blogspot.com/ Val

    Exactly! As a proud Spelman grad I totally agree!

    • Their_child

      Hey Spelman sister! I know of a few people who had to leave SC or Morehouse because they couldnt get enough fin aid. They transferred to state schools back home or to GA State where they could get better scholarships :(

      • http://commentarybyval.blogspot.com/ Val

        I think part of the reason for that is that the Federal government is always playing politics with Fed aid for HBCUs. After Obama took office he allowed Fed money to be taken away from HBCUs and then the next year some but not all was given back. That’s not the first time that sort of thing has happened. I think our colleges need to hire professional lobbyists to make sure we get out fair share.

        • Anonymous

          I agree. Tons of universities have lobbyists in Washington. Hell, my school has lobbyists yet the chancellor and her people don’t mind hiking up the tuition to suit their esoteric needs. So why not start playing like the big players? I’m certain that if HBCU’s had a better share of money many more minority students, black in particular, would opt for those schools instead of having to deal with the hang-ups of attending historically white and exclusive universities. At the end of the day funding provides better amenities and opportunities for schools. It’s not by sheer number of white students that schools are great. It’s about money.

  • http://bytheirstrangefruit.com StrngeFruit

    This was soooo the experience at my college. *shivers at the memory*

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1130483506 Cleo Hines

    Wow when I hear stories like this, it occurs to me how extremely lucky I’ve been to not have experienced any crap like that. I went to a small private college on Long Island and was recruited into one of their advanced programs, as such, I wound up starting school a month earlier than the rest of the general university population with the other members of my program, there were about 50 or so of us, maybe a bit more, all of the students with the exception of 5,  were West Indian or African, we spent that first month together and had all our classes together and mostly roomed together having kept our pre semester rooming assignments and we self segregated fiercely. By the end of the first semester, we had taken over the top two floors of the international dorm, by transferring, requesting roommate switches and the like, and the only people that we associated with besides each other were the Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese and Korean international students that lived on the first and second floors because they pretty much self segregated as well and really only hung out in the dorm lounge, plus a lot of us worked in the  international centre as English tutors because it was the only on campus job flexible enough for our schedules and work study. I don’t think that in four years of attending that I ever hung out with a white person at my school that wasn’t an international student. I don’t know maybe some inborn sense of self preservation made us self segregate before anything happened or we were subjected to any overt racism, or maybe we were just pretty arrogant and felt we were better than anyone else (I’m kinda leaning towards the latter), I think the most that ever happened was an Alpha getting into into it with a bunch of TKE’s and I think that was mostly frat stuff. Grad school on the other hand, has been a whole different ball of wax, one that I sometimes wish I could shove up someone’s ass.

  • RisaNP

    You’re definitely not the only one, and this phenomenon is not limited to New England liberal arts colleges. I attended a Southern liberal arts college in Memphis, TN.  I was 1 out of the 60+- POC on campus, and it was a culture shock. I think I first came in with a color-blind mentality, but was quickly shown the truth. It did affect my mental health, academic achievement and overall happiness and I should have transferred after that first year.

    I hope this won’t continue to be a problem when it’s time for my as-yet unborn children to go to college.

  • Anonymous

    Great article…I am interested to see if the outright expressions of racism between “friends” differs for males and females as well, being a Black guy myself. I attended an undergrad university which was majority white but had a significant black population. In our dorms it was relatively mixed, so there would be situation where racial “jokes” were thrown about whites and blacks. Typically, as long as the jokes, I guess, didn’t offend anyone or seem to come form a place of hate, no one ever got offended. I was uncomfortable at times with the back and forth, because many times the black guys would definitely have more vicious jokes and I could tell some of the white guys would get offended. I also noticed that they all came together to throw barbs at Asians, Muslims, and non-heterosexuals. This is what led me to not really interact with them that much.

    I actually got into a fight my freshmen year because one of my other black suite mates was saying some really ignorant, racist and sexist things towards a white female friend of mine. She came over with her boyfriend, a Latino guy, and this dude was being extremely ignorant. I didn’t like it in my room so me and the guy got into a scuffle. Needless to say some of the black guys in my dorm thought I was overly sensitive, while others congratulated me for speaking out. 

    So I wonder if the experience is different when you are a male, because men are taught to interact in very lewd and aggressive ways.

    • Alex

      DrHipHop, 

      I don’t know–good questions. I have noticed that the racial joking came to a standstill if the joke was on someone a Black guy was dating–such as a Black woman he was dating and cared about or about his mother or family or friend (regardless of race), like in your case. Racism can come packaged in dynamite that is made up of gender, stereotypes about Black men for example, Black women, White women who date interracially.

      I believe that the exercise of racism is about attempting to use power and control to assert one’s own position of privilege, and to cover up an insecurity about one’s own status of power/privilege in society.  

      And yes racism can also be practiced as a pissing contest–to see who is above whom–who wins. There is a history (American history) behind playing the dozens that I suspect factors into how this pissing contest became vicious.

      Gender, sexual orientation, social status, race, dating habits, religion ethnicity are life’s game-pieces. 

    • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

      In my experience, the racism I get from White men is different from the racism I get from White women.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

    So far the comments here document three generations of students of Color who have had to learn to cope with racism or prejudice at majority White colleges/universities in the USA or the UK.  I think it would be helpful to note what helped us get through those difficult experiences. 

    For me, what saved my soul (no pun intended) was reaching outside of the campus to connect up with Black community folks. Thank goodness the communities adjacent to the college I graduated from had a sizable Black population.  However, living on campus of a college even in a community with a lot of Black people still doesn’t necessarily make it easy to connect up with people in the community. When I was in college, I first connected up with people in the adjacent Black community through the hair dresser, and working in the city during college semesters and in the summer time. Later on, I connected with Black community people through cultural organizations, including a city chapter of a national Black sorority and a African centered cultural organization.  Nowadays the Internet social networking sites like Facebook and blogs like this one, may be helpful for students of Color who don’t  just feel isolated but often literallyare from the social life on their campuses. It’s also possible that blogs like this one will take some of the pressure off of students of Color by helping well meaning White students, faculty, and staff better understand some issues related to race/ethnicity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1164481042 Mieko Gavia

      Yeah, what ultimately helped me was being close to people who “got” my experience in some way- namely other minorities and really “down” allies who were also minorities in some other way.  Recognizing our intersectionality really helped us maintain a bond that-even when we didn’t always understand what the other was going through-gave us ways to cope with the stress of dealing with people who didn’t get it.

      For the longest time I threw myself into outwardly uncaring or even semi-hostile environments to try and make a change, but that was draining my soul and only making baby steps.  I wish I had discovered this before my senior year, though I always felt subconsciously more at ease with people of color, LGBTQ people, PWD, and people with class issues.

  • Penguin

    The experiences you shared, Alana, are very similar to what my friends and I experienced in our freshman year at a big public university, which is already infamous among certain circles because of a certain percentage of students in support of a controversial mascot (which I myself do NOT support). I, like you, went to a high school in a big city and lived in neighborhoods that were never predominantly white. So I was also shocked by how ignorant some people were during my freshman year. One would expect peers to be educated about such matters, but I guess that wasn’t the case where I attend university. It’s distressing to hear and see that I’m considered my ethnic or religious identity first before I am considered a person. 

  • 3xAmazing

    Great article!  Similar experience in 2004 as a freshman in California.  Much of my anxiety at attending law school out east is fear of more of the same.  I know I would have performed better if only I was prepared for it.  I’ll be forwarding this along, good luck in school!

  • Alex

    This is why I have empathy for any Black person who grew up through childhood such an environment. 

    Going to college in such an environment as a brand new adult is one thing. 

    But imagine how little children who are not White must feel growing up where they may hear White adults talk like this in their community, school, home, family social circles! (if they are adopted transracially by a White family in a White community going to a White school)When I was in high school in a predominately White campus, I overheard a teacher I respected and admired state that riots had just broken out in Los Angeles (post Rodney King verdict) and that Black people were killing White people.  At that moment as the only Black person in my class, and few in the school, I wanted no part of my school, including those of my White classmates who accepted this and didn’t question the craziness of such a statement.  I wanted to leave campus that day but couldn’t as I didn’t have a car.
    I do believe that in the fight against racism, we are forced to face who really cares to expand their mind and challenge one’s own racist beliefs and who does not care to be educated by Black folks and White antiracist folks on the issue. . . because these specific folks do not care about Black people. Experiences like this is why I care that my son has attended a preschool with many children who look like him, and why I want him to go to a HBCU as an undergraduate college student or a college/university with a high number of Black students. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XSK4V3HN4QKPUXUJD7M4EP27CE Lisa

    Wow!  These type of things are still going on? I graduated from a white majority liberal arts college back in 1985 and remember experiencing some of the same types of things described here. It was very alienating and I feel like it it did affect my performance. The only good thing to come of those type of experiences is that I can inform my daughter of what to expect and how to react when she goes to college.

  • anonymouse

    RE: The part about “whole different species” and “look like animals a little”

    WHAT. THE. FUCK.

    As a person of color who went to a predominantly white, liberal, New England liberal arts college, it occurs to me that all the talk of diversity, international students, non-Western perspectives, what have you, is not designed for us.  We are there for them.  We are there to spice up the white experience.  In a word: tokenism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

    Waaay back in the mid 1960s, I was one of 6 Black students who lived on campus of a predominately White liberal arts college very near Newark, New Jersey. The culture shock you felt of being one of the few People of Color on campus is very care much like how I felt. However, it seems to me that students in my day were less outspoken about their racism than they are now. I’m not sure which is worse-they both are very difficult to process. I know what you mean by being emotionally overwhelmed by it all. And I wouldn’t be surprised if another aspect of your experience is often well meaning students and faculty looking to you to be a spokesperson for Black people, or ask you questions about being Black [like questions about your hair care and if you got a sun tan. Because of your last name, you probably get put in the unasked for an unenviable position of being a spokesperson for Muslims everywhere.

    Although I didn’t understand why many of the few African Americans students who attended my school sat together in the cafeteria, by my senior year I was one of those students who sat at that “Black table”. I realized we did it to create an oasis from the stress of being “the only ones”. I don’t blame you for transferring to a more racially diverse college. 

    • Alana Mohamed

      I come from a very secular family, so being asked questions about Islam was sometimes difficult for me.  I desperately wanted to undo stereotypes and appreciated that my peers/teachers were trying to make an effort, but at the same time, I’m no expert and I didn’t want to be treated like I was one.  
      It’s hard not to segregate yourself, just to keep your sanity.  It creates this complicated situation where there’s no meshing or learning going on, and often times the blame falls on the colored students.  The few black girls in my dorm stuck together and I completely understand why, but I heard a lot of charged comments from white students who were miffed about this.  It’s hard to explain the effects of racism to white students when a color-blind agenda is being pushed on us all.

  • JAcosta

    I went to school in Virginia and was the only medium skinned Latina there. There were only two other African-American students on campus. I definitely feel you on this one, Alana.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to argue (which I now realize wasn’t necessary, lol) over my mixed ethnicity. Apparently, all Hispanics are required to look like Mexicans in order to be considered Hispanic (no joke intended).  The most embarrassing encounter for me was during sophomore year, when all the girls in my section who were so sweet to me, pulled out all their racist jokes during a visit from one of my very dark skinned friends.  One even compared her hair to a guinea pig!  I was humiliated, even more so because I could not think of a response.

    I don’t think anyone prepares minority students for the racism that runs rampant on college campuses.  IMO, I feel this situation is of greater significance to students whose parents never attended college (like me) and have even less of an idea of what to expect.  What do you think?

    As a coincidence, I will also be attending a college on Long Island this fall :)

    • Alana Mohamed

      I agree with you!  My mom never had the opportunity to go to college, but  dad attended college in England, so he was much more worried about what situations I’d get myself in to.  At first, I didn’t understand his concern, but my experiences at college have definitely helped me understand. It’s scary to think that our college experiences are training ground for situations like these that will follow us throughout our lives.

    • Eloncook06

      I grew up in a prodominantly white yet racially diverse planned community in Maryland. I really only remember one racist and one anti muslim incidents during my life there. When it was time for college I chose a black women’s college in Atlanta. The same one my mother and sister went to. My father went to the men’s college across the street. On the drive down to campus my parents warned me about the racism I was likely to face. They had both grown up in segregated Atlanta in the 50′s and had a lot of experience with racism along with stories about cousins and my grandparents.

      Even though race was often a big topic of discussion in class I never had any negative racial experiences in the Atlanta area. I studied race and racism in my sociology courses and became very comfortable with these discussions. Now, I am heading to grad school at a predominantly white college in Washington, DC. I’ve already been warned about the fact that the last several graduating classes in my program have been all white. I’ve heard annecdotes from Black students who have taken a course or two  in my program and come away from the experience disgusted by the opinions of the other students. I also took a non credit class from one of the professors recently and had to call her out on a few of her opinions (in front of my boss who was also taking the class). I really dont want to attend this school but it is my only option in the area for this program. Plus, now I feel like I have to go. Almost as though if I dont there might not be anyone else to help counter negative opinions or teaching about minorities…

  • Anonymous

    Many thanks for writing this – from an Indian who studied in the UK for three years. The “I don’t get it” tactic, the shock, the regret at not speaking up, the exhaustion – you described it all perfectly.

  • Monica

    As a POC who currently attends a New England school, I totally feel you on this.