Tag Archives: Bard College

When we Think of Segregation Part 2

So at some point I was hanging out in the Stevenson Library at Bard College with my White Jewish friend, I’ll call her Abbey, who loved the way I used Ebonic vernacular and was very excited about playing RUN-DMC for me in her car. She convinced me to ask the vice president of the BBSO if she could join and in my ignorant, “We are the World”, “Hands Across America” glow I floated off to another floor where he was sitting at his Senior desk doing important Senior work.  I consider myself very lucky that he didn’t curse me out because he would have had every right to. When I look back on it now, I realize that he was very patient with me when he said in so many words and in no uncertain terms that there was no way he would accept my friend into BBSO.  He was very unwavering in his ideas about race relations, at least with regards to racism on the Bard College Campus. He was always butting heads with white Dorm monitors and seeking out all the events that supported people of color on campus. He was a proactive organizer when it came to supporting these events and I really admired him for it.

Me. I had other things on my mind and couldn’t see that I was a Black girl in a microcosmic, hippified utopia. I would not have even understood what that meant. I did know that sought to connect with any Black or Brown face I saw not that I was in the “minority.” I had fled what I felt was oppression from my own people in High School  for not being “Black” enough and ran right into a situation where I was often the first Black person that many white students had ever met. It was culture shock for sure. But nothing was more unsettling than the conversation I had with Abbey one day, also at the Stevenson Library where she asked me to compare my friendship with her to the close friendship I had with my Black High School BFF, Janet.

I talked about Janet a lot as was normal for many of us to do about close friends at home, particularly when feeling homesick and longing for something or someone familiar to relate to. Janet and I share a very tight bond to this day and until this talk with Abbey, I had never thought of the part race might play in it. I mean I knew we were both Black but I I never thought of myself as someone who formed relationships based on race. Oh I was in a bubble.

“Do you think that you and I could ever be as close as you and Janet?” Abbey asked.

First of all, I was very wary of the fact that she was even asking the question. I registered this as a sign of very low confidence on her end and I found it unattractive. I told her that that she and Janet were two different people and that there was no way I could be close to both of them in the same ways. This is when Abbey started to get emotional. She started crying. UGH! What was happening?

“Do you think of being Black as a quality?” She asked

What? Who asks a question like that? I was stumped. I had never thought about it. And whenever I think back to that conversation, I realize what an important question it is despite the fact that she was baiting me indirectly. Is race a quality?

In that moment of pause I was aware of a couple of things. I would never be as close to Abbey as she wanted me to be because although I wasn’t sure if I thought Blackness was a quality, it was quite obvious that she did. And I couldn’t be close to anyone who tokenized my race unconsciously or otherwise. She also engaged with her body (She was a plus size girl who was not happy about it) in a negative way and was uncomfortably envious of my stick thin physique at the time so nothing about this relationship was promising to me as having potential for deeper bonding. It all turned me off.

“Yes,” I said. “I think race is a quality.

Tears. Audible sobbing, gushing tears. In the library,

UGH! What the hell man?

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When we think of Segregation

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So this morning I googled the word segregation and of course the first few links that came up were around racial segregation in America.  Jim Crow, Brown VS Board of Ed, a story about a return to segregated schools in America on PBS.org.  In fact when we think about segregation, racial segregation as originally instituted by racist whites in America is the first thing that comes to mind. At least it does to mine.  I’m not even going to insult your intelligence by asking if you know the answer to the question I asked yesterday. We’re all smart people here. There is only one group of people who benefit from segregation and racism both at the time it was implemented and to this very day.  Let’s just get to my point and talk about how segregated experiences work right now and how it could have worked then. And when I say work, I mean succeeded. What you have to keep in mind though, is that in so many ways, the sickness and self-hating psychology of white racism which is essentially racism itself, the same way that segregation is essentially defined as racial is such that any attempt to organize separate services, resources, job opportunities, education and cultural institutes more based on the needs of people of color which are vastly difference from those of us who identify as white is always classified by whites as “reverse racism.”

Let me be clear on my position here.

REVERSE RACISM DOES NOT EXIST

BLACK PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE THE POWER TO BE RACIST

Bard College, circa 1990s. I was a part of the Black Bard Student Organization there and friends with the Vice President of the organization. I’ll call him Malcolm which was incidentally the name of the president of the organization. I was also friends with a Jewish girl who was incessantly clingy with me because she thought my “Blackness” was so cool. I have to say that she didn’t know from “Blackness” if I was her example. The Black people I hung out with had no love for her or any of the other white people I hung out with.  Because of my upbringing, I’ve always had crossover appeal but I never tried to get my Black friend and white friends in a Kumbaya circle because I knew that shit was just not realistic. That is what College Campus student organizations are for. That’s why Black colleges, Fraternities and Sororities exist.

You cannot take a person of color who has been in the “minority” all their lives and who has been taught the history of White America, and if they are lucky some post Slavery Black history, is flooded with media which posits that the only standard of beauty, femininity, intelligence, masculinity, self-worth and love is represented ideally by white faces and throw them together with White people and think everything is going to be lovely. People of color continue to be lied to and kept from the truth about the richness, wealth, brilliance and beauty of their vast culture. White racism has made that a certainty.  The sad truth we all know is that there is very little in American Culture that is actually American. The majority of it was stolen. But back to Bard College and BBSO.

So my Black obsessed Jewish friend doesn’t understand why she can’t be a part of the Black Bard Student Organization and I have to say she was not the only White person who felt this way. There were several other white students who thought their saggy pants, backwards baseball caps and appropriated slang and socialization with people of color (some for the first time ever) should give them access to this world because they weren’t “White like that.” But according to “Dear White People”  Whites already have a club. It’s called Mass Media.  But I wasn’t so racially minded in those days. I actually never did think so much about race until I was at Bard College and a minority in a school for the first time in my life.  Even then I was more of a “we are all human first” kind of gal.

That was my first mistake.