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?