Ignorance is Bliss

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My friend posted on my Facebook wall “Stop it >.<” and, of course, my grandma (Paulette) liked the post.

My Facebook wall
My Facebook wall

I saw her over Thanksgiving break and asked her why she specifically liked that status. As it turns out, she thought he was telling me to stop posting about the Black Lives Matter events and discrimination going on around college campuses (which is not what his post intentions were). I asked her why she wanted me to stop posting about those (relevant) topics, and her response was that I shouldn’t get involved in those kinds of things. I thought to myself, “Well damn, if I don’t get involved then who else will,” but of course I couldn’t say that to my grandma. She felt that me getting involved was putting me in unnecessary danger and making me look bad in front of my Trinity peers. What she didn’t realise was that many of the Trinity students of color and students of color from back home were posting and expressing solidarity. For her, my actions were unnecessary, even dangerous, but for me it was a small way of recognizing the great amount of injustice still going on.

When asked if my perception about race and social class has changed since coming to Trinity, everything tells me I should say yes just to get a good grade, but in all honesty, my perception has never really changed. As a woman of color who went to boarding school in Connecticut, I believe that my thinking has not changed, but rather more sensitized since coming to Trinity. In my senior year of high school, many of the Black Lives Matter protests had begun to spread around the U.S., students even held a die-in in order to raise awareness on our campus. Since coming here and witnessing the solidarity for schools such as Mizzou and Yale, I began to notice a lot of the backlash coming from white students on campus who were uncomfortable with even talking about these events. For me, this amount of backlash was unheard of, even coming from my predominantly white, extremely small private school. This was college freedom in action, where you can get away with being extremely ignorant, even at a small liberal arts college.

Beverly Tatum, a psychologist, ethnographer, and a mother, wrote a section in her text, “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria…” that still follows me to this day. Tatum describes a moment where her son Jonathan came home asking questions about his race. “One day, as we drove home from the daycare center, Jonathan said, ‘Eddie says my skin is brown because I drink too much chocolate milk. Is that true?’ Eddie was a white three-year-old in Jonathan’s class who, like David, had observed a physical difference and was now searching for an explanation,” (Tatum, 33). At home, I have a brother (7y/o) and a sister (5y/o) who are both currently in elementary school. Her reflection made me feel conflicted because on one hand, I’m extremely curious to hear what my brother and sister know about race how they feel. On the other hand, I want to leave them with their childlike, ignorant bliss intact until they observe the differences themselves. Tatum forced me to think about the time I realized the difference between myself and others, but I think I always knew. I went to a predominantly black private school preschool and elementary school in Brooklyn. I remember the one white kid in my class who probably felt out of place, but again maybe he didn’t (thank you ignorant bliss). The rest of us knew, obviously, but we never thought anything of it. I still wonder if he ever realized. 

Instead of change, I think sensitized is a good word, because all too often we become desensitized to things that should really make us think and believe “Wow, that is really f-d up”. I have increasingly thought more and more about my place in the world and how I fit into the puzzle of college. All too often I find myself ignorant to the matters going on outside of the College because of the bubble that we live in. (Side-note: to those who don’t believe we aren’t in a bubble, watch how people talk about the “Hartford locals” as if we all don’t currently live in Hartford as well.) Because of this bubble, and my inherent ignorance, I feel like by the time I should already know about the important events going on outside of Trinity, the time to care is long gone. If I am lucky enough to find out about things like Mizzou early on, usually I have to explain the details of the event to my whole friend group. This in itself is baffling to me because 80-85% of my friend group is comprised of students of color, yet there have been moments during dinner in Mather where I was the only one aware of the protests and injustices off campus.

When I think about it, my views on Trinity have probably changed from the beginning of the year to now. When first coming, I was never really nervous about race and social class because I felt like it would be pretty similar to boarding school. I already had the preconceived notion that the majority of the population would be made up of upper class white kids who are basking in their privilege. I think what shocked me was how ignorant some of those students were. When coming, I figured that by the time people were old and mature enough to go to college, people would have learned the difference between genuinely trying to understand race/social class relations and being blatantly disrespectful. Our school hosted a solidarity event on our football field, letting people know that we stand in solidarity with the other students of color who feel discriminated against in their respective schools. The Solidarity on the Field event was followed by a walk-out event that led to a discussion about race on our campus. “Wake Up World” was an event built around audience participation, where students could speak their experiences in the center of the room. People had the opportunity to write down any personal experiences of discrimination that they have witnessed personally. Those who did not want to share, like myself, had the opportunity to place the opinions into a jar in the center of the circle. This in itself was beautiful. Those who wanted to have their voices heard, but did not have the courage to speak, could still ultimately have their opinion shared. To me, the most powerful moment was towards the end when the crowd began to dwindle at around 1:00PM. During the event, people had the opportunity to share some very personal experiences. There would be a pause after a person finished speaking, as people were questioning whether or not to share. After a while it started getting close to the time my next class started and I decided not to stay. As I was leaving, I turned around and saw a line of people waiting to share their experiences or other experiences that people put into the jar.

Students lining up at the Wake Up World event
Students lining up at the Wake Up World event

The picture shows a student being comforted after breaking down talking about her experiences.The amount of love and acceptance I felt at that moment was immeasurable.

So does this mean Trinity is a bad place? Not at all. Obviously, there are things that should be changed because no college is perfect. What it does mean, however, is that I am aware of the prejudices against me, and that I am prepared to stand against it. Trinity has a problem with educating students on life. They prefer teaching the dead white guys taught in philosophy classes over teaching about social issues. In my eyes, the conversation can only get better when everyone is informed.

Works Cited

Beverly Daniel Tatum. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race. 5th Anniv., Revised edition. New York: Basic Books, 2003.