The Power of Knowledge
Everyone becomes socially and racially conscious at different times in their life. For me, race and social class did not become incredibly apparent until I moved from Madison, WI to Chicago, IL. Navigating a failing school system in my hometown Chicago after spending many years in well-resourced Madison opened my eyes to the many inequalities and limitations that come along with belonging to a specific ethnicity or coming from a particular financial background. When I entered Trinity College, my awareness was only strengthened: almost everything I see and experience is tied to my racial and social status. What I am proud of, despite the many challenges I have faced because of my place in the social hierarchy, is that I have gained a lot of knowledge on why things are the way they are and how I can better my own experience here on campus. I have not completely mastered patience and understanding, but these traits have improved since participating in the Color and Money seminar. The readings and sophomore interviews were particularly refreshing and humbling for me. What I have learned so far has encouraged me to appreciate all of the hardships I have encountered for what they are: learning and growing experiences.
In her book, Beverly Tatum includes an excerpt relaying a conversation between her and a white woman on the issue of racism. “Oh, is there still racism,” the white woman asks. When I first read this line I was completely taken aback. The answer to her question, to me, seemed obvious. Little did I know it foreshadowed a discussion I would soon have with a group of students in my anthropology course. We were debating whether or not logos such as that of the Cleveland Indians were offensive. Most of the majority white class said no to the question while most non-white students said yes. One student claimed that racism had ended when Barack Obama had become president. Another defended his non-racist background by informing the class on how his high school celebrated black history month each year. I sat in complete awe as I listened to the comments. Never had the oblivion of racism seemed as real as it did at that moment. I couldn’t help but to continuously raise my hand throughout the discussion. As I stated my contrasting thoughts and beliefs on how racism was still embedded in society I felt the tension in the room thicken. While Tatum made many points in her novel I was able to relate to, she constantly reiterated how there is no particular group of people or person to blame for the perpetuating cycle of racism. With that in mind, I consciously listened to my offended peers reply back to my statements. I did not take their comments personally, nor did I blame them for their point of views. Everybody’s outlook on life is influenced by the circumstances they were dealt and grew up in. It was apparent by the comments made that a lot of the students had not been exposed to variety of point of views on the issue of racism. It was also obvious that many of the white students were very conscious of the comments they made, for they feared being viewed as racist. Reading Tatum’s book allowed me to gain insight on how issues of race and racial identity manifest within society while also reminding me that the goal is not to find who’s to blame, but to seek solutions on how to improve the problem instead.
After evaluating the data received through the Trinity College interviews in our seminar, I became more aware of why particular people on campus were not as accepting of me. I made the conscious decision some years ago to wear my hair in its natural, kinky state and to also wear as many afro-centric garbs as I could on a daily basis. I was used to receive quizzical stares in Chicago, as my bold style caught a lot of people off guard. Here, however, I’ve experienced outright looks of disapproval and, in some cases, disgust. Yvonne, one of the interviewees noted how she experienced different reactions from people depending on how she dressed. As an African American, lower middle class female she said that “If I’m wearing something…that does not look name brand and put together… people are less likely to [hold] doors open for me, people are less likely to speak to me like in a crowd of people, people are less likely to acknowledge me whereas otherwise they would” (Interview Transcripts, 19). I realized that this applied to me as well. I am personally far less concerned with portraying a certain social class through my clothing than I am with expressing my culture. Once I learned that I was likely being ignored or glared at for materialistic reasons, I became less offended by how others treated me. Not everybody judges me on the clothes I wear or the way I style my hair, and I tend to focus more on those individuals now than to invest energy in greeting or meeting those who do. Sometimes people take to my style and personality, other times they don’t. Now that I’ve been on this campus for a few months, I don’t really pay attention to how others view me, so long as I am portraying the best me I can. The more aware I have become in our seminar of how prevalent color and money is in the nation, the less I find myself complying with the rules and expectations of me. The more I become informed, the less I feel the need to “fit in”, and I love that.
This semester has taught me quite a bit about myself and how I differ from others. Race and social class are both factors that play a large roll on this campus and because I am a minority and come from a lower social class, my experiences and interactions with others can be both uncomfortable and frustrating. Lucky for me though, I was able to emerge out of my Trinity culture shock by gaining more knowledge on “color and money”. With time will surely come more wisdom, and I am glad I had the chance to kick start my learning in a seminar as eye opening as this one.
Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? and other conversations about race. New York: BasicBooks, 1997. Print.
Trinity College Interviews. Color and Money Seminar. 2013