African American Student Life On Kalamazoo College's Campus: My View Of The Real Story
Whitaker, Nicole L.
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Upon arriving at Kalamazoo College as a young African-American woman, I had no idea that I would go through as many changes as I have. I knew that college was a new learning arena, and that I would go through some metamorphosis. I was well aware that Kalamazoo College was a predominantly white institution, but I was not prepared for what awaited me as I lived on campus. I have gone to predominantly· white schools all of my life so, I was accustomed to being surrounded by Whites; but in elementary, junior high, and high school, I always went home to my Black family. This of course made it easier to deal with being submerged in almost total whiteness all day. Here at Kalamazoo College, I had to not only be around Whites all day, but I had to eat and live with them. I no longer had the escape of being able to go home and put my school life on hold until the next day. This took some getting use to, and was and never became completely easy to do. I know it is my job as an African-American in White America, to educate when I can, because this is one way to eliminate the misconceptions people have about me and Blacks in general, but when I am constantly being used for this purpose, it gets a bit tiresome. I am a student who has tests to study for, papers to write, and books to read, just like any other student on this campus. To have all the academic woes, along with the social woes, then being expected to have an answer for every question asked about Black people as though I can speak for the Back race as a whole, is too overwhelming. I want White people to realize that even though Black students are different, due to our skin being brown, different histories and backgrounds,. and having different goals and aspirations, we are thinking, feeling, individual, human beings and we want to be treated as such. It is hard being looked at constantly as some type of novelty, simply because some White students have never been in such close contact with a Black person. White students are constantly asking questions that are for the most part innocent, or just inquisitive, but the relentless probing becomes annoying. The students do not know how to approach African-Americans and will walk up to a Black person saying things like, "what up dog?" or they try some funny little hand shake, as if African-Americans will not be able to understand them if they asked "how are you?", or gave a simple "hi". Because many White students have never been around Black students before, they seem to feel that this is the only way they can communicate. Sometimes the things they do are offensive. For example some seem to assume that the greetings they use have to be "hip" or a type of slang, or they try to mock the way they have seen some Black person on t.v. walk. In a classroom setting, it is difficult being the only one.· Most White students have never had to deal with being the only White in a classroom. This isolation is a challenge to deal with and to overcome. In this situation, a Black student always sticks out, and her views will be looked at differently because of her skin color. Whenever there are racial topics discussed, the lone Black student becomes the expert on the Black point of view.· This is unacceptable. I am one person, who has her own point of view. I cannot and will not answer questions as a representative for the entire Black race, or for all the Black students on campus. We share some of the same opinions and ideas, but we are all individuals, and do not agree on everything. Yet, we are constantly put on the spot to answer as if we are answering for everyone in our race. All White students do not agree on everything, therefore why should it be assumed that all the Black students do, or will. This is a point that cannot be expressed enough, because even after explaining this point to people, it still happens that anything I express or believe is assumed by many Whites to be believed by all who are like me. This paper is also a plea for people to be not only aware of others differences, but to be accepting of them. I was born Black and female, there is nothing I can do about it. Because I was blessed with both characteristics, I have to encounter and deal with attitudes, prejudices and stereotypes that all women, and all Blacks contend with everyday of their lives. I am challenged to make White students understand that because I am Black, my life has certain complications or obstacles that they do not face. They need to know that if a White person is poor, and uneducated, she or he could be taken off the street, cleaned and dressed up, given a brief case, and be acceptable by society until she or he opened his or her mouth. There is no way for an educated or uneducated, well dressed, brief case carrying, Black person to mask their skin color. Whites need to understand that Blacks are subjected automatically to all the misconceptions, prejudices, and stereotypes about their race, before they have a chance to open their mouth. If I can get one person to understand this, I will feel like this paper was not be done in vain. The reader is asked to not jump to quick conclusions, or be judgmental. The students that answered my survey and talked with me formally, and informally, spoke of what they feel. I wanted them to be as straightforward as possible, and I feel they did an excellent job in doing so. The frankness of their answers is the only way in which their feelings can be heard. I am tired of being voiceless, and it is my goal that through this paper my voice will be heard, and taken seriously.