Ah, the American education system: an equalizing triumph against society’s inherent inequalities. Where students of all walks of middle to upper class have access to a bright future of unpaid internships and astronomical student loan debt. Also where scholars of non-white races must decide which region of the country is best for trying their luck with America’s fluctuating racial climate. With so many recent incidents of racially motivated hate crimes sweeping America’s campuses, it is quite the decision to make. I moved from Alabama to the midwest for a school hoping to escape the trademark racism the state is known for (and also I didn’t want to go to college with any of my high school classmates). However, as a minority in America, it has been hard to get away from it.
For the 234 black students in the fictional Ivy League school Winchester University in the hit Netflix series Dear White People, survival on a predominately white campus takes form in assimilation, protest, friendship, and–the hub of it all–the African-American dorm, Armstrong-Parker. At the end of an amazing first season, Sam White and Colandrea Conners sit in the common room of AP with the rest of the black students as they try to keep their mind off of the uncertain future of Armstrong-Parker.
The Hancocks, generous donors to Winchester, hint at wanting to integrate AP in exchange for a ten million dollar donation. To some viewers, this might seem like a swell idea. True equality at work! Great thinking from Mr. and Mrs. Hancock.
Except it’s not. Full stop.
But isn’t segregation wrong? What would Martin Luther King say? He didn’t die for this!
First of all, MLK didn’t die; he was assassinated.
Second, white people and other non-white people are free to enter these spaces whenever they feel like. There are no police throwing white students out of minority culture centers. So please, come on in!
But when you do, follow the social code, bro. If you come into the BBC for example, don’t come in for a “lively debate” on whether police brutality is actually a problem. Sit your ass down and watch Dereca: Fix My Life.
Believe it or not, these culture centers are sometimes not safe spaces at all. Sometimes, free-speech/blue lives matter/why-can’t-there-be-a-white-culture-center persons vandalize these spaces, letting students of color know that they are not welcome and ALL of the campus belongs to the white majority.
And it does. PWI campuses belong to the white majority. That’s why they don’t need a white culture center: all of campus is free for y’all to be as problematic as you want to be. All of campus is free for you to be color-blind.
All of campus is free for you to not worry about race relations at all.
[bctt tweet=” PWI campuses already belong to the white majority.” username=”wearethetempest”]
That’s why Armstrong-Parker being integrated is a threat to positive campus life for the black students of Winchester.
But what about the sharing of cultures and ideas? Isn’t that what universities are FOR?! We’re all American! We’re all human! Why can’t we all just get along?
Why do I still find myself being the only black kid in classrooms? Why did my classmate include a slide featuring blackface in our film class to describe an element of mise-en-scene? Why did my teacher have a meeting with me and my classmate to speak about the issue and let my white male classmate speak over me? Why did the meeting end with them telling me how hurtful it was to be called racist? Why did I leave the class feeling unheard and exhausted holding back angry tears?
[bctt tweet=”Why am I so often the only black kid in the classroom?” username=”wearethetempest”]
Race is a social construct. It is a construct that has permeated our society to the point where intentional or not, black children are suspended at higher rates than their white counterparts, black women are forced to straighten their hair in order to get a job, and smart black college kids like Reggie have to fear for their life because of how they look.
For the black students of Armstrong-Parker and the black students in PWIs everywhere, having a space in which to rest after moving through the world with skin not the right color or hair not the right texture is vital to their mental health and happiness.
Now, if you don’t mind, it’s Thursday and I have to get my popcorn and wine ready.