Disclaimer: Starting today, the Opinion section of the Daily Sundial is publishing an article series on discrimination in and around the nearby community. Reporters agreed to write stories in regard to how their lives are affected because of their race, culture and/or disability. Stories of how individuals lives are affected because of their race, culture and/or disability that aren’t represented by the reporting staff were contacted through organizations that represent them. If you feel there’s a story to be told about how the lives of individuals are affected by their race, culture and/or disability that aren’t being represented, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org, and its inclusion in the series will be considered. Stories included in the series were selected by considering the demographics of the campus’ student population. Content of articles in the series could be interpreted as offensive. Keep in mind that the series is meant to inform people about how differences are perceived and how they affect us as a community. It’s not the Sundial’s intent to escalate animosity, but to create understanding.
When I was young, I was always surrounded by people who looked like me; black people. My family is black. I attended a black church. And most of my neighbors were black.
At the age in question, I was aware that everybody in the world didn’t have the same skin color or hair texture as I did. I saw people of other races at the mall, at restaurants and on television, but I never equated race as a means of separating one group of people from another. That was until I began first grade at Vintage Elementary School in North Hills.
One day in class, a little girl mentioned to the teacher and to the class that she was Mexican and that her family was from Mexico. I was amazed. I couldn’t believe that someone whose family was from another country was actually sitting in my class.
That evening, when my mother came home from work, I told her the intriguing news, expecting her to be just as amazed and excited as I was. But she responded with a simple “oh,” and I went back to school.
Throughout the course of the school year, I realized this little girl wasn’t the only person in my class whose family was from Mexico or anywhere else outside of the U.S.
I started to notice the differences between my classmates more. As the only black student in the class, I realized I was more different than all of them.
Growing up in the less affluent parts of the Valley, my mother always sent me to schools in other, wealthier neighborhoods, hoping that I’d receive a better education, but the percentage of black students in those schools was much less than that of schools in my neighborhood.
I remember sitting in the classroom at my desk and learning about slavery. The teacher would read aloud from our history book about slaves being packed into ships, sold, beaten and forced to work for no pay. But even more vividly, I remember the eyes of curiosity, concern and confusion of all the other students staring at me, as I tried to keep my eyes on the seemingly endless pages detailing a brutal history.
One afternoon, preceding a classrom lecture about slavery, a group of children approached me as we were being dismissed to lunch and asked, “Aren’t you mad?” I honestly didn’t know how to respond to the question. Of course, I was angry. It upset me to know that people were treated in such a horrific and inhumane manner. But why was I being singled out? Shouldn’t all of them be angry too? Didn’t this affect all of us, not just me?
I suppose their curiosity and questioning stemmed from the fact that they had never heard about the horrors of slavery, unlike I, who had previously been taught of these things from family members, church, or fom times when I would see my family watching movies such as Alex Haley’s “Roots: The Saga of an American Family”
As I continued on to my middle school and high school careers in Northridge and Granada Hills, I was usually the only black student in class.
As a college student at CSUN, and after working, shopping and going out in the surrounding community, I don’t face day-to-day blatant racism and degradation. The biggest issue about being black in the Northridge community is being a minority, not in the political sense, but in the emotional sense.
Nobody wants to feel alone, and on certain occasions, not having someone in class or at work to share a cultural bond with can be lonely. I’m completely aware that people can and should be friends regardless of race. But sometimes, when I’m sitting in class as the only black student and the subject of civil rights is mentioned, I begin to feel like that little girl in elementary school again, searching for another brown face in the crowd for emotional support.
One incident that stands out in my mind occurred during a speech class during my sophomore year at CSUN. A professor was explaining the importance of getting to know the audience before preparing and delivering a speech to make sure not to offend the audience and maintain their attention.
A white, female student in the class then raised her hand and asked, “I don’t understand. If I want to say nigger during a speech where black people are in the audience, what’s the big deal?” Everyone’s eyes immediately fixated on me and the two other black students in the class, including the professor who chose not to answer the question but to direct it to “the class.” The only people who had anything to say about the student’s question were the black students in the class.
We explained to her as calmly as possible that “nigger” is a word that holds a lot of derogatory meaning and evokes feelings of hurt, pain and anger, especially when coming from the mouth of a white person, since the word originated as a way for whites to talk down to blacks.
I always wonder what would have happened if we three black students were not in that class at that moment. What would the answer to her question have been, and what other discussions would have developed from her question and unnecessary usage of the “N” word?
At that moment, I was grateful for the support of the two other black students in the class. If I had been in that classroom alone, I can only imagine the dreaded return of that haunting feeling of loneliness, feeling the weight of all black people on my shoulders and being compelled to speak for every black person, not just myself.
The craving for support and understanding is very likely one of the reasons why black students enroll in Pan-African Studies classes, join groups like the Black Student Union and congregate together on campu; to find a break from the feeling of disconnection that entails being a minority.
Being black in a community where black is the minority can definitely force a person to notice the various differences between people and between races.
And even though at times I’m more aware that I’m a minority than I want to be, I have learned a lot through these experiences.
I’ve learned to recognize the similarities between myself and other people and embrace our differences. Ultimately, this has made me a more aware, understanding and conscious human being.
Do you have more to say than a comment? Want any feedback from the writer? Story ideas? Click on The Gripevine.