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Blending in and standing out

By Kevin Jackson, freshman contributor

When I was a child, my parents instilled in me values of self-love, respect, and compassion: they always let me know that they “saw” me. Growing up in urban America forced my parents to instill these values in me with a sense of urgency. They taught me to love my black skin, and the culture into which I was born, despite how our nation views or treats me. In the city where I spent the bulk of my life, seeing beautiful black and brown faces was not an anomaly. The population of Newark is 282,102, and of that number, 133,000 are African American or of African descent, and about 50,000 are Hispanic. The white population of Newark is very small. As the nation’s third oldest city, Newark is full of rich history that relates to the fine arts, like music, poetry, architecture, and its people are directly tied in with that history. Despite this rich history, gang violence has brought about desperation to the souls of its residents. But what this desperation did was make us see each other as individuals—men with complex minds and thoughts. It allowed us to see human beings when we looked into each other’s eyes.

Since I came to Latrobe, the eyes that look at me don’t have that same compassion: these eyes look confused, nervous, and disgusted. In understanding that my presence is unwanted by some, I have been forced to develop a double consciousness. I understand how I see myself, how my parents see me, and how the people of my hometown see me; but I also understand how some of our country’s people view me.

I see myself as a sponge —ready to soak in all knowledge, ready to see new insights, and learn new perspectives. I enjoy reading, questioning things, and discovering new truths. Back home, I was never prejudged; no one ever assumed anything about me. In my second week on campus, I was yanked out of this mental utopia and began to understand that people viewed me differently. I was walking back from tutoring when a public safety officer drove over to me. He asked me about the details of the football season, and when I told him that I was not on the team, he replied: “Oh, I thought you did!” This was the first of a handful of instances where people falsely assumed that I played sports; it seems to shock these people when I tell them that I’m here for academics. In fact, another African-American Bearcat put it to me bluntly.

He said: “To be honest, every time I see a new n**** on this campus, I think they play football. That’s just how it is.”

The surprise I get when I tell someone I don’t play sports utterly disgusts me. To some, it seems, my worth is still dependent on my performance on a field. I know, or at least would like to think, that these assumptions are coming from the “right place”; “they just don’t know any better,” I think. But ignorance is no longer an excuse.

Here in Trump's land, the concepts of race that I learned about have become my reality. Growing up in Newark, I was not a stranger to hearing and learning about racism and its psychological impact. It did not and does not shock me that I am stalked by Walmart employees when I shop. At least in New Jersey, they hid this act; here they do it with an authority that I have never seen before, an authority rooted in hubris that says: “I belong here (on earth), and I can determine who does not.” It is an authority I refuse to adopt because I understand that I am not God.

A part of having this “double consciousness” is policing myself before I allow someone else to do it for me. It is an anxiety-inducing minefield, navigating through Latrobe. I have to remember to smile, because it humanizes me, and makes me look like less of a threat. I have to remember that speaking in Ebonics in public will make me seem illiterate. I am a stranger to feeling like I can’t be myself, and I'm a stranger to feeling like everything I do is micro-managed by people who could care less if I lived or died.

Coming from a traditionally democratic city, it is a gut punch seeing people drape themselves in political agitprop, with shirts that read: “Blue lives matter,” “All lives matter.” My blood boils at the sights of the slogans because they are not coming from genuine places of thinking. They do not see me, and I do not think they ever will for as long as they live. I am angered that my compatriots are protesting my protest, before they consider the issues that are plaguing the black community. They have made my struggle about politics; completely ignoring my suffering as human suffering. It seems that some of them have made America their religion, and whenever people challenge it, they take that as a personal attack. This lack of empathy is not a new phenomenon. Jesus was made to be a white man with blue eyes and blonde hair, not because that is how he looked, but because in doing so, they, the colonizers of the past, can relate to and value human suffering. But I must remember that this is not Newark. I must remember that some know nothing about black people except from televisions that have been pumping anti-black propaganda into American homes since the film “Birth of a Nation.” To say that I don’t blame them for their ignorance is a lie because I do entirely. People allow themselves to get swallowed by divisive rhetoric, and they wallow in apathy while others suffer. Some call themselves patriots, without truly loving all of the people in the country. And the ironic reality is, these people are also lower-class, just like me, but race has become the easy thing to focus on.

Learning to navigate not only college, but a nearly all-white, conservative environment is a nerve-racking experience. But it is an experience I need in order to grow. No growth happens with comfort, and I am uncomfortable in this new environment. As I navigate this village as a stranger, I must hold dear to my heart the same values of self-love, compassion, and respect that my parents instilled in me.

Opinions expressed by outside contributors do not necessarily represent the views of The Review or any of its employees.

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