Two days before I was supposed to leave for Spelman I had a nervous breakdown. My mom was standing beside me and I was heaped over the couch, balling my eyes out. I kept thinking about my friends back home and how much I would miss them. And I was worried it would be hard to make new friends, especially being white at an HBCU (historically black college university). But I knew I wanted and needed a new perspective and realized the fear I was experiencing was all part of the journey.
So I was off! And by no means did I have an easy trip to Atlanta. Of course I overpacked and had to reorganize my bags in front of everyone at the check-in desk. And to save money, I decided to empty out all my covers and carry them on with me. But when I was getting ready to board my second flight, the stewardess took one look at me and threw everything I was carrying into a trash bag. And finally, when I got to Atlanta, I found that the airline had lost my luggage. But, I eventually got my bags back and a $50 voucher towards another flight! (So, everything was fine.)
My first week at Spelman was one of the most difficult weeks of my life. I even thought about coming home.
I suppose I never truly anticipated the reactions I would get.
Conversations I’ve had:
Guy: “What are you up to?”
Me: “Going to class”
Guy: “Which class?”
Me: “Race and ethnicity”
Guy: “Why are you going to that class?”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Guy: “Well, aren’t you white?”
Girls: “You’re going to get a lot of stares”
Me: “Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot already”
Girls: “Also the men from Morehouse will compete over you – to see who can get with the white girl first”
Guy: “Hey, I’ve seen you around and wanted to say hey”
Me: “Hey, what made you wanna come say hi?”
Guy: “You’re the whitest girl I’ve ever seen in the AUC”
Guy: “I like you”
Me: “Haha, thanks”
Guy: “I’ve gotta start hanging out with more white people”
Me: “….Let’s go to McDonalds!”
Guy: “Yuuuus. Let’s put you somewhere where you can be seen in the car. The cops won’t pull us over if they see there’s a white girl in the car.”
What have I learned:
I have been awakened to the diversity within the black community and have been able to deconstruct the myth that all black individuals and students are alike. I believe this myth came about as a byproduct of the tokenization of black students in PWIs (predominantly white institutions). I have met black students from all over the U.S. and they have had to adjust to Spelman and to the South just like I have. This went against my initial assumption, in which I thought my skin would be what would separate me from the other students. I now realize that skin color is not what creates a sense of belonging.
…I want to believe that I have always thought this. But I guess I’ve just never fully understood exactly what goes into the construction of race, what it takes to deconstruct race, and how one must combat the myths, stereotypes, and prejudice that go into the construction of race. And I am saddened to say that it has taken me this long to deconstruct this myth. But I believe the diversity within the black community is not something that is often vocalized or discussed (as it is easier and more convenient for white institutions to tokenize black students than it is to recognize them as individuals and discuss the histories and cultures of black individuals in America).
I have also started to understand and see the mixed messages taught to Spelman women. While all the women here are well educated and informed, and are supposedly inspired and encouraged to go out and change the world, they are pressured to uphold gendered and old-fashioned traditions. The queer community here is on the hush hush, the women are held to a curfew, Spelman is a dry campus, and a there is a tradition in the beginning of each year in which all the girls dress in white and are paired off and assigned to a Morehouse man. In other words, there’s still a certain image the school is trying to uphold. There’s also this weird gendered structure, in which all the men continuously approach the women here, pay for dinner, open the car door, and are expected to have a car. Yo, what year is this?!