As an African-American woman, I’ve always been aware of racism and prejudice, small instances as opposed to disheartening big ones. From a young age you know how it feels to be treated differently because of the color of your skin. Luckily, I lived in neighborhoods where my neighbors were of all different cultures, so I never experienced outright racism. So when it was time for me to go to college, I was excited to move out of my house and be on my own. I was ready to take on the world and be enlightened as college was supposed to be full of liberal and open-minded people. I was ready to be around people who I could learn from and share experiences with.
When I got to college, like many who go to a majority of large or public universities, I was the only black girl in almost all of my classes. This never bothered me because I’m really not the kind of person who needs to be around black people to feel comfortable. To my surprise, my being black seemed to make my classmates somewhat uncomfortable and shut off. I came into all my classes with a smile on my face, ready to make friends. What I found was that my smiles were not returned and instead, I was given the cold shoulder. I was pretty much invisible. Most students in my classes never talked to me, and when we were forced to have interactions, you could tell that it was just that, forced. I always had to make the first move and speak to them first.
My classmates were always surprised by my responses in class. They were always shocked when they saw that my grades on tests were higher than theirs. It was clear that they made assumptions about me based on the color of my skin. I’m not sure exactly what these assumptions were based on though. Maybe they were used to seeing black women in a non-academic setting. Maybe they thought that as a black woman I was supposed to fit the stereotype they saw on TV. Maybe they assumed that I wasn’t smart enough to be where they were. Because I never spoke to them about their qualms, this question remains unanswered.
The eyes of disapproval never changed how I felt about myself though. Throughout college I had numerous friends of different races and continued to say open-minded. My experiences in class did not dictate the rest of my college experience, and I was not jaded by the fact that people who were not black may have looked at me differently because I knew who I was as a person. I refused to walk around with a chip on my shoulder because I knew what I represented. I can’t be the spokesperson for the entire race and do the absolute most to get any and everyone’s approval and admiration, but instead, I can only be me. I just wish that I could have educated or enlightened some of my classmates who preferred to stay with their own people and who went out of their way to NOT give me a chance.
College was a great experience for me altogether. One lesson that I took away from it is that in this world, whether I am in school or at work, the color of my skin will always precede me. People will automatically judge me in some way because I’m black, including other black people. I know now that it’s not my job to fight the stereotype. The best way to negate a stereotype is to just be you. No matter what stereotype people think I am, I know that once they get to know me they will see that they are wrong, which brings me all the satisfaction I need.
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