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When White People Cross the Street and Black Collective Consciousness

During College Orientation week in my first year at University of Chicago, the students had “forums” that were geared towards opening discussions about the various views on race, gender, and political background. In one of these sessions, this question was posed, “If you see a black man walking towards you at night, would you cross the street?” I of course was the only black student in the room and struggled not to be offended when I heard the shocking wave of answers. “Of course I would cross the street, I could get raped” One student answered. Another Student said, “I would be afraid of what might happen so I would cross the street to protect myself.”  When walking across the mid-way on my campus throughout the school year at night, I still notice many individuals literally attempt to avoid me. I see them walk towards me, look at me, stop and awkwardly walk in another direction. Every time this happens I have a flash back of the words that were spoken during orientation week.

In the Journal of Black in Higher Education, it stated, “Black students on less diverse campuses are more likely to be victims of discrimination.” For some, this might come as a surprise but for us black students (and staff and professors for that matter) we know far too well how often stereotypes can lead to discrimination. One of the most popular questions I have gotten at my University is “why do blacks have their own room in the student center when we don’t have one?” They never seemed to notice that whites also sat in isolated clusters in the dining ball and nearly everywhere else on campus.

I found in black students who were my classmates in undergrad that the experience of anyone person of color in the “white elite campus” is consistent with certain racial tensions. And it is often those questions, which are most silly and often offensive that leads black students on college campuses back into racialized clusters like black student organizations. Those questions that ask you about your hair or to represent the whole race like that is even possible.

There is no doubt that the college experience heightens the group consciousness process among minorities. This has been my experience throughout college and even now through graduate school. When I was on the Organization of Black Students, an older board member from the class of 2007 told me a story about a “Dress Black, Pimps and Hoes” party that took place in one of the dorms. This event caused the Organization of Black Student to cause uproar with the president on campus. It was interesting to read about a very similar occurrence happening at University of California. in the New York Times, wrote about the “Compton Cookout” which took place on February 15th to “mock black history month, with guest invited to don gold teeth, eat watermelon, and dress in baggy athletic wear” These occurrences on college campuses continue to happen throughout the country, and they continue to solidify the need for a black politics and collective consciousness. At least until people stop crossing the street when I past them.