I’ve been the black guy since the third grade. It was in the third grade that I learned that I was different because I was black. I mean, I always knew I was chromatically different, but I didn’t really think it meant anything. But it meant everything. I suddenly changed to the other, and this has had advantages and disadvantages. I could lie to you and say that it’s all negatives, but the fact is that there is some odd level of coolness that comes with being black that I really like. There are also a lot of misconceptions that come with being “the black guy,” and I would like to share my experience. Hopefully it helps someone somewhere, and I would like to stress that this is just my life. The following are issues I’ve had to deal with in my 21 years on this planet.
No one should ever say that word. Ever. I’m fine with people being about freedom of speech, but that word burns. It reminds me of the time my dad was cursed at and told to go back to Africa. It reminds me of nooses that were put on trees at my high school. It reminds me of the hate I see every day. Please stop. I don’t care if you’re white, black or other.
Now, that is just my view. I can’t be an unstoppable force for change, and, as a result, I don’t tell my black friends to not use the word because, for some, it’s a means of fighting the word or expressing themselves. I can’t stop them. I can’t stop you. That’s just my thought on the matter.
I almost didn’t want to have to tackle this one, but I knew I would be doing this article an injustice if I didn’t. I have made tons of black jokes, and everyone has different lines and borders about who can say what. Usually, I’m fine with black jokes if I know the person because I can personally recognize that there is little to no malice in the words. But when I don’t know someone as well, it can really hurt. When I was in the eighth grade, there were these two guys, Vincent and Bryan, who called me “white boy” because I was smart and didn’t talk like most black people. For some reason, I was OK with this and laughed it off. But, then, there were these three seventh graders who started to call me “white boy” (friends of Vincent). I didn’t know these kids at all, but, every time I saw them, they called me “white boy.” This went on for a couple weeks until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I got into a fight with all of them at once, and, although I held my own, eventually the gym teacher came. I was the only one sent to the principal’s office, and I got suspended. I guess my point is to be careful. You never know what impact your words can have.
Black in America
It sucks to be black in this country. I hate being black here, because there is no way to win. Lodged into both your mind (regardless of your race) and my mind are the ideas of what it means to be a black man. Scary, dangerous, good at dancing. These are bad things, whether they seem positive or not. I can’t just eat watermelon without harboring self-conscious feelings or someone cracking a joke. And, being a minority, if I am one of the few black people someone knows, then I automatically represent my entire race. That is, if I am a true-to-the-stereotype symbol. If I am smart or “well-spoken,” I become a good example for my people. I also don’t like being stopped or eyed by the police. It happens, and it is really degrading.
Black at Duke
It’s one thing just being a black human in the United States, but to be a black student at Duke University is somehow not worse, but different. Everyone here seems to have the mindset of either living in a post-racial world or living in a racial world at a post-racial institution. This makes my life a living hell, because it isn’t the blatant racism that bothers me. If someone walks around in black face, I’ll be fine because there will be a sea of people who are equally outraged about the matter. What bothers me the most are the students that tell me things like affirmative action is an out-of-date policy that gives black people an unfair advantage. (It actually helps white women most, but who cares about the facts.) As if this wasn’t enough, we now have studies saying that black students can only keep up if we switch to easier majors.
I’m sure I’m going to mess up this answer in some way, and the comment section will have someone destroying me, but here goes: Black people do not self-segregate. It’s really a product of culture in my opinion. I mean, would I rather spend my time with people that automatically share a struggle with me or the people that represent the body of people that oppress me? It’s a difficult question for me personally to answer because I’ve always been “the black guy” in a group of white people (or, rather, Asian when I was in high school). I can see that it isn’t self-segregation, but, rather, a self-securement. I don’t think it will end until more people acknowledge that race is a problem. Until then, it’s just difficult. I feel like I can only get by if I don’t acknowledge the white elephant in the room.
Black or African-American
People don’t seem to know whether to use African-American or black when referring to me. To be honest, I think I’m one of the few African-Americans on this campus. Although I identify as black because this society has forced that identity on me, I am the son of immigrants from Africa. Growing up, I had a home life that was Ethiopian and a school life that was American, so I am African-American. Most of the people in this country are not African-American to me. They are black.
I am writing this part because the election of President Barack Obama hurt my life a lot more than it helped. As great as it is that, now, we know that a black—or at least half-black—person can be president, on a day-to-day basis, there really isn’t a big positive side. As for the negative side, white people don’t believe me when I say race is a problem. “Yeah, Sam. You can say that things are rough, but we have a black president. If anything, I should start a White Student Alliance”. Yes, that is a response I’ve heard. Thanks a lot, Obama. Get ready, ladies. If Hillary is elected, the feminist struggle is probably going to be just as fun.
There have been so many times in my life when I’ve wished that I could be white. Being white means having status and power. If you’re white, you aren’t labeled negatively, you are the ideal of beauty and you aren’t looked down upon. If I’m ever in an airport and not wearing Duke apparel, everyone talks to me like I’m an idiot. If I am wearing Duke apparel, everyone thinks I’m an athlete. Yes, I am so much stronger because of my adversity, and I sometimes feel bad for the privileged ones at this school who can never learn the lessons I have. But if I could have a privilege pass, I’d take it in a heartbeat.
Sam Kebede is a Trinity senior. His column is the third installment in a semester-long series of biweekly columns written by members of the Black Student Alliance.