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BACKLASH BLUES

It's been some time since I've been compelled to write something - anything - for this little blog of mine. When I first started, I thought it would be a fun thing to do to provide insight on what actually goes on in my mind to whomever wanted to read it. What started off as fun, quickly became a daunting task. A hike up a mountain that I wasn't prepared for. I wasn't prepared for what I was going to say, nor was I prepared, fully, for the conversations that might stem from those reading this blog.


Then, I started thinking about all the times that I worried about facing backlash. That could be backlash on what I said in school, around family and friends, etc. It really got me thinking: What was I really afraid of?


With everything that this past year and a half has shown, I've come to realize that the backlash that I may or may not face, is created in my head. That story that I created was that I couldn't speak (or write) freely without fear of backlash from someone - a family member, a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger. It made me think of all the times in school where I felt like I wasn't able to speak out due to these feelings. In college, at the University of Vermont, all students there are required to take two diversity classes. Since it's a predominantly white institution, it's meant to provide their students with a better understanding of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic world that these future graduates are about to embark in. However, as a black face surrounded by white ones, a majority of these classes don't feel like they're truly doing what they intended.


Namely: If a black person, sitting in a diversity class filled with and taught by white people, were to bring up anything that made them feel uncomfortable, you weren't treated with respect. Rather, words were spun to make you feel as though you shouldn't have brought up the topic in the first place. In my time there, a handful of non-white teachers taught these courses. And when there were these black and brown faces standing in front of their white students, the conversations were more vibrant, they were more encompassing of the overall vision of what these diversity classes are designed to do: teach people about those that don't look like them.


Yet, with the majority of these classes being taught by white professors, it's a way of simply highlighting and moving on when it comes to discussions of race. The classes that I took had no problem discussing disparities in socioeconomic status but if that was brought up in tandem with racial inequality, it was met with wide eyes, quickly mentioned, then swept under the rug to try and be forgotten. What would happen if I were the one to ask a question of that nature: I was quickly quieted and encouraged to discuss it in private during office hours, instead of with the class as a whole. But who is that helping?


As a black person, I know what it's like to be in situations where the only thing people see is your skin color, nothing else. That's the burden of being the only one in your family, in your hometown, and a handful at your elementary, middle, and high school. I've learned how to deal with it and cope. It's when I came to college that I thought things would be different. I would be surrounded by individuals that wanted to broaden their horizons and see the world in all of it's vibrancy and glory. On the surface, Vermont was that place. It's disheartening to realize that they don't see that in themselves, even after all these years.


Now, there is a professor - a professor with tenure - that went on a rant on their personal YouTube channel to gripe about how having to teach courses that highlight the non-white experience was a form of 'white discrimination'. What is that to prove? Who is that for, other than to allow yourself to pretend to feel the same hurt and grievances your non-white coworkers have and will continue to face even after your "hype" has died down. The trouble with schools like these, is that diversity is something that they only care about when it immediately connects to them. A school like Vermont - the largest post-secondary institution in a state whose entire state population is roughly half that of San Diego - says that they are inclusive, but what are these classes really doing for their students, when professors who teach them don't believe them themselves.


I think of all the times that I was asked for the black experience in classes like these. Of all the times that I would bring up a topic, only to have it stuck down as 'something we'll talk about later'. Well, later has arrived and it's time to talk about it. Race is never an easy thing to talk about, I understand that. It's in being uncomfortable, however, that comfort can be found.


In the meantime, Nina Simone said it best:


But the world is big

Big and bright and round

And its full of folks like me

Who are black, yellow, beige, and brown


- G


Title: Backlash Blues

Artist: Nina Simone

Year Released: 1967

Cover Art: Nina Simone by Nikkolas Smith (www.nikkolas.com)

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