These days I find myself constantly bringing REAL into the lives of my peers. Whether it is in the classroom, at work, or in passing, I am willing to share my feelings about race and make relevant comparisons with Butler life to social justice issues. In my Honors Global Historical Studies class on East Asia, the class studied the ancient Chinese “Universal State.” The Universal State is the ideology that Chinese culture, customs, and beliefs are the standard for the civilized world. Other nations could be in three states in relation to the Chinese Universal State 1) a nation could completely support the Universal State Theory 2) a nation could support it outwardly, but not inwardly 3) a nation could completely disagree or not engage with Chinese culture during this time. Those that supported (even just outwardly) the Universal State ancient China deemed Chinese or “civilized.” However, those who disbanded with it fully, ancient China considered barbarians. Many of my classmates were confused on how a person could pretend to agree with something outwardly while inwardly feeling disconnected with the larger society. However, I understood the concept clearly. As one of three students of color in the class, it was evident to me many of my peers could not identify with a world that only accepted certain people under certain constraints and who agreed with what was determined acceptable by the larger society.
As a Black Woman, daily, I struggled to participate in a society that pretends to accept my culture and me. Knowing fully well, the society in which I live only accepts Black Culture within the constraints of gatherings of people (who are already of my culture), during one month a year celebrations, and within the four walls of my university Diversity Center. I question whether people choose not to interact or act strange around me because of my personality or the “black” that is me. I question whether they are separate or inherently woven together in my DNA. However, one thing is clear; a majority of my classmates do not have to suffer the mental strain of questioning whether your blackness will stand in the way of your success while trying to stay afloat academically. Often times what seems like normal college student issues for some are not to the same degree as others, because there is this added stress of racial identity and disadvantage.
Many like to say we live in a post-racial society, but the reality is every day I wake up and notice the difference. I notice the pigmentation of my skin, the kinks of my hair, the curve of my nose, and the width of my lips. I notice that people notice with unease and pity that I am different. Make no mistake, I love who I am because I am the patchwork of those who came before me. In terms of being REAL, I have noticed some profound differences in culture this last year at Butler. I have spent many times wondering when I attempt to interact with my white peers, “maybe it’s me” or “perhaps if I acted this way, then my peers will accept me.” Then, I had to take a step away from considering the disconnect with my peers as “not a big deal.” As a society, we need to take a step back and notice white privilege for what it is: a system to disadvantage people of color.
As someone who is proud to go to a university with a founder who believed in a quality education for all people regardless of skin color or gender, I believe Butler University can be a leader in changing a larger issue of how we socialize race in America. It takes people realizing the hardships people face based on the color of their skin and reaching for personal and systemic changes to these issues. We cannot be color blind in the midst of our situation But we can strive toward a society that does not base shade on whether a person is superior or inferior. I am not calling for Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian people to educate White people. I am calling for people to take responsibility for their “ignore-ance” in the system of White Privilege on campus and nationwide. I am calling for people to get uncomfortable now so we can obtain a society where every person feels accepted. It’s time for the REAL conversation and REAL change. There are no individual solutions to systemic problems, therefore, we must question and change the system at Butler and nationally. Only through change can we level the playing field where all students have a chance to learn without the stresses of racial disadvantage and strive for success without the fear of skin color as their limit.