When I was in elementary school, if you were African then you were infamously dubbed, an “African booty scratcher”. No questions asked. No chances to plead your case by showing the other girls how well you pressed your hair that morning. No time to repronounce the word “school” so that the “l” rolled off your tongue the way it did so effortlessly for the other students. No chances.
And you still had the burn on your index finger from the hot iron that you rushed to use that morning and the word “school” was still stuck in the back of your throat with the other words you were forced to swallow on a daily basis because they didn’t sound “smart” enough, or “white” enough. The whiteness that you were unconsciously forced to adopt grew like tapeworms inside your belly until you were robbed of your own identity and left empty. Robbed and terrified, searching for your blackness as if it disappeared in the night.
When I left my friends and family behind early morning in August 2013, I felt assured that my new liberal home would welcome me in all my black, awkward, glory with warmth and outstretched arms. Bard College did, for the most part. The thing that they don’t tell you about predominately white small liberal arts colleges is that from the moment you walk in the classroom you are supersaturated in whiteness. You are made to believe that you live and eat among liberal, open-minded people because they are vocally in support of LGBT rights and once worked for an Obama campaign. You quickly become the token black friend that makes everyone feel better about their own lack of exposure to diversity and professors refer you to Jane Duffy when you have an issue before checking to see if you even know what BEOP is.
What I currently find to be most troubling part of my overall positive experience at Bard is the amount of sheer ignorance that comes out of first year seminar (FYSEM), and the stark parallel between my experience as the ostracized African girl in 6th grade and the only black student in a FYSEM class dominated by a single white narrative. Students who make comments such as “Muslims are violent anti-Semitics” and “Black student hate FYSEM because it is too hard for them”, will go through an entire four years of the Bard Curriculum without ever being corrected by someone other than an exasperated student.
Hegeman 203, fourth seat from the right side, closest to the chalkboard.
You sit silently in your seat and wait for your professor to take charge as the facilitator in the classroom and call out the racist comment. Silence. Time and time again as a student of color in the classroom you are left to defend an entire race on your own. Defending your views against 11 other white voices that build off each other’s ignorance and grow like wildfire wears you down. You ultimately decide to speak up again, this time hopeful that your professor will say something, anything to validate your presence in the classroom as more than just the appointed overnight expert on Olaudah Equiano, the black slave. “We are getting too far off topic, who wants to read the next passage?” The routine is always the same. It is acceptable to go off on a 25-minute tangent about a topic completely unrelated to the class discussion but when it is time to confront race there is never enough time. Students of color are not afforded the luxury of choosing what we adopt in our academic vocabulary and what we shy away from. There exists only a single white-male narrative that we are forced to master. Our peers and professors leave us with the burden of teaching to them a narrative that they are too afraid to learn because they fear that they “won’t do it enough justice”. We are all here at Bard College, A Place to Think, and it is time that we all start doing our own thinking as a moral duty to the community. If there wasn’t enough time to discuss the “uncomfortable” topic of race last class then in between the two days before the next class we all ought to do a little research and confront it. The First Year Seminar cannon is under threat and we, not just students of color, but students of Bard College who pay over $60,000 for a college education will not continue to read about the same old white men and the white-washed narrative for another 30 years. There may not have been “enough time” in the last class discussion but at the next class meeting, every single person will be held accountable for knowing the other side of the narrative, including the professor, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. Students of color are uncomfortable every single time the white liberals separate race from liberalism in the classroom. The issue of FYSEM will not go away until it is properly solved, not dressed in a European disguise of a solution.