In one of my political science classes, my professor assigned us two very long and complex readings. The idea is, one student has to do the readings extensively, and research the topic being discussed, because for next class, they will be presenting these readings to the whole class. Likewise, being a black international student makes you the presenting student every day. When you get to the U.S., you have to learn quickly that you are not just a student but also a teacher. As an African, you have to learn as much as you can about complex issues like slavery, corruption, Africa as a whole, Black Lives Matter and of course, racism, because you are about to be an unpaid professor for your white peers for the next four years.
Where I come from, there is no discrimination against race, the color of one’s skin isn’t an issue to be discussed. While you know what race is, racism is a foreign concept, at least in my opinion. Being African, I can say that I understand “white privilege,” because back home, you wake up every morning and all that matters is that you are a human being. The color of your skin will not affect your experience throughout the day. However, this privilege is completely stripped away the moment you enter this country. You realize that you are no longer just a Rwandan, east African, or African, but a BLACK WOMAN. All of a sudden, you are forced to learn what it is like to be a black person in America, but you need to learn very fast because you have to teach white students, too.
It is absurd that I have to remind white students and professors that I have only been here for two years. I’m still trying to understand certain issues as well. For example, what the Black Lives Matter movement means. In fact, I’m still in shock that there is a need for a movement like this in the 21st century. What kind of person needs to be reminded that the lives of others matter? I’m still trying to understand the idea of institutional racism, the new Jim Crow and how of all these things affect my education here. How come I have been here for only two years and a white student who has lived in this country their whole life is asking me to explain this?
Having never experienced microaggressions before, it is hard to identify when it is being executed by “friendly” professors and students. For example, when you are asked to speak for the whole African continent, or when all eyes turn towards you to confirm or debunk a stereotype about black people, you take it lightly, until it gets old, and you can barely stand it. It is sickening and disrespectful when an African is demanded to explain the African American experience.
Two years isn’t enough time to even imagine what it is like to be born black in America. Even if we experience similar aggressions, there is nothing that defines me as an African or African American, except maybe my English accent; how we perceive microaggressions is different. When I experience racism, at the back of my mind, I am comforted by the fact that I have a home, and people who accept me for the human being that I am. The African American, however, knows no other home other than the one that has discriminated against them and their families for as long as they have lived. So how can I dare speak of their experience? How dare you to expect me to?
Last week I was asked by a white student: “What do you think we should do about institutional racism?” I assume most students of color have been asked this question at least once. Here is my answer: I don’t know. How can I teach you to stop hurting me?
Every institution has a responsibility to listen when its students stand together to demand change. It is the duty of every administrator, from a professor to the President to ensure that every student who goes through this college has a positive experience and comes out as a diversely informed individual. We students are only here for four years; without the direct involvement of the people who have committed their work to serving this community, we can’t achieve much. These questions you ask Africans, African Americans and international students, you should ask our professors and administrators. Ask your professor this: What do you think should be done about institutional racism? What are you doing to make your class safe for students of color? Get your professors to care.