In the aftermath of the election and reelection of President Barack Obama, the political sphere began to converse about whether or not America had finally reached its destination—a post-racial society. Why? Because it was important to African-Americans to have a person in the White House that had the same skin color.
It meant that finally, black parents could tell their black children that anything is possible. It meant that after years of slavery and segregation, the symbolism of a black man in the White House was a groundbreaking moment for the struggle for recognition and equality.
Barack Obama is half-white and half-black, so really, we should be calling him the first biracial president. And those who argue that due to his election, we live in a post-racial society are wrong.
Obama is living proof that racism is alive in America because the one-drop rule applies to him.
The one-drop rule was used in the 19th and 20th century in law and in practice to classify anyone who had “one drop” of Negro blood as a Negro.
While we do not necessarily use this rule to institutionally discriminate anymore, it applies to fairer-skinned blacks and biracial and mixed-raced persons because often times, especially when a person is a mix of black and white—like the president—that person identifies more with the one drop of black, Latino or non-white blood.
Why is this at all relevant to Villanova? Again, because the idea that this generation is post-racial is flat-out false. Moreover, the thought we ourselves do not live in a society of prejudice and racism is also false.
Growing up, we are always told to treat others as we want to be treated, and the presumption is that if we are nice to everyone we meet, then that is enough.
Thus, if you are nice to everyone you meet, it is impossible that you could create stereotypes of these people and deem them as lesser than simply due to their appearance, behavior or creed. And so the argument goes that we are in a post-racial society largely because we have finally learned how to be nice to one another.
This, of course, discounts and fails to fully encompass racism. If racism is limited to a definition that is contingent upon someone blurting out racial slurs and making unfounded presumptions, then if these things are not happening, it is believed that racism no longer exists. But this fails to account for why it is that students of color at the University continue to feel uncomfortable here.
We all know similar people flock together. These persons generally believe the same things, look similar to one another or have similar cultural traditions.
It only makes sense that people with common interests and appearances will gravitate towards one another. This, however, does not explain the specificity of discomfort for minority students here.
Personally, I do not feel particularly uncomfortable here. Nonetheless, the comfort I felt when I first arrived as a freshman that has stretched into my senior year makes me uncomfortable. Why, as a black male athlete, am I comfortable here when there is a large population of minority students who are not? Why did I not feel the necessity to join a multicultural organization and associate myself with my race to feel at home? Why are most of my friends at Villanova white and not black? These questions must be reversed too, for the students who feel the opposite way.
“I’ve never encountered so many white people,” Kenya Mack, a black sophomore says. “BCS and ACV made me a lot more comfortable, finding out I was not the only one who felt uncomfortable.”
This phenomenon leads to the trap. The trap is as follows—minority students either came from very diverse, slightly diverse or not at all diverse backgrounds prior to coming to the University.
Which one a student hails from determines his or her ability to adapt and assimilate to the overwhelming percentage of white students upon his or her arrival. And in order to combat the apprehensions, students flock to other non-white students or multicultural organizations.
This trap is only available for non-white students because the feelings of discomfort for white students upon arrival is not due to the color of their skin. Jenny Lee, a junior Korean-American, echoed similar sentiments and even tried her best not to associate with other Asian students.
“I didn’t really know how to talk to white people and I felt like I couldn’t talk to them in a way I would talk to my close friends and initially, it was shocking,” she says.
Despite having grown up around white people, she felt apprehensive. She says, “There were always little differences that I would have to explain to people, and I felt like I had to shut off a certain part of myself that I didn’t have to with my Asian friends. This stems from my own insecurities, but I began to think if I didn’t get along with a white person, I began to attribute it to the fact that I was Asian.”
Whether or not her friends treated her differently because of her race, Lee’s experience is a telltale sign of minorities shutting down parts of themselves and feeling as though people see only their race and not their full person.
Above all, black men and Latino men must face and constantly demystify the seemingly inescapable stereotypes surrounding them. Statistically speaking, most black and Latino men are high school dropouts, incarcerated or low-income, which means those who do make it to college are the exceptions.
When non-white, students group themselves together—whether or not it is in the confines of an organization or just hanging out in Connelly—it sends a message that whites are not welcome, despite the hope for whites to come and understand.
Camila Gadala-Maria, who was born in Miami to a Peruvian mother and an El Salvadorian father says, “I think that there’s a lot of people that write you off when they hear Spanish which makes them less likely to be open.”
In Miami, Latino culture is embraced with open arms due to the dense population. But simply appearing to be different, or in other words not white, invites one to assume that this person is not American.
Even for those who try to open up to the dominant culture of the University, minorities find themselves in similar positions, feeling uncomfortable with how it functions and distressed about associating primarily with their own race or culture.
“I felt like I was missing out because I was only with Hispanics and then when I branched out, I tried it and didn’t like it,” Gadala-Maria says.
Outside of the conditions of homogeneity, non-white students are constantly reminded they are different simply by looking around.
Rafael Dilones, a half-Dominican and half-Columbian student, recalled switching from a predominantly Latino school to a predominantly white school and finding that no matter where he went, he was always pinned as dissimilar.
He says, “in grammar and middle school, my Latino classmates would make fun of me because I didn’t speak like them, look like them or dress like them and they perceived me as white. Then in my high school, which is predominantly white, I went back to being Latino.”
Similarly, Maria Naveira, native to Puerto Rico, grew up being referred to as “la Americana” due to her fair skin and blue eyes.
She says, “I looked mostly American and I spoke a lot of English as well because a lot of my family members are from the States. So at home, I was kind of different, and when I got here, I was still different.”
Antonio Iglesias, a junior who is half-Cuban and half-Italian says, “I’m not from the best part of Queens and it’s a rough neighborhood so we talk with a certain slang and we dress a certain way. But I remember when I first got here, people would be standoffish and I even felt different from everyone else who was wearing preppy clothes and whatnot.”
The fear of coming from a place where one’s cultural norms were the standard for everyone makes minorities fear judgment from everybody else, which gives them more reasons to hide. But if the University community is as accepting as advertised, this cannot happen.
Casey Butler, a senior black female says, “I think a lot of people are aware of race and that things are different for white and non-whites. But I also think there are a lot of people who are not curious or aware. And they feel that if they don’t have to deal with it or affect their daily lives, it’s irrelevant.”
Racism exists, and that is fact, especially because of those exact attitudes. It is inexcusable in 2013 to be completely unaware or apathetic to minority groups here.
It is inexcusable the way in which we perceive and confront those who are different from us. Asking a Latino, Asian or Arab student where they are from, assuming that they couldn’t possibly be American is the wrong way to do it. While there is blame to go around, at the end of the day, if white students are unbeknownst to these issues or fail to even care about the angst of non-white students, then something is wrong.
Yes, we only have “one drop” of non-white students here, but if racism did not exist, the perspectives and sentiments shared in this article would also not exist.