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"'You aren't black on the inside' - childhood friends"
March 5, 2014 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I, Too, Am Harvard. A photo campaign highlighting the faces and voices of black students at Harvard College. 63 students participated, sharing their experiences with ignorance and racism. "Our voices often go unheard on this campus, our experiences are devalued, our presence is questioned-- this project is our way of speaking back, of claiming this campus, of standing up to say: We are here. This place is ours. We, TOO, are Harvard."

A video will premiere on March 7th. Preview.

Recent, similar activist social media projects to raise awareness of the minority experience at large universities:

* #BBUM: Being Black at University of Michigan (Background: NY Times, HuffPost)

* #dbkgu: Dangerous Black Kids of Georgetown University (Photos of students alongside lists of their achievements and aspirations)

--
The Root: Black College Students Launch Artistic Social Media Campaigns About Race
posted by zarq (38 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was born in Manila and while attending university in the States, one of my Filipino-American classmates actually did straight up say to me, "well, you're not really Filipino anyway."

which, even then I knew meant, "well, you don't fit into my defined concept of an authentic Filipino identity, anyway." but that still didn't stop me from responding, "You're from Jersey. You don't get to turn my birthright into a collateral victim of your identity angst."

which is for me to say to all of those African kids who are being told that they're not "really black"; if you need someone to take your hand, pull your palm from your face, and then give you a hug. I will do so. Gladly.
posted by bl1nk at 10:46 AM on March 5 [16 favorites]


Is it no wonder their experiences are devalued, and presence is questioned? The comments in the Boston Globe article about this were overwhelmingly...'you're only here because of affirmative action'. Granted the comments section of most newspapers are trolling sites, but one wonders how much of the situation at Harvard and elsewhere isn't rooted in that type of sentiment.
posted by Gungho at 11:01 AM on March 5


American culture - whether one identifies as black or white - continues to perpetuate this idea of belonging to one or the other. Coming back the other day from West Africa I was thinking about how strange this skin tone rule plays out in America. Black or White. Not that it's so different in Mali or Niger, there's still identity based on appearances - but so not the same. It just reveals how arbitrary and how much a social construct the idea of race is. Years later, and Americans are still going by the one drop rule, where even the President is classified. American culture is weird.
posted by iamck at 11:11 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


In a sense, this was all kicked off by an article in the Harvard Crimson titled Affirmative Dissatisfaction: Affirmative action does more harm than good, an argument regarding University of Texas and Abigail Fisher.
posted by vacapinta at 11:13 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


vacapinta: "In a sense, this was all kicked off by an article in the Harvard Crimson titled Affirmative Dissatisfaction: Affirmative action does more harm than good, an argument regarding University of Texas and Abigail Fisher."

Ahh, college. That's the second-most read Crimson article after ... Fifteen Hottest Freshmen
posted by chavenet at 11:20 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


American culture - whether one identifies as black or white - continues to perpetuate this idea of belonging to one or the other.

And if you're neither, then you all too often don't even get asked to be at the table for the discussion.

Except when it comes to affirmative action, at least. Oh, how I don't at all miss those times in college when some legacy admission would sneer at me and challenge my right to be there.
posted by rtha at 11:23 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


Fifteen Hottest Freshmen – featuring the quote: "Old Money and New Money coexist peacefully at Harvard."

There's a a great little game you can play when walking through Harvard Yard. For every person you meet that you don't want to punch in the face, award yourself a point.
posted by Behemoth at 11:32 AM on March 5 [9 favorites]


Fifteen Hottest Freshmen – featuring the quote: "Old Money and New Money coexist peacefully at Harvard."

That was the same quote that jumped out at me.

Oh, how I don't at all miss those times in college when some legacy admission would sneer at me and challenge my right to be there.

It doesn't end with the BA; the same "you don't belong" sneers continue through grad school and into a professorial career.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:59 AM on March 5


There's a a great little game you can play when walking through Harvard Yard. For every person you meet that you don't want to punch in the face, award yourself a point.

I've been told that you generally play to double digits, and that no one's ever won.
posted by protocoach at 12:24 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


I saw ITooAmHarvard on Tumblr last night. Great stuff.

bl!nk, I'll take that hug, even though I graduated from college a couple of decades back.

I've heard "you're not really black" from white folks (whatever, they're ignorant) and black folks (I...what?). I "sound white" (the African-American version of "she's so articulate!"), had too many "white" interests (read: geeky/nerdy), read too many books, and had too many white friends (I was the only black girl in my class from K - 12. What was I supposed to do--go without friends all that time?). Oh, and I'm light-skinned on top of all of that. Good times....

Hearing it from other black people was the worst. Let's face it: you expect white Americans to be clueless about your race. But being told that there was this...Box of Blackness that I apparently didn't fit in, even though my family was one of the oldest black families in my area, was hurtful. And I got it all the damn time in college.

So I made the decision--I would be friend with who I wanted to, if they wanted to be friends with me, and the hell with race. If black people had a problem with that, too damn bad.

To this day, I'm not entirely comfortable with other black people (outside of my family, close friends, and church), because I got so used to being judged Not Black Enough by them. I've been getting better about t in recent years. The growing visibility of blacks in traditionally geeky/nerdy hobbies has certainly helped. But I'm still not there yet.

Anyway, I, too, will offer hugs to all of those African kids who are being told that they're not "really black". I'm glad they know it's not true.


tl; dr: I love Black Twitter. And let's hear it for the white allies!
posted by magstheaxe at 12:33 PM on March 5 [29 favorites]


Reading those some concepts came up a few times... What is it with the hair touching? You do not touch peoples hair uninvited, that's a personal space invasion. Do people really do that? Fools. They'll also be messing it up.
posted by dabitch at 12:54 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


I've heard "you're not really black" from white folks (whatever, they're ignorant) and black folks (I...what?).

I sorta kinda can understand why some black people migh say that, hurtful as it is, but I'm always astonished to see when a white person feels qualified to comment. That's just, wow.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:06 PM on March 5


dabitch: "What is it with the hair touching?"

Racism.

It's a fetishization of black women, where they are perceived as different, exotic, unique. There is a great deal of fucked up stereotyping of black women out there. The fact that the touching is happening without permission -- something that most touchers would probably never do to someone of their own ethnicity -- is a sign they don't think the other person deserves politeness or respect.
posted by zarq at 1:19 PM on March 5


Do not read the comments on zarq's link unless you want to be angered and/or lose a little faith in humanity.
posted by jaduncan at 1:39 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


The comments in the Boston Globe article about this were overwhelmingly...'you're only here because of affirmative action'...one wonders how much of the situation at Harvard and elsewhere isn't rooted in that type of sentiment.

Honestly, I think it's more likely because a lot of (white) Harvard students have gone their whole life up to college without ever thinking about race. When I showed up there I was 17 years old and I had never had a black friend, had probably never even had an extended social interaction with anyone black. Put me on the spot, I'm not sure if I'd ever been to a party where a black person was present. And I didn't come from Alaska or Vermont, I came from Maryland. But lots of people grow up under conditions of highly effective segregation whether or not their towns and schools are, on paper, "diverse."
posted by escabeche at 1:59 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


escabeche: "When I showed up there I was 17 years old and I had never had a black friend, had probably never even had an extended social interaction with anyone black."

I had exactly the opposite experience, after having gone to a fully integrated urban high school, upon arrival at an isolated East Coast college (not Harvard), and suddenly not seeing anyone of color ... anywhere. It was ... unnerving.
posted by chavenet at 2:13 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


After thinking about it many, many times over the course of my life, I still can't decide whether it was more damaging to my sense of self to hear "You're not like other black people" (meant as a compliment) from white people or to hear "You're not black enough" from black people as I was growing up.

I attended Harvard longer ago than I care to think about, and I think my undergrad years were about the time I decided to stop worrying quite so much about trying so hard to fit or not fit into the definition of blackness. I do remain sad when I see that I'm the only brown person in various situations at work and socially nowadays, but I notice I don't do quite as much code switching as I used to when I move among worlds. I appear to have settled on some sort of weird mix of codes that feels more like "me." I suspect being 40 (ouch, it hurts to type that) helps with that.

Also, I'm fairly sure I went to high school and grad school (at UT) with people who assumed I got into Harvard because of affirmative action. You know them: the kind of folks who use any sort of grammar or math error or lack of knowledge about some scientific fact or lack of a perfect GPA and SAT scores as "proof" that you didn't deserve to go an Ivy League school since you're so very obviously not a super genius.

But I don't think I ever met anyone at Harvard who felt that way about me. Must have been the crowd I ran with; I got lucky.
posted by lord_wolf at 2:32 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


And if you're neither, then you all too often don't even get asked to be at the table for the discussion.

if you're neither black or white, you get asked, "where are you from?".
posted by bl1nk at 2:33 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


Growing up in Dallas, TX I can recall getting flack from my Asian-Indian friends for listening to too much "white music". Apparently enjoying Radiohead, Pearl Jam, & Nirvana made me some-how less of an Asian.

*sighs
posted by Fizz at 2:56 PM on March 5


This whole project is really awesome, but this one stopped me in my tracks as YES.
"I'm not 'pulling the race card'. You're just being racist."
posted by atomicstone at 4:14 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]


I sorta kinda can understand why some black people migh say that, hurtful as it is, but I'm always astonished to see when a white person feels qualified to comment. That's just, wow.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:06 PM on March 5


It's not an issue of feeling qualified.

Best I can tell, when you're white--especially if you're a white male--you're used to being able to put for your opinion or thoughts on something whenever you want. The idea of not being qualified never crosses your mind. By and large, you're used to your opinions being heard and respected, regardless of your credentials, so you go ahead and say what you want.

Those of us who are not white--especially if we're not male--get dismissed all the time, regardless of credentials.
posted by magstheaxe at 4:15 PM on March 5 [7 favorites]


Slight derail...
Hair touching: It isn't just black women. When I, a white guy had short spiky hair I was amazed how often people touched it. They'd walk up, even behind me, as I sat, and test to see how spiky it was.

That said, interesting post, and upthread comments. Thanks
posted by cccorlew at 5:02 PM on March 5


This whole project is really awesome, but this one stopped me in my tracks as YES.
"I'm not 'pulling the race card'. You're just being racist."


I'm really looking forward to using that on someone one day.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:14 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Best I can tell, when you're white--especially if you're a white male--you're used to being able to put for your opinion or thoughts on something whenever you want. The idea of not being qualified never crosses your mind.

And it's very relevant that a big part of a Harvard education is promoting this attitude, instilling it in you if you came in without it, magnifying it if you brought it with you. I found it took me about five years after I graduated to learn how to stop before I answered a question and say "do I actually have any idea what I'm talking about, or am I just deploying my acquired skill of saying something vaguely plausible in an authoritative tone of voice?"

In other words, Harvard trains its students, including women and minorities, to whitemansplain, and I guess I can see both good and bad in that.
posted by escabeche at 6:01 PM on March 5 [6 favorites]


In other words, Harvard trains its students, including women and minorities, to whitemansplain, and I guess I can see both good and bad in that.

I'm not trying to be snarky, really, but what's the good part of reflexively assuming that you have authority, irrespective of your own knowledge or that of the person to whom you are speaking?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:23 PM on March 5


Thanks for the hairsplaining zarq ;) - Having a bright and unusual color myself, I've had mine grabbed when I lived in countries where a bright and unusual color was highly unusual. I suppose racism would apply in that case too.

But this one? Wth does this even mean? 'You aren't black on the inside' ??
posted by dabitch at 7:07 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


But this one? Wth does this even mean? 'You aren't black on the inside' ??
I won't presume to speak for others, and I am assuming you're asking from a place of sincere confusion. I'm actually not sure because this sort of attitude was so common in my university experience that I thought that even white people would hear about it from their visible minority friends, but I may just have been in a bubble there. Anyway, from my experience there's a set of idiomatic words used within different racial groups for what is essentially "identity policing"

Within East Asian groups (and particularly in Asian student clubs in universities) there are terms like "banana" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), or "rotten banana" (yellow on the outside, black on the inside), and there's an equivalent for black students -- "oreo". It's essentially a pejorative used by others in your racial group to insist that "to be authentic" you need to subscribe to the cultural tastes of your identity group. If you're an Asian male, you need to be into sports cars, video games, and pop music. Listening to Radiohead, playing field sports, and being more into literature than, say, math -- essentially, liking 'white people' things makes you some kind of race traitor. And god forbid that you actually date a white person or a black person. Because how dare you assimilate, you sellout. We must maintain solidarity in our distinctiveness, and our position as an Other.

I mean, yes, there is, I think, a lot of complex anxieties that are bound up in that. You'll notice, in the photos above that there's a lot of push back around the attitude of being "color-blind" or "not seeing race", because as noble as that state may be as a goal, "color-blindness" in its current form is mostly used as an excuse to just pretend racism doesn't exist and just accept that structural biases are normal and acceptable. And every minority who does wind up being accepted as an essentially honorary white person is just some other token person that a white person can use to say, "hey, I'm not racist because I have a black/Indian/Oriental friend and I think they're ok! I'm color blind!"

but all of those complexities and angst and complicated tension between what society does to us, what the privileged do to us, what our allies do for us, and what we do to ourselves can be tough to sort out and define for ourselves. But that doesn't give us permission to turn around and try to re-define that identity for others.
posted by bl1nk at 7:37 PM on March 5 [9 favorites]


It's a cultural thing, and I'm a little hesitant to try and quantify it for you, a non-American, because I'm a white American man, and for me to explain ingrained American racism against black women, even from an historical perspective... is problematic.

Can someone else explain, please?
posted by zarq at 7:39 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


On non-preview. Thank you, bl1nk.
posted by zarq at 7:40 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Within East Asian groups (and particularly in Asian student clubs in universities) there are terms like "banana" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), or "rotten banana" (yellow on the outside, black on the inside), and there's an equivalent for black students -- "oreo".

Data point: For sub-continental kids, the term is 'coconut'.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:40 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


so, yeah, tl;dr -- this tumblr, which is fantastic, isn't just about black students sending messages to their white counterparts in the Harvard establishment, it's also about black students sending messages to other black or minority students saying, "hey, btw, I am a human being. Please treat me like one."

Racism and privilege: two tastes that go frequently together but are NOT the same thing. And, quite honestly, racism exists independently of privilege or oppression and is its own flavor of pernicious.
posted by bl1nk at 8:13 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Harvard College is for men. Radcliffe College is for women.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:51 PM on March 5


I'm really fascinated by the picture of the two women who get mistaken for each other. Because although NONE of their features are particularly similar, somehow they really do resemble each other to me (but neither of them resemble the other women on the page AT ALL to me, and I've never had any particular difficulty distinguishing individuals who share an ethnicity that is different than mine).

Their noses are REALLY different, their eyes are different, their mouths are quite different, their hair is different. Of all their features their overall face shape and their chins are the most similar, but they really aren't all that similar. And yet somehow they really do look alike, even when beside each other.
posted by lastobelus at 11:16 PM on March 5


Ok, but after seeing the video -- even though there's only a 2 second second flash of one of them -- I would never confuse one for the other.
posted by lastobelus at 11:36 PM on March 5


Harvard College is for men. Radcliffe College is for women.


This hasn't been true for 15 years, and even when I was in college and Radcliffe College still formally "existed," nobody I met ever described themselves as a Radcliffe student. My senior year they even stopped selling the sweatshirts in the bookstore.
posted by escabeche at 5:27 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


"hey, btw, I am a human being. Please treat me like one."

Apparently not once you go to Harvard:

There's a a great little game you can play when walking through Harvard Yard. For every person you meet that you don't want to punch in the face, award yourself a point.

Unless of course blacks are excluded from this great little game. Which they could be for all I know.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:02 AM on March 6


bl1nk: " Anyway, from my experience there's a set of idiomatic words used within different racial groups for what is essentially "identity policing""

Another reason why I'm glad you made this comment: it never occurred to me that this could be an insult made to the person by someone who was also African American (or Black) -- from within their own racial group. I simply assumed it was a white person saying it to them, as in "well, you're really one of us no matter what the color of your skin is." As you touched on later in your comment.
posted by zarq at 8:04 AM on March 6


By the way, if you haven't seen the excellent documentary American Promise, today's the last day it's streaming on PBS' (or your local affiliate's) site.

It resonated deeply with me, and I was really saddened to see that young black kids who don't conform to code still get accused of talking/acting white when they interact with other young black kids who do.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:08 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


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