Zach Wood, a student at Columbia University, NY, has an excellent and poignant essay published in The Washington Post. While I highly recommend reading the essay, I do not recommend the same for the comments. I was stupid enough to click on them, and now find myself, once again, infuriated at the oblivious willful ignorance of white assholes.
As a black student from a disadvantaged background who has attended predominantly white schools since fourth grade, I’m accustomed to feeling keenly aware of aspects of my experience that are unfamiliar to most of my peers.
I’ve often thought to myself that if my peers knew about some of the scarier experiences I’ve had — like when, in fourth grade, my mom’s husband was shot at while chasing a burglar out of the house — they’d see me differently. I feared that if my peers knew more about some of the obstacles I’ve faced, they would make negative assumptions about my family or my upbringing.
I’d inferred that what many of my peers liked and respected about me was my character, my intellect and what I contributed to the school community, not the personal details about my life that caused me anxiety whenever a friend’s parents would ask me questions at their dinner table about what part of the city I lived in, or my parent’s levels of education, occupations and marital status.
While most of the questions were genuine, they sometimes felt invasive and judgmental, as if being black and intellectually driven and not coming from a family of means made me more interesting, if not harder to understand. So I mastered crafting my answers carefully, so as to satisfy their curiosity just enough to preclude further questioning and yet elude anything that might ignite what I perceived to be the subtle contours of their inner feelings about black people.
Though my circumstances changed considerably going from high school to college, I still felt a fear of judgment when probed with personal questions in casual conversation.
We can caution against it and resist it, but most of us, in some measure, naturally worry about the perceptions of others.
I certainly worried and was taken aback when asked not long ago, “Is the reason you care about poverty so much because you’ve lived in it?”
While most people who think that would not say it, it is precisely those kind of judgments that have kept me from saying more about my background, even when doing so may have lent insight or an alternative view to the perspective of others.