I would like to preface this by saying if you haven’t read Vincent’s amazing post “Black Lives Matter” (https://mitadmissions.org/blogs/entry/black-lives-matter), read that first, then come back and read this post.
As many of you are aware, the racial tensions in America are currently at an all-time high. From the murder of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, to the tragic deaths of four hardworking police officers in Dallas, it feels like America is barely holding together. As events unfolded a number of questions presented themselves to both black minds and not:
“I am not black, can I still support Black Lives Matter?”
“Is there even really a race issue?”
“Are you okay?”
“What is the point? Nothing is going to change.”
“You go to MIT, isn’t that enough proof to say that racism isn’t alive?”
“Isn’t Black Lives Matter just a hate group? Shouldn’t we be working to shut them down?”
“What about black-on-black crime?”
“Do you hate the police?”
“Aren’t the police the real victims?”
“Don’t all lives matter?”
I am sure these are a question everyone has seen at least once, if not a million times. Vincent’s post showed some of the worst of what people like us have to deal with. I would like to say that I haven’t had to live through stories like his, but that would be lying to every one of you. Here, I want to try my best to share a few moments in my life that might help those with these questions understand why I believe a movement such as Black Lives Matter is one of the most important developments of my life time. These moments in my life are not extreme in the sense that I had to fear for my life, which was already beautifully covered by Vincent. These are the small subtleties that no one but a black person can understand. These are not huge events, just moments in my life. These are moments where I realized that unlike some of my friends, I am still not equal.
Summer before Freshman Year, Maryland:
“I believe that he should start with regular classes,”
The summer counselor looked over my middle school resume, nearly all A’s with a single B from Spanish 1 in eighth grade. I had just moved from Texas to Maryland, and I was going through a very familiar process.
“Why? He has nearly perfect scores. He ran extremely well on his cross country team, and has demonstrated above average ability in every subject and hasn’t missed a single day of school.”
My mom spoke with an icy frustration. My parents were not new to this process. At my first elementary school, they had to ask the school to not put me in remedial math, despite my perfect scores. At my second elementary school, they had to ask to put me in the gifted program, despite me scoring 50 points above the program’s requirements. And again in middle school, they had to ask for the school to not put me in the lowest classes. Their patience had long frozen over.
“Well, yes. He has done well, but don’t you think it would be better for him to start at the bottom and work his way up? We wouldn’t want him to be overwhelmed by a new environment.”
She tilted her head slightly to the side, and smiled. I could feel my mother’s hand squeeze tighter around mine. I could see the frosty frustration melt, and reveal behind it sat a fiery anger. My parents had left their homes and families in order to get a better education, so that my siblings and I wouldn’t have to “start at the bottom.” Yet here was summer counselor offering it to us like a present.
“I think it would be better if you put him in honors classes.”
We got up and left.
Fast food restaurant, GA:
“Whoa, you guys would make a fantastic football team!”
The older white man looked at my family as we ate our hot wings. My four siblings and I looked at him. I was the biggest of us at only 5’4” 110lbs (163cm 50kg) as a sophomore in high school. We were seven people short of an offensive line – five people short if you included my parents. My dad raised his left eyebrow, slightly annoyed.
“What about an amazing team of doctors?”
My dad spoke with a sense of urgency, looking the man in the eyes. My dad didn’t blink. He just looked at him.
The man laughed.
“Maybe a basketball team.”
Outside Walmart, TX:
Senior Year Math Competition, GA:
“You are a menace to this competition. I cannot believe your behavior. Where is your president?! WHERE IS YOUR PRESIDENT?!”
The proctor of the competition was red in the face. Sweat slid down his forehead down from the thin strands of hair that remained on his head. My girlfriend and I, the only African Americans at the competition of almost 300 students, both stood at the receiving end of his sweat, spit, and steam. Apparently, someone from our school had disturbed the competition. Of course neither of us were in the same room as the event, but yet here we were.
“Sir we are two of the team’s presidents.”
Over the last two years I had spent night after night studying the Art of Problem Solving, laboring over past exams, and helping lead our school to a hopeful math team victory. It was only this past year that I had been given the position as president. To me, someone that had never really been great at sports, music, or anything else of the sort, being recognized for my work in academics had meant the world to me. However….. That meant nothing right now.
“NO! WHERE IS YOUR PRESIDENT? SHOW ME YOUR PRESIDENT!”
He didn’t believe me.
“WHERE IS YOUR PRESIDENT! MOVE! I WILL FIND HIM MYSELF!”
He walked between the two of us, and straight to my school’s math team coach. After a short conversation, my coach looked at us, then the proctor, then waved us over.
“These are two of the school’s most hardworking presidents. If you have any problems, feel free to take it up with them.”
The man looked at the two of us, and it seemed he had lost all of his previous steam. He didn’t apologize, and apparently he was no longer angry about whoever might have really been a problem. He just left.
Time after time I have to come to face the fact that I am still not on equal ground to those that are around me. Time after time I have to face the fact that even after I leave MIT, I will be black first and whatever else second , if at all. Time after time I have to be aware of the fact that very few of my peers will ever understand a day in my life. Yet time after time I will do everything I can to fight for equality for my race. So next time a comment comes up saying “Racism is dead, they are angry over perceived slights.”, remember this post. Remember a little bit of what it is like in the life of a black person.