Every day, I realize more and more that I live in a privileged bubble, being physically, mentally and financially protected from the realities of what a lot of black people live through in this country. The fact remains that the freedoms and privileges that I enjoy today were fought for and bought by the blood, sweat and tears of the black men and women that came before me, both in this country and in mine, the difference being that the evil fought in this country was slavery and in mine it was colonialism. The underlying white supremacy was one and the same; and it is still the same evil that plagues both countries today, in the form of overt and covert racism in America and economic and mental neo-colonialism in Kenya.
Being an international black student puts me in this interesting position where I am directly affected by the racism in this country but I have very little power to actually change anything. There’s no ‘taking my anger to the ballot box’ since I can’t vote. Even in conversations, I catch myself holding back my input on certain issues because I get that Look- why do you care so much? You’re not American anyway. But I am black. Racism doesn’t acknowledge that I don’t share the same history as African Americans. Melanin is melanin, regardless of origin. And we all fight the same battles, just on different fronts.
Today, I am not mincing my words. Even from my relatively privileged position, being black in America sucks. You wake up every morning to reminders that you once had less rights than a human being in this country. Sometimes it’s in the covertly racist policies and tweets of a certain president, and sometimes it’s in the open, in broad daylight, when a policeman chokes an unarmed black man to death on the street, with less dignity than a stray dog. And it’s not just in the States. I’ve written before about my experience in India as a black female. Even at home, I’ve been in resorts where my own fellow kenyans who worked there served us with less priority because we looked like them, while the Italians we were sharing a pool with got served with the highest esteem- because the brainwashing has gone as far as to convince even us ourselves that we are less than! It’s exhausting, fighting these battles every single day! Trying to chase your dreams while fighting visible and cloaked bigotry at every turn, and waking up every morning to hear that another black man or woman has been shot by the very people charged with protecting them, and while doing the most mundane of things- jogging, or eating ice cream in his own home! Again- the fish rots from the head. Look at this country’s administration and tell me how you expect a country as racially traumatized as this to heal with a president who is only not racist when he’s asleep! Anyone who supports this man or excuses his discourse is complicit with the state of things as they are today!
On the other hand, there is this deafening silence on the part of non-black people that doesn’t sit right with me. You don’t have to be black to be completely outraged about the terrifying things that happen to black people around the globe. In the words of Rihanna (an absolute queen, we stan): “…tell your friends to pull up.” This is not just a black peoples’ issue, and it’s so disturbing to see people act like it is. None of my black friends are doing ok. We are all shaken to the core and disillusioned by everything that’s going on. Many of us have had to unplug from social media and news channels for the sake of our mental health, and seek some form of therapy to get some sense of how to move forward. And yet, everyone around us just keeps going, like none of this is happening. We go to work, school, commencements and no-one addresses the darkness we are fighting as a people. In my opinion, by being silent, you are enabling the festering of racism! Be loud about being disgusted by racist acts, and maybe this will spark a conversation in your circle that will lead to some misguided beliefs being cleared up.
Judging from a lot of the posts on MIT Confessions, this quarantine period has brought out a lot of the inherently racist and ignorant mindsets that my peers have always had while here but have never quite gotten the space to express. The convenient anonymity of the internet has fueled online debates driven by anonymous MIT students on topics like affirmative action and political stances , a lot of which are deeply hurtful to students of color, some of which borders on being flat-out offensive. If we are to hope for a brighter tomorrow, then we all need to do better right here at MIT, where the next generation of leaders in every field is moulded. Get yourself some hella black friends and listen when they talk about their lives and experiences. Pay attention to their tendencies and mindsets. You’ll realize a lot of us live on a permanent survival instinct. Ask yourself why that is so. Realize that you grew up in an inherently racist society that has blinded you to oppressions you can not even imagine exist.
To all of my classmates, friends, anyone who I share the privilege of being affiliated with MIT with- SPEAK UP! Whatever platform you have, use it to effect some kind of change, and don’t allow yourself to be complacent, being as protected and shielded as we are by this great institution. This blog is my platform, and I open it up to anyone wanting to share their thoughts on this or any other matter. Your silence as a white person, as a brown person, as an asian person, it says so much! It doesn’t matter how hard the conversation is, it’s time we had it! Also, check up on your black friends! If the conversation seems scary, if you’re uncomfortable to address these deep racial disparities, imagine how hard it must be to actually be in their shoes, and to fight these battles every single day.
And for my black friends, I know we are probably traumatized with recent events and struggling to process how fast the world moves on, despite the fact that there is no ‘moving on’ for us. I know these wounds never heal, that we never forget the Ahmoud Arberys and George Floyds and Breonna Taylors of this world, that we walk around with this trauma weighing down on us and not knowing what to do about it, or how to deal with it. I know that it’s things like these that make it hard to know who to trust, or how to live with people that know very little about the struggles we face. I know that sometimes, it’s too much. It’s all too many things, happening one after the other, and sometimes I know we feel like we can’t breathe. Today I don’t see a light at the end of this tunnel, and I’m not going to try and find some silver lining because this particular dark cloud doesn’t have one. There’s no happy ending here. All I can say is, we’ve got each other. Community seems to be the one thing that we keep coming back to as a people, and sticking together through this will get us through it.