Reality Check: "You're Nothing but a N*gger, Remember That"
Going to College is a very important milestone in many people's lives, I know it was for me. I was able to leave home, make decisions on my own, become more independent, and ultimately find what my purpose is in life. Or so I thought.
I decided to attend California Baptist University, a private Christian college in southern California, where their motto is “Live Your Purpose”. My study of choice at the time was nursing. I discovered CBU because of my wrestling achievements. I was offered an academic scholarship with the hopes of also earning an athletic scholarship and an opportunity to wrestle in college.
Arriving At CA Baptist University
My Impression vs. My Mom’s
My family and I visited the campus a couple of times to get a sense of what it would be like to attend school at CBU. My mom warned me that it was going to be very different from Elk Grove and Sacramento. I can remember being slightly embarrassed that she asked school officials if there was a Black Student Union and how the school planned to support Black students in completing their degrees. It was like her intuition kicked in, she most definitely saw things I did not see.
Ultimately, I dismissed my mom’s notations mainly because she is a former teacher and knew the right questions to ask, and I just wanted to go to college. What I didn’t know is my mom was really concerned about me attending a school that was so White, and lacked the necessary support to ensure my success.
During one of those first visits, I heard her use the acronym PWI. I waited until we were back in
the car to ask what a PWI was, “A Primarily White Institution,” she explained. “Wow, that’s a thing,” I thought to myself ?
I will be the first to admit that my mom’s warning was overshadowed by the absolutely beautiful campus and training facilities. The food was amazing, and the gym space for wrestling was huge. So, the one thing I didn't think would be a problem, eventually became a major reality check.
After being on campus for about a month, I noticed more and more the lack of Black and other People of Color presence on campus. I tried my best to not let it distract me but the gut feeling I was experiencing began to alienate me from how Black culture shaped and motivated my existence.
My Own Experience
Missing The Culture
In order to mask the feelings, I convinced myself that I was lucky enough to have a bi-racial (Black & White) upper-class teammate who introduced me to other Black students on campus and with the Black Student Union. The fact that I was rooming with one of my high school friends and high school wrestling teammate also distracted me from the isolating thoughts that occasionally crept into my head.
I rationalized and even counted that there were two other black students in my dorm. I continued being a shy but friendly person, making friends as they came. Many of the people I met were pretty cool; again, another reason to put the lack of people who looked like me out of my head.
I had made it through the first semester without many problems, other than the usual getting used to being independent and juggling the responsibility of completing assignments to keep my grades up, asking and seeking assistance when needed, and staying physically conditioned to wrestle - I was convinced things were cool. It was January and I had kind of gotten into my rhythm.
The Night Before The Incident
On this particular night, I was up late in anticipation of my first wrestling tournament. I usually can’t sleep when I have a big tournament coming up. This tournament was to take place in San Francisco, and it was my birthday weekend so I was extra excited. I am from northern California and I have family in San Francisco. My mom, being who she is, gathered the troops to root me on. I didn’t know who was going to show up, but my mom is kind of over the top and I knew there would be surprise after surprise.
Why This Night?
My roommate and I were in bed, and you know how you first fall asleep and the slightest thing can wake you so easily? Well, after finally falling asleep, I was awakened to what sounded like four or five obnoxious students being loud in the hall, outside of my door.
Why my door? Why that night? Is all I could think about. My thinking was, it would be over soon, and they were just walking to their rooms. I layed there trying to go back to sleep, waiting for them and their noise to pass.
I could see the shadows from underneath the door. I also heard, “shhhhh and be quiet” from different voices.
Then, I was shocked to hear one of the voices shout out N*gger, and in rapid succession, other voices were chiming in, reating the racial slur….n*gger, n*gger, n*gger, n*gger. It happened so fast, I didn’t know what to do, and then it was soon followed by running footsteps. It was intentional, they were taking turns; seeing who could say N*gger the loudest.
I got lost in my head thinking about what was happening. Like, who are these guys outside my door right now? If I go out there, could I end up getting hurt? If I leave this room, what type of confrontation would it turn out to be? I felt stuck in my bed, completely lost in my thoughts, and unable to move or speak for that matter.
A New Reality
In that moment, I ended up sinking and shrinking, something I promised my mom I would never do. Truth be told, I did not take any action, and I began to suppress the experience and emotions. In a short lived moment, it was over, but it was the biggest reality check of my life.
The day before my 19th birthday, I was sent a very loud message that they saw me as a N*gger.
This experience made me look at the world so differently. People can look you in your face and be in your presence, and not always be sincere. I felt as if I didn't have anyone to talk to. I mentioned it to my roommate, but after that I kept it to myself.
Many people ask me why I didn't speak out about it when it happened. I thought keeping the peace would be the easier route. I didn't want to be the center of attention. I thought about how people would look at me. I figured if I can just get through the school year keeping my head down and not bring any attention to myself.
Coming Back Home
But Not The Quite The Same As Before
Then COVID happened, and in March, all students on campus were sent home to complete their classes remotely.
Then George Floyd happened and I felt compelled to speak out.
It was easy for me to get involved in the movement, all of my life my mom was involved in direct grassroot actions. I asked her if I could go protesting with her, she briefed me on safety and security, she took this stuff seriously because she was the chapter lead of Black Lives Matter Sacramento. I paid attention and did everything she told me. She warned me it could get dangerous at marches, not just from the police but from racists.
My friends and I decided to organize a march in our city of Elk Grove, because we were all home from college and we were outraged by what happened to George Floyd. I don’t know what inspired me, but when it was my turn to speak at the mic, I told my truth.
It was the first time I had really told the story. My mom was in the crowd, as our guest speaker, and I was supposed to be introducing her to the mic. But by the time she came in front of the crowd to join me at the mic, she was in tears and could barely speak. My mom is never at a loss for words. It pained me to know that she was in pain for what I shared.
Change Will Come
My Voice Will Be Heard
I realize now that I should have confronted those kids, at least letting them know what they were saying and doing wasn't right. I gave those kids a free pass that night and they didn’t deserve that kindness….and today, I know I wouldn’t have let them off that easily.
That day in June, my mom said some things to that crowd that motivated me to show up differently in the world. The importance of speaking my peace in the moment is freeing. Even though I had let months pass by, I felt lighter, like a weight had been lifted off of my chest.
Those students being bold enough to shout N*gger in the hall of our freshman dorm, while at this “Christian Institution,” put so much into perspective for me. Even though months had passed, it was as if it had just happened.
Understanding Racism Isn’t Far From Home
Growing up in Elk Grove, CA, I had a diverse group of friends and a solid family foundation who sheltered me from thinking about racist people, especially racist white people. I had the same friends from Elementary, Middle and High School, and I can confidently say we ignored the reality that there were some people who were racist in Elk Grove.
I remembered the time my junior year of high school and we were at a tournament at Elk Grove High. I had won my match, beating a senior, whose grandfather was in the crowd. After he lost the match, his grandfather called him over and said, “what the hell is your problem, losing to one of them.” My mom heard the whole thing, and stood saying, “one of whom, you mean your boy lost to Malik Lewis, remember his name because he’s a winner.” My mom was so mad, she reported the incident and nothing was ever really done.
I mean I knew about random shootings of black people with the intent to kill. I can remember the murder of Trayvon Martin being a big conversation in our house, my parents changed all of the rules for my oldest brother. I knew my mom was active in community work, my teachers would tell me I saw your mom on the news last night. And while she always brought this information to my siblings and I, I chose not to let it drive my experiences with people.
I now look at the world very differently, and my eyes are wide open and my innocent faith in people no longer exists. I won’t let an opportunity to speak up and speak loudly about racist behavior pass me by in the future. If a Racist is bold and unafraid of asserting their white privilege and dominance by belittling a Person of Color using hate speech, then I have to be bold and unafraid to confront it in the moment. It is time to take back that power.
I now understand people who say, my generation isn’t the same as our grandparent’s generation.
ASCRIBE - Intern Organizer & BLOG writer