It is my sophomore year of college at American University's School of Communication. It is the Spring semester. It is January 13th. It is the night that Black American activist, Patrisse Cullors, will speak at American University. It is 8:10 PM. It is time for my Writing For Communications class. It is extremely awkward when my professor says, "This semester, we will also be discussing current events such as The Oscars," and looks over at me. It is awkward. It is annoying. It is normal. It is the year 2016 and I still have classes where I am the only Black person in the room.
I have experienced this situation all too often, but it never gets any easier. I end up in a "learning environment" where I am the only person of my complexion. I am asked to speak on behalf of 12% of the U.S. population in all discussions that have anything to do with racism or Black American Culture. In the eyes of the professor, I was born with a PhD in African American studies from the most prestigious university and my two decades of experience being Black in America make me the most qualified to speak on every issue relating to racism or Black American culture. The best part of this experience is the awkward stare. That moment when 70%-80% of the class subconsciously stares at me whenever anything relating to racism or Black American culture is mentioned.
As much as I love exposing some of my classmates hidden racist ideologies or flat out ignorance, there is one thing that is often overlooked. I am not the spokesperson for all of Black America. I haven't been nor will I ever be. Most importantly, the fact that I have been Black in America my whole life doesn't mean I understand everything that happens within Black American culture. I understand Black American culture through the lens of a lower middle-class northern New Jersey Black American young man. I don't understand Black American culture through Jaden Smith's lens and I don't understand Black American culture through the lens of Willow Smith. I know they're Black. I know we probably have a few things in common, but I can't speak for them. What would I look like speaking for the Black American experience of Malia Obama? Our experiences are plural, not singular. Moreover, I am not the spokesperson for racism around the world. Yes, I have experienced racism most of my life. Yes, I have been a victim of racism. Yes, I know a good amount about racism within our country. However, I don't know enough about racism to be the ultimate scholar of racist institutions around the world. If I did, I would have a clear-cut solution on how to overcome the racist institutions that plague this country and many others around the world. I am not a full blown expert on racism the same way my professor isn't a full blown expert on white privilege. Just know that I have been a victim of racist institutions the same way my professor has been a benefactor of white privilege.
I say all of that to say this. The reason being the only Black person in a classroom is so difficult for me is that I am not equipped to speak for all of Black America on any particular topic, nor should I have to be. For a school that prides itself on the racial, ethnic, geographic and religious diversity of its students, I sure do have a lot of classes where more than 50% of students are White, Christian or Jewish and from Pennsylvania. As a result, the discussions of what we are learning in class will never include multiple experiences of being Black in America. Furthermore, we won't have a discussion that includes multiple Latin American perspectives, Asian American perspectives, etc. That's not just bad for my class. That's bad for the entire school of communications. That's bad for the school of business. That's bad for all of the university. That's not bad for American; that's bad for America.