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Jan 10 2016
by Jeremy Salley

11 Things Black Students at PWI's Are Tired of Hearing

By Jeremy Salley - Jan 10 2016

Like that one crazy, radical uncle who gives you advice on what to do with your life at holiday parties (and is actually more dysfunctional than Congress), there are some thing you get tired of hearing. And after talking to a few of my African-American friends at PWI's (also known as Predominantly White Institutions), I've decided to discuss what we are really, really tired of hearing.

1. “I heard that you got in here for cultural diversity."

We all like to talk about who is going where and for what--even if we question how someone is able to go there. We love to forget the fact that, regardless of the fact that we managed to squeeze in or was given the entire world to go there, we still need to prove why we are there in the first place. The black kids who are here are not here for diversity…. but because we can actually thrive academically.

2. “Can I touch your hair? How did you get your hair to be so nappy?”

Oh God, I will break your hand if you direct anywhere near my head without my permission. My hair is a symbol of my culture and independence. I will wear it how I want without boundaries. It is naturally this way and is actually not nappy, it’s curly in its roots.

3. “All Lives Matter! I don’t see why (saying that) is such a big deal.”

There are three easy ways, with just words, to get on my bad side: one is neglecting the greatness of the city of Atlanta; another will be mentioned later on in the article; the other is devaluing the Black Lives Matter Movement, which is the current movement to spread awareness of racial injustice that still occurs in the millennial generation. Saying that "All Lives Matter" is problematic because it neglects the actual meaning of lives being jeopardize due to the harsh realities of American life for African-Americans. It is sort of like going to a doctor with a leg injury asking for help and the doctor telling you that "All legs matter", which does not help solve your leg issue in any way. As a student within a sizable minority population I am blessed to have a safe space from any neglect I may face. At other schools, however, such as the University of Missouri, the students might not be so lucky. I believe that if I am paying tuition and fees, I deserve the right to be heard and not be harassed.

4. *Goes back home and talks to person at HBCU* “ Well, at least I’m not a sellout/token at my school.”

In my case for college admissions, there were only so many HBCU’s (also known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities) above the Mason-Dixon Line that I wanted to cross. In the infamous PWI/HBCU debate, I have always been told about the fact of me going away to a PWI means I’m “losing my soul." It is kind of ironic, actually, that someone who grew up in East Atlanta, which is about 90% black at the least, would lose their sense of culture within the next four to six years just because of college. I mean the AUC (Atlanta University Center) is a great place to study yet it is not for everyone, even while it is composed of well-respected HBCU's: Morehouse College, Spelman College, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Clark Atlanta University. It is also interesting that three of the nine National Pan-Hellenic sororities and fraternities, the largest and most prestigious African-American councils, were founded on PWI campuses and not at HBCU's.

5. “You play a sport here, right?”

In some people’s defense, I can see why I am always asked this. I am 6’6, 210lbs, and slim; I could easily be a forward on most basketball teams in this country. Yet when my 5’9, 160lbs roommate is asked consistently the same question because he is black, that is the problem. There are many students who are at the school to pursue their education without being on a varsity sports team. It's fine in general conversation, but just because of the evident stereotype of athletes being black does not mean that I personally fit that mold.

6. “Are you here just on scholarship? How can you pay for this?”

Since when was it a shame to have the university pay for your studies because you are a good student? I was asked this by my high school classmate when he saw the sticker price of my university, yet not for my other classmate who is looking at paying 65k a year. Yes, I am on a nice scholarship. One that covers my tuition and a little of room and board. That is not to say that my parents can’t make it work so I could go to school without the help. Yet when, according to the United States Census, the average American household makes a little more than  52 thousand a year and my university cost about 45 thousand a year, please don’t ask the idiotic question of why I would take a scholarship even though my household make makes much more than that average.

7. *(usually white) professor mentions Antebellum Politics of the South* “Racism is a thing of the past, they need get over slavery.”

As this is usually the rhetoric of an individual who is considering voting for Donald Trump, this person is clearly deranged about the effects of slavery on modern day America. Coming from the south, where you will still see confederate flags flying through certain parts of the city, I would beg to differ on the subject. Long story short, this is the best way for me to improve my debate grade for the class. It is a micro aggression made particularly to undermine the realities of many students throughout the country that do not live in the undesirable suburbs.

8. “ Why can’t I say the N word?”

Always remember that you have your First Amendment rights...just remember that my left hook is just as strong (if not stronger) than your 'rights.' If you wouldn’t dare use the word on 125th and Lenox in Harlem, New York or Candler Rd in Atlanta, Georgia, do not think that you can use it in college, even if you are around mostly black students. Just because you swear that one black kid in 10th grade gave you the go ahead (with his unconscious self), does not mean you have it with others. Say it around me, and we will fight on sight.

9. “ All I listen to is Trap Music, I’m down.”

Baby girl, just because you know the lyrics to Trap Queen by Fetty Wap (which honestly is not even close to true trap music), does not mean that you know that lifestyle. The assumption that all I listen to is rap music is just baffling to me. Music is universally beautiful, no matter the genre, so of course I would want to expand into all aspects of that beauty. Not a few select radio singles just because they "seem cool." Vince Staples, one of LA’s top young rappers and Twitter king, said it best in the song “Lift Me Up:" “wonder if they know, I know they won’t go where we kick it at.”

10. “You’re cute...for a black guy.”

Can I be general? Forget it, your roommate's cuter anyway. Go away.

11. “ You're acting better than the other ones here.”

To use my behavior/conduct as a representation of the black students on a campus makes as much sense as me judging the overall attractiveness of a university by an academic team. All kidding aside, there is not a correlation between them. I am my own person, not tied to a stereotype that was created from false pretenses. 

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Jeremy Salley - University of Southern California

Jeremy Salley is a Senior at the University of Southern California. He is from Atlanta, GA and is majoring in International Relations. He is 6'6" and enjoys traveling. Follow him on Twitter @EmbraceMeHere or on Instagram @Jsalley21. #FreshUAlum

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