I remember the first time I truly felt what it meant to be black in this country. Truly felt the sting of centuries of racism. I felt the years of media portrayal of black men as thugs and monsters.
The insane thing about the encounter was when and how it happened. I have been pulled over and harassed by police (white and black officers) countless times. I have seen old white women clutch their purses as I passed them. White men cross the street as I walked by. People look at me in disgust because of my skin tone. Even been called "nigger" a time or two (or three or four) by white people. Some of the things I could rationalize because I understood at a young age that being a black man means that you deal with certain actions unless you want to walk around pissed all the time. However, through all of that, I have never had a “black experience” in the class room.
To understand the story more I will give share some information. I went to an extremely diverse high school where I was friends with people from all races and economic levels. In undergrad, I majored in Biology and once I got into my major classes the number of colored people in the classes dwindled from one hundred to numbers I can count on one hand. I never felt out of place with the number of white people in my class. The students, professors neither isolated me nor treated me any different. At my graduation, a friend and I counted less than 15 black males out of the more than 150 that started school including us had graduated in four years.
Now that I shared off all of that, you can have some context for the next part.
Fast forward to the start of my second year in graduate school. I was in group counseling. We were meeting in our groups when a student from Indian descent stated that she was bothered by my presence. That I being there intimated her and made her feel uncomfortable. When I asked her to explain why, she told me that me being there was a detriment to her learning because I scare her. Seeking understanding, I pressed on. I was told that my confidence and looks scare her. I asked what about my looks scare her because if I am not in a suit I am in workout attire (as my graduate assistantship was in the gym) and I’m only slightly above average in height. She went on to say that she has never seen a black male articulate his words and speak with conviction.
At this moment, I was more confused than when she first said something. This is a master’s level class. Why wouldn’t I be able to articulate my words and be intelligent? After going back and forth, I gave up on the conversation because it was clear that she had internal issues to deal with and that no matter what I say or do, I am not changing her mind at this moment.
I left class confused, but I was more hurt than anything. I felt like there was nothing to do to change someone’s mind about how they view black people. Especially in a counseling class that requires you to shed past misconceptions and biases of people. I dressed better and more appropriately than almost everyone in the class. I asked questions and answered when called upon. I spoke to people nicely.
Later in the semester she would apologize for her own biases, but the damage was already done. I had mentally checked out from everything and everyone. Already considered a recluse, I moved even further away from people and professors. I went to class because we were required to but while in there I did not speak much. I did not want to finish school. I wanted to drop out and would have without a friend convincing me not to. I felt like isolated and like I did not belong. I felt that all the work I had put in meant nothing. That no matter how I look, speak, or act that people will always see a nigger. I will always be an imitator of people even when I smile. I can do everything that a person is supposed to do to be considered a positive part of society and still be considered less than others. I felt like I was less than human. I felt that I was incapable of being Gerron. I felt like I was put in a box and made out to this angry, pants sagging, gun wielding, drug dealing caricature of black men that the media portrays us as.
I want to say that I am over the incident, but in all honesty I am not. While the country is on the brink of a culture war, I am going through a war inside of me. Like many enlightened black people, I am starting to realize that no matter the level of education I obtain that I will always be viewed as an uneducated thug. I can escape living in a low-income area and have more money than most and I will still be looked at as someone who is on government assistance. My skin color will speak for me before I even get a chance to.