Saturday, April 17, 2010

assume that black graduates must have attended an hbcu, instead of an hwcu

This is a guest post for swpd by A. Smith, who writes of herself, "I write a blog that is hard to explain except to say I write what's on my mind. In the real world, I'm a recent college graduate who's had enough of DC and its politics and is ready to go back to school, for a different, albeit familiar, kind of politics. I'm also a black woman with 23 years of experience in this race thing..."

I attended undergrad in Nashville, Tennessee. I wouldn't normally disclose that, but Nashville is often called the Athens of the South because of all the colleges and universities there. Nashville has 20 of them, ranging from an auto diesel college to one of the premiere private universities in the nation. Therefore, it would reason that if I tell you I went to school in Nashville, you would ask me which one -- there are so many possibilities, the odds of you guessing correctly are clearly not in your favor.

My current job requires that I frequently meet with people, mostly white, from the great state of Tennessee. They're often a little surprised (I can see it in their faces) when they meet me. Between my race-neutral name, race-neutral pattern of speaking (of course, we know that while I say "race-neutral," both my name and the way I often speak are characterized as "white"), people often show up expecting to see someone of a far lighter hue than me. I also lack a noticeable southern accent, though I was born and raised there, so people will often question me about where I'm from. I always say, "I was born and raised in Chattanooga and went to school in Nashville."

A handful of people will nod and move on, but the vast majority of them follow that question up with, "where did you go to school?" and far too many of those people continue by answering for me, "TSU?"

Tennessee State University is a Historically Black University and is well known-throughout the state. Unfortunately, part of the reason it's well-known is because the local media in Nashville has gone out of its way (especially recently) to villianize and stereotype TSU as a dangerous place. I have to be honest and say that while first attending Vanderbilt, I too fell prey to believing the unfortunate stereotypes of violence, danger and subpar academics that plagues TSU. It wasn't until my school held a roundtable event and invited TSU among other schools to participate that I actually realized how much of a stereotype it was and how I'd allowed the media to color my view.

Not only do these white (and they are always white; the black people I come in contact with never answer the question for me, though I don't doubt they also make assumptions) people assume they already know where I must have gone to school, but they choose the most stereotyped university of all of them.

I've actually never had someone guess my school and guess it correctly. I went on a twitter rant once and said, "believe it or not, Vandy does accept black people..."

This was something I began encountering long before I was out of undergrad. My friends and I would constantly relay stories of being questioned about where we attended school while wearing clothing items with our school's name on it, and having people respond in a shocked manner when we would tell them we attended Vanderbilt University.

Two recent incidents have me thinking about both why this happens and exactly how it makes me feel. The first happened recently when, in a room full of people from across the state of Tennessee, a man asked me where I attended school. He paused for a second, only long enough for me to open my mouth to take in air, and then he said, "TSU or Fisk."

I laughed. Then I looked around the room and noted that the 4 other black people there were either smirking or laughing, and that the other white people had no expression at all. That is, until I answered his question. The smirk disappeared and his face reddened. Some of the other white people also laughed nervously.

It's usually enough to just say the name of my school; I typically don't have to follow up with too much of "you know, that's really presumptive and borderline racist to assume I must have gone to an HBCU." The "oh" and subsequent look of stupidity and sheepish grin suggest they get it, on some level at least. However, this man pissed me off. He gave me 2 choices, out of 20 options, and he only chose the 2 HBCUs in the city. So I added, "you know, Nashville has a lot of schools beside TSU and Fisk."

The second incident happened when I had the "pleasure" of meeting with a dean from a school that's in a city right outside of Nashville. He found out early on where I went to school and spent the rest of our meeting comparing his school with mine. Either pointing out where they excelled ("we graduate more students" -- of course they do, they're larger) or pointing out where my alma mater excelled, but also distinguishing why we have an advantage ("of course we'll never do the research Vandy does. We don't have the money").

I also struggled to read him. Reading the people I meet with is integral to things going smoothly. Knowing how much to tell them without telling them too much is important, and reading them correctly helps put them at ease and is necessary to ensure that I do my job well. Typically, I excel at it. I'm very even and friendly with skeptical people; I usually succeed in winning them over with my humor and excellent grasp of the issues that they come to meet with me about. This man, however, maintained either a disturbed or shocked look on his face. I don't think he ever got over the fact that I was black and a graduate of such an academically rigorous school. This was particularly disturbing because he's a dean of the largest university in the state and surely has come across a smart POC or two in his life. At the end of our meeting he began asking me questions like when I graduated, what my major was, and then the kicker: "How long did it take you to get your degree?"

I've told this story to black and white friends. My black friends always gasp at the question while my white friends wait for the punch line, or the part where they're supposed to be upset. For anyone missing it, he didn't need to ask me how long it took me to get my degree, and there was an interesting assertion there that it would've taken me longer than 4 years to get it. Why else do you ask someone how long it took them to get their degree?

Before anyone chimes in that it took them 5-6+ years to get their degree, let me point out that my alma mater BOASTS its ability to graduate students in 4 years. Anyone who knows anything about it (as a dean of another local school would) knows that Vanderbilt goes out of its way to make sure students have the access to what they need to get a degree in 4 years. Trust me, if it takes you longer than 4 years, you either took time off, switched majors too many times, or made some other major snafu (like failing a class). In any case, why else do you ask someone how long it took them to get their degree? I mean have you ever asked someone that before? Does it really add to your knowledge of that person? Outside of the type of advice-seeking conversations that individuals headed to college often have with college graduates, I don't see a place for the question.

By the way, my answer to his question did little to assuage his concern -- whatever the concern was. In fact, I think it made it worse.

And really, that's the issue behind all of this. Why is it shocking for someone to find out that a POC attends a school like Vanderbilt?

I'll have to be honest, this one has been tough for me to analyze and assess. It could be because I give some people too much credit and struggle to understand why someone wouldn't think I could've gone to Vanderbilt simply because of my race. What's worse is that these people walk into my office and can clearly see that I've accomplished a lot and are still surprised at my academic background.

We've had discussions in the past at swpd about HBCUs and schools that are commonly referred to as PWIs (Predominantly White Institutions). In this post, macon said,

Personally, I prefer to call higher ed PWI's "historically white colleges and universities." It helps to foreground their racially exclusionary pasts, and the de facto white supremacy that still pervades them. It's not a perfect term, though, as it could imply (unlike "PWI") that their pervasiveness [sic] whiteness is in the past.

In a later comment, I agreed with macon, and as I ponder his point now, wonder whether or not it's that same thing -- that pervasion of racial exclusivity and de facto white supremacy -- that causes the white people I come into contact with on my job to always assume that I went to an HBCU. In other words, as usual, good = white and bad = black. The shock isn't that I went to a white school, the shock is that I went to a "good" school, in their minds. But if we explore what that means, we realize that they're shocked that I went to a white school AND that I went to a good school.

So again, I ask: Why is it shocking for someone to find out that a POC attends a school like Vanderbilt? Have you ever asked (or been asked) someone how long it took them to finish their degree? And, a final question: What is it about the university setting that still encourages the white = good, black = bad assumption?

Author's note: I've asked macon, for the purposes of this post, not to prioritize responding to problematic comments, but rather to prioritize keeping absolutely ridiculous, derailing or otherwise offensive comments out. This will mean that some such comments will go through without a macon response. I hope this encourages more WP who comment frequently and say they're in this anti-racism fight to step up and speak out on what they see as problematic in other commenter's posts, rather than waiting on a POC commenter or macon to do it.


  1. I've been known to ask recent graduates how long it took them to get their degree, but that's generally limited to people in the same extra-curricular as me (competitive debating), and based mainly on the fact that lots of my friends took at least an extra year to get theirs, so something about the crowd I hang out with implies that 3/4 years and out is the exception, not the norm.

  2. @Neon Blue -
    Allow me to draw your attention to a passage from the post...

    Before anyone chimes in that it took them 5-6+ years to get their degree, let me point out that my alma mater BOASTS its ability to graduate students in 4 years. Anyone who knows anything about it (as a dean of another local school would) knows that Vanderbilt goes out of its way to make sure students have the access to what they need to get a degree in 4 years. Trust me, if it takes you longer than 4 years, you either took time off, switched majors too many times, or made some other major snafu (like failing a class). In any case, why else do you ask someone how long it took them to get their degree? I mean have you ever asked someone that before? Does it really add to your knowledge of that person? Outside of the type of advice-seeking conversations that individuals headed to college often have with college graduates, I don't see a place for the question.

    I put that in the post just for people like you. Re-read it and understand that his question was NOT harmless. It wasn't. If you're having trouble understanding why it wasn't harmless or innocent, stick around. I'm trusting that it will come to light for you shortly.

  3. I have never asked someone how long it took them to get their degree. And I totally understand why the question was offensive.

    I'm trying to think of examples in my life that are similar to yours, but none are coming to mind right now. My undergrad institution doesn't have a ton of name recognition outside of the Northeast (it's a small women's college). Although my medical school is a very well known and respected school, I think once someone knows I'm a med student, the name of the school isn't terribly surprising (there are some HBCU med schools, but not around here). I'm more likely to have someone continue to refer to me as a nurse than to have them doubt where I attend school.

  4. It is surprising to me when any white person over 50 years old is not racially biased. Imagine, when he/she grew up, racism was legal, white supremacy was 'known' to be the truth and many textbooks/bibles advocating against 'mixing' with non-white people.

    This dean is probably is from an influential/rich white family ( and rich, white southern families have been at the forefront of slavery and white supremacism).

    So, how can this dean have any understanding or compassion or an idea of what it means to be discriminated against? His whole life has probably been spent in association with rich, white people who peddle racist theories and act upon them. In many ways, they are not too different from a Nazi cult.

  5. That's a common question to ask when it's a graduate or postgraduate degree, but not for undergraduate degrees. Never been asked. Never asked...never even thought of asking. Ever. I might ask, "How many years does it take to do a college degree in your country?" But only when I don't know what the university system is like in that other country. It is a very different question from the one that dean asked you.

  6. A few WP have been shocked that I've attended and graduated from a 4-year university at all. I've never understood this, because I thought it was what normal people do.

    It's also occurred numerous times in my previous line of work, which was computer applications configuration and support. (My job was to make the software work, install it, help customers learn it and help them if it didn't work.) Well, there were the WP who seemingly refused to believe that I knew what I was doing or talking about...and ask for my white coworker who knew less! Go figure.

  7. Great post, A.Smith! I found myself nodding throughout it. Especially at the levelling episodes, i.e., how long did it take you to graduate?. To me, that question seemed like a deliberate attempt to put you in your "place." Having graduated from institutions that WP have a hard time getting into, I run into what you've experienced.

    Like thesciencegirl, I've never asked or been asked how long it took to graduate but I've had (what I at least see to be as) a variant of the blacks=dumb/blacks=undeserving-of-things-whites-deem-as-desirable theme: How did you get in there?.* Me: "I applied." There weren't any HBCUs around or I'm sure that would have come up, given the other ignorant comments WP made to me, based on their all-knowing expertise of where black people live, how black people act and what black people think.

    Sometimes I think these questions are born of unexamined ignorance. At other times, I think the questioner knows exactly what (s)he's doing.
    *(Including during a job interview that required credentials like mine. Ha ha. Sigh (again))

  8. This phenomena is something that I can only laugh about, if not I would get way too frustrated.

    I attended a PWI- Sarah Lawrence College.(So PW that my 'inner-city' high school college counselor did know anything about the school and to this day thinks I attend St. Lawrence College). I also work full-time because its the only way I can afford to go there.

    I was recently at a employee appreciation lunch, sitting next to one of the bosses of the company that I work for. While making small talk I mentioned that I attended SLC. Surprised he whispers to me 'like an evening program or something?'. For the rest of the lunch, he related to everyone he spoke too, in an incredulous tone that I attended SLC. Some folks who I told about his reaction

    That's just one example. Every time I say to someone what school I attend, they are so surprised, and don't even try to hide their shock. Folks expect me to say Brooklyn College or Hunter College (which are amazing school yet have a stigma attached to them because they are cheaper).

    What's this that our society does that attaches value to schools based upon how much you pay for them?

  9. I'm from Chicago, so people don't assume I go to an HBCU, but they are shocked as hell to find out where I do attend (given that my university is having it's first Black valedictorian ever this year, that's not surprising), and always give this wide-eyed look like I must be a super-genius to have gotten in there. My school is competitive, but it's not an Ivy--if I told them my GPA they'd probably choke on a chicken bone.

    What bugs (and I think this is similar to your experience, A. Smith) is when people meet me on the street somewhere and assume I go anywhere but the university I attend (there are some local schools around here). Given that I say I'm not from around here and that I'm a college student, wouldn't it make sense to assume I go to the only university around where most students aren't from the area? It's annoying.

  10. As a black man I've never been assumed that I've attended a HBCU, but I have been asked how long I went to college. Me personally it took me five years because I became ill during my junior and had to take a year off.

    It's all part of the white racial mindset to assume that black people either only go to a HBCU, or never attend college at all. It's also part of the mindset that HBCUs are not as "good" as HWCUs simply because they are HBCUs. Anything associated with black is thought as "bad" or "lesser than" no matter the accomplishments. In other words even though you're black and went to college and/or graduate school, never been to prison, happily married with children or single with no children, there's still something wrong with you that they haven't found out yet, and that's sad.

  11. I've also never heard anyone ask how long it took to get a B.S. degree. It would be more understandably for a masters or a Phd, but still rather strange.

    Excellent Post. My school is also a HWCU. I see about 5 black people a day.

  12. @suppressedinfinity-
    I'm not sure if your comment was intended to be tongue-in-cheek or not...

    This man serves in an administrative capacity at THE largest university in the great state of TN.

    That's about all I think needs to be said with regard to why he ought to know better.

    I won't ding him for being human.
    I won't ding him for it being 2010.
    I won't ding him for supposedly having gone to his own institution of higher education.
    I won't ding him for working with other highly educated POCs.

    Though I could -- and should -- ding him for all those.

    But he is an administrator at the graduate level at THE largest institution of higher education in the state of Tennessee. A state, mind you, that has black people in it.

    He should know better. This ain't rocket science.

    The end.

    Will Capers said It's also part of the mindset that HBCUs are not as "good"
    Absolutely. And I think this is what adds to my frustration. I know they don't think as highly of HBCUs as they do the HWCU I attended or any HWCU. So while, on a general level, it's not insulting to have someone ask if I attended TSU, but it's what I know they think about HBCUs that insults me...

    If they thought both types of schools equal, they would simply wait for me to tell them where I attended, rather than try to guess. I'm not even clear on the purpose of guessing...

    Sort of like, "I guessed correctly so I have you pegged correctly. You are who I thought you were."

  13. Not having any HBCU's in my area, I didn't realize that they were somehow viewed as "less than" by certain white people. In my high school where AP classes were primarily white, I know of several very intellegent black women who went to an HBCU, and it made sense to me that these women would want a chance to be around other intellegent POC, something that wasn't likely to happen at one of the PW universities in the area.

    I generally assume everyone has a college degree, which is problematic in a different way, and something I've had to realize is pretty classist.

  14. I didn't realize that they were somehow viewed as "less than" by certain white people.

    There goes that 'stuff other white people' do self-satisfaction again.

  15. @ NeonBlue and addressing the "how long" question

    I'm a white 32 year-old woman. I was 19 and single when I became a mom, so I attended college off and on all this time in my life. I'm almost done now...with a BA. Now that I'm looking MUCH closer to my 30s than my 20s and I don't blend in anymore, the comments are coming out. I get "Are you in graduate school?" and I also get "How long has it taken you to get your degree?"

    These questions play on the askers' assumptions about people in the college setting. The 2nd question directly speaks to an assumption that I am not "the norm." In my case, the asker is thinking that at my age I should be in graduate school by now. The asker may not be judging me negatively, but they are definitely seeing if their assumptions about me are correct. And I definitely notice it. I also feel obligated to tell them that I've raised my kids by myself and had only one parent of my own my whole life - but I usually choose not to share that.

    When a WP asks a BP this, he or she seems to be making the same assumption that there is something abnormal about the POC being in college. It's based on race and the history of a common stereotype about BP and their learning capacities. You (in general) may not have that intention when you ask. However, it is still often what is being understood when a WP asks a BP this question. I'll paraphrase A.Smith in her post, is it really necessary for you to have that information? Whether you realize it or not, it costs you to ask it. It costs the person you're talking to when s/he hears it. Just something to consider.

  16. @ Name

    You're kinda expressing the exact issue being posed in this post. You're rationalizing why it's ok to assume POC would attend HBCUs. In doing that, it shows that you think very few BP attend HWCU. I understand that you probably mean that BP would encounter MORE BP at HBCU, but that discounts the many BP attending HWCU. It seems to say "Hey, if you want to be around more people like yourself, you should probably attend a HBCU. There aren't many of you over here."

  17. So again, I ask: Why is it shocking for someone to find out that a POC attends a school like Vanderbilt?
    1. It's shocking to other ppl only if you're a black/hispanic POC. I'm Asian and I've never been asked that and neither have any of my Asian friends (except the Fillipino ones, but that's because people mistake them for being Hispanic). That's because of the fucked up stereotype that all Asian kids are good enough to get in and stay in and other POCs aren't. that's the fucked up, ugly reason I think people are shocked.

    Have you ever asked (or been asked) someone how long it took them to finish their degree?
    2. like i said, never been asked that. gee, why would any person ask me that? I'm a such a "good little Asian" - it'd be weird if we DIDN'T finish! (total sarcasm here) and I wouldn't ask anyone - because what is the implication behind that question? that the person being asked was just too damn stupid to finish in 4 years.

    And, a final question: What is it about the university setting that still encourages the white = good, black = bad assumption?
    3. because there aren't many black/hispanic POCs on elite campuses (besides Asians) so the thinking is that it being majorly white is what magically makes it good and better.

  18. Even for a Masters or PhD degree, I find the question, "how long did it take you?" to be insulting. The implication is that if you took longer than whatever the assumed norm is in the asker's head, you must be dumb/not that intelligent. The question is no different than asking someone for their gpa/SAT score. It's never "harmless" and the person asking the question is clearly seeking for evidence of conclusions they've already drawn about your intelligence level.

    It sounds like by asking that question, the dean was looking for a way to have you fit in with his preconceived stereotypes.

    I've only ever thought of asking someone else how long it took them when in conversation they themselves have alluded to some unusual circumstances or something to suggest their time line being unusual, i.e. "I was younger than all my peers", "I had to take a year off due to illness." Even then, I'm still very very wary of how my question may come off.

  19. Great post A Smith! Like others, I found myself nodding throughout it. I'm originally from Atlanta and when folks find out I have my BA, I sometimes get asked what school I went to. That bit it normal. What's not normal is the occasional followup question of "Spellman or Clark Atlanta?" Sigh...neither, I actually went to school out of Atlanta. But the assumption that I'm black and I have a degree so I must have gone to an HBCU is irritating...not hating on the HBCU, but the school I did go to has a reputation for being more academically competitive to get into. And yet that didn't stop a (white) friend of mine from telling myself and a mutual black friend that "y'all would have gotten in [to our school] anyway because y'all are black." Apparently the fact that my high school classes were more advance, almost all my senior year classes were college level or the fact that both my GPA and SAT scores were well above her's counted for nothing in the decision to admit me.

    And that "How long did it take you to get your degree" question smacks of ignorance and or/stupidity. That is definitely not a normal question to ask. Heck, I have (white) friends who took longer than 4 years to complete their degree and that's not a question they have (to my knowledge) received nor (to my knowledge) thought to ask someone else. The normal response to "I went to [fill in kick ass uni here]" should be "What did you major in?" not "How long did it take you to finish?" (especially for a school which prides itself on it's 4 year graduation rate) or "How did you get in?" (just like every other gosh darned person, by applying). Sigh, utter ridiculousness.

  20. I think this is really a great summation:
    "[Why do people guess where I went?] 'I guessed correctly so I have you pegged correctly. You are who I thought you were.'"

    I'd imagine that with a name and voice that get read as neutral (thus white), it seems like those people who've been surprised by finding out that you're black are trying desperately to try and put their interaction with you back in familiar territory. In general, people like to feel like they can predict what's coming, and if they can guess where you went to college (thus reaffirming their expectations), they can stop questioning their assumptions. No more questions means that they get to stop feeling uncomfortable that they default to whitness, and therefore stop feeling uncomfortable about whatever reaction they had to your being *not* white.

    This is really interesting to me since I know I do the 'let me guess!' thing in other contexts. I'm now wondering how much of it is because something else has made me feel uncomfortable.

  21. I'm teaching in the north, so most people don't know anything about HBCU's. In fact, a significant minority of my white students get offended that there even are such institutions -- another topic. But in the spirit of offering disclosure of things I've thought that might have bothered POC if they picked up my assumptions, I'll give a couple of examples. As I reflect, I realize that I respond a lot to "class" cues. So if a Black person wears nice clothes, talks an accent that sounds educated to me, and is in a position that requires an advanced degree, I tend to assume that their background isn't necessarily that different from mine, only to learn upon further acquaintance that they are actually from a low income disadvantaged situation that has significantly shaped their view of the world. At the same time, I know that Black people who are, in fact, from relatively privileged backgrounds resent it if people assume all Black people are disadvantaged. Let me be clear: I am NOT complaining about this. I am rather saying that I am trying to teach myself about the diversity of people's experiences and backgrounds and the fact that I should not make assumptions in either direction about the background of a person who looks
    privileged today.

    I also had a recent experience in a mixed-race mixed-class community group working on a very controversial issue with a lot of group conflict where I saw lots of differences in privilege affecting how the work got done. But it was pointed out to me that one of the people I'd been defining as "less educated" on the basis of how she spoke, her clothing, her close relation to someone I know has only a 9th grade education, and her lack of access to email was, in fact, college educated.

    Third example. I have a biracial student who told us (we were all sharing backgrounds) that her parents met and married in the military and that she transferred to our state school from an elite private school. I was surprised that a person from what assume to be a less privileged background had gone to a private school (she mentioned getting help from an aunt with her admission materials), and wondered why she'd left it. As the term has gone on, her work has exhibited the quality and ease I associate with an elite educational background (i.e. she got the only A on the first paper).

  22. I have not been asked how long it took me to get my degree, but I *was* asked one jaw-dropping time: what was it that encouraged me to have a work ethic? Yes, those were the very words. It was a white man, we were at a social gathering and had just met and were doing the "so what do you do?" thing. (I guess I was supposed to say "Well, I just sit on my black ass and collect welfare checks."

    Yes, my jaw dropped and I was speechless. When this man found out I had a real live professional job and supported myself and everything! - I guess his mind was just blown. And he had to know how in the world I managed such a feat.

  23. Same situation in Canada, with Aboriginal students (not so much to the same extent with other PoC). Although all universities here are historically white, white people generally assume that an Aboriginal student would have attended a smaller community college or vocational school, or else the First Nations University of Canada. Or, if they did meet an Aboriginal student from a prestigious institution, they would assume that the student only got there through some kind of affirmative action program, and therefore doesn't deserve to be there.

    I can't count how many times I've heard students complain that spaces in professional programs like Law and Medicine are being "taken up" by aboriginal students.

  24. @olderwoman

    "I'm teaching in the north, so most people don't know anything about HBCU's"

    Well, maybe most white people...

    I'm also a little confused as to why you find it necessary to label people's class at all.

  25. Alice-
    You really have my little wheels turning...

    People like boxes. We like to meet people and put them in convenient boxes in our head.

    I am NOT what people are expecting when they show up and so they desperately search for ways to put me in some box that they understand and are comfortable with.

    Unfortunately for them, I just don't fit in boxes as cleanly and neatly as one might like. Usually folks will just get past that, but apparently this dean just couldn't get comfortable until I fit in a box.

    Makes me think of something my BFF likes to say. He always says it very seriously, but people always laugh. "Wonder how white people felt the first time they saw a black person walking around free..." Sometimes, I feel like we might be able to answer that question very accurately when I run into situations like this.

    Wow. Just effin wow. WP really do amaze me sometimes. They shouldn't, but they do. What encouraged you to have a work ethic? I'm stunned. I really am. I also wonder what I would've said...

    As for the "you only got in cause you're black" thing...

    Well that's definitely a post for another day, but let me say that it gave me great pleasure to inform a class full of white people that our university a)admitted more people based on the fact that they had parents who were alumni than anyone else and b)didn't use a quota system or affirmative action (which I had to explain the difference between). For anyone wondering, the former fact is true of most "top-tier" universities in America.7

  26. sciencegirl: "Most people." Whoops, I messed up. Criticism accepted. Unfotunately, where I am, most people are White.

    Re class, I meant the post as a self-criticism. I'm trying to meet the request for SWPD not SOWPD. So, yeah, as I reflected on whether I had any stories to offer, I noticed that I pay attention to class cues from people, and I think as I reflect that I am probably more sensitive to class cues for POC than for Whites, although I know I think about class for Whites too. And in the "conflictual meetings" I really thought privilege was manifest in a lot of the conflicts, so that was central to how I was thinking about who was doing what.

    Also, if comments like mine that look for points of self-criticism are too much about me and not about the OP, that's cool for folks to say. I don't want to derail. I'm trying to figure out what is constructive.

  27. Even for a Masters or PhD degree, I find the question, "how long did it take you?" to be insulting.

    Hmmm. I suppose things are different in the US. Downunder it's not that uncommon to ask, for example, postgrad students given that they are officially expected to finish a phd in 3 years with at most 6 months extension. Most people don't because a) they're also expected to publish lots (the rule is publish or perish here) and get tutoring/lecturing experience which all eats up their thesis writing time; and b)life happens - marriage, babies, etc.

    The assumption that blacks = uneducated is also interesting when you step outside the (North?) Americas. In a different part of the globe, it's very possible that literally ALL (or 90+%) the black people you meet are college educated, professionals, and/or upper-middle class Africans, rendering such assumptions impractical. Just goes to show that stereotyping is a learned art, which can be unlearned though it may take years.

  28. There is only one HBCU in Ohio and it wasn't anywhere near me so no one assumed I went there. I did have people assume it was easier for me to get in or get financial aid because I'm black. Funny thing is Ohio State accepted like 95% of applicants when I went so getting accepted was no great feat. Was always weird to have random white people start complaining to me about Affirmative action or ask if I've ever been discriminated against at OSU.

  29. Add to that if they haven't heard of your college, they assume it's a community college. I went to a small liberal arts college in Minnesota. Now that I'm back in Texas, I always get the question, "oh is that a community college?" I've usually responded with, "community colleges don't confer four year degrees. My school is highly ranked in its category in US News and World report and has been consistently in the top ten for at least fourteen years if not more." It's my stock statement that I've prepared and it usually shuts people up. People hear how I speak and see how I dress and yet they can still assume that my education is less than theirs. I've also been asked if I got my four-year degree from Prairie View (which despite being seen as less than by non-blacks, it has a competitive engineering program).

  30. @Rochelle/Name - I think it's presumptive to label Name's comment "self-satisfaction." I took it as a factual experience about their growing up that was part of their honest reaction to the post. In part I read it that way because I had a similar experience growing up--I'm white & grew up in a conservative, predominately white town, and I didn't know that historically black colleges existed until I was about seventeen. When I learned about them, I didn't assume they must be inferior or realize that people might think that until several years later. But that's not something that I feel or have ever felt self-satisfied about, that's just how my life was (extremely, extremely provincial).

    I also read Name's comment as not having a self-satisfied tone because Name owns up to classist assumptions and seems to be struggling with their own prejudices in good faith.

    Though I understand that self-satisfied "I didn't do that/I'm not like those white people" remarks are frustrating, and though I don't know how Name intended their comment, I don't think it's fair to label a comment like Name's as self-satisfied when there's a very good chance that it's just them saying how their life was. I think it's a good thing to be reminded to watch out for slipping into, but I'm uncomfortable with just assuming that self-satisfaction was Name's motivation.

    Assuming that implies that any time a white person says, "I was unaware of that prejudice/stereotype," they're doing it out of self-satisfaction. And sometimes they may be, but there's also a good chance, especially depending where & how you grew up, that it's being said out of honesty. Without knowing more about a person's motivation/personality, I don't think it's fair to assume that it's self-satisfaction. I'm uncomfortable with conflating honesty and self-satisfaction because I think that damages our ability to listen to each other. I heard Name's comment as just being like, "Oh, this is my reaction to that, this is my honest story," and I didn't hear denial implicit in it.

  31. @Rochelle, C:
    I think it was a fair assumption of how my comment sounded, although there was no self-satisfaction intended. When I stated I was unaware of said stereotype, I was hoping that I haven't put my foot in my mouth about it. Being ignorant of the issues around HBCUs, since there are none nearby, there may have been occasions where this ignorance led to me saying something that sounded racist--like @Victoria pointed out, my previous post. I certainly wouldn't assume someone went to an HBCU, but that for my classmates who did, I was trying to understand that decision.

  32. Add me to the list of head-shakers while reading your story. Here in the "college town" of Austin, home to not only The University of Texas, but also a well-known HBCU, the assumption is that whites go to Texas and blacks go to Huston-Tillotson.

    This is further exacerbated by anyone familiar with the rigid entrance requirements for UT. Thus, upon learning that I attended Texas, instead of being asked how long it took me to graduate, I'm often asked (to my face mind you) how I GOT INTO Texas, as if I'd somehow conned my way into some type of forbidden domain.

    I just give them The Look before replying, "the usual way," which thankfully, tends to end the conversation right then and there.

  33. Lord Jesus be some patience...


    You need to read this entire comment section, but especially paying attention to this, this, and this.

    The way Rochelle read Name's comment is the way she read it, it's valid and it's not your job to come back and interpret it for her. Name has clarified what she meant and I'm assuming understands clarity the first go round would've been the best way to go about it.

    We're all using English here, so say what you mean.

    The end.

  34. @C

    You're just the latest in a line of White people who feel the need to outline the well-intentions of a White commenter who said something that made my racism/White people behaviour senses tingle.

  35. @Rochelle:

    I've always wondered why White folks always act like they're invisible or something.

    It's really fucking funny if you think about it. White people (especially White Americans) really believe that POCs (particularly African Americans) don't know what they're like and can't identify them by the bullshit that comes flying out of their mouths or off their keyboards without needing to look straight at them.

    "How would you know if I'm White or not?"

    Because you just asked me that question, that's how.

  36. "I've asked macon, for the purposes of this post, not to prioritize responding to problematic comments, but rather to prioritize keeping absolutely ridiculous, derailing or otherwise offensive comments out. This will mean that some such comments will go through without a macon response."

    This is a great comment. We don't need to run to macon like he is our mommy, every time something offensive is said. It gives this blog a weird & dysfunctional atmosphere.

    That dean may have been feeling threatened by you on many levels--race, your school vs. his school (sounds like he does feel your school is superior), and gender. Since you do not speak like a southerner, maybe he also felt threatened by that. He was not commmunicating from a position of stregth...sounds like he was desparately trying to prove (to himeself & you) that he is as good/better than you.

    I thought my landlady was prejudiced against me because I am a single mom (we are the same race, but she is married). When I first moved in, she would literally yell at me whenever something broke & would not fix anything unless it was an emergency. After many years, I found out the other day that around the time I moved into my apartment, she started raising 3 of her grandchildren because her former DIL was an alcoholic & her son could not raise them, & the youngest child is very affected by fetal alcohol syndrome.

    These were her issues she was taking out on me, she was overwhelmed, but all these years I felt weakened by her attitude towards me, & thought it was because she looked down on me for being a single mom.

    Many times the comments that hurt or baffle me the most come from positions of weakness or fear, but at the time I think it is MY supposed weakness or deficit, & it wears me down. Oftentimes it is something not related to me.

    I am trying to teach my kids to shield themselves & believe in themselves when up against these thoughtless comments, because the world is never going to be some utopia of perfect harmony & understanding, & my kids & I do not speak & act perfectly, & neither do the people we are dealing with each day.

  37. D said,

    We don't need to run to macon like he is our mommy, every time something offensive is said.

    I don't like how you put that. I've taken on the responsibility of trying to screen out tedious, annoying, and hurtful comments; I get called out for failing to do that sometimes. I really don't think the people who do that are treating me like their "mommy."

    I do appreciate A. Smith's call for other white people to step up and act here, in part by doing some of the responding to problematic comments themselves, instead of sitting back and waiting for me or POC to do it.

  38. @RVCBard

    9.5/10 times I can be absolutely sure that someone online is White because of the things they say and how they say it, because they are things that only a White person could come out and say. It's even more funny when some of them try to pull the 'actually I'm x'....and then continue on to act all Whitey McWhite White on the thread/forum.

  39. We don't need to run to macon like he is our mommy, every time something offensive is said.

    1.That infantilizes POC; don't do that.

    2.It's kind of macon's responsibility to keep out/address offensive comments.

  40. I can tell "A. Smith" is definitely proud of attending a prestigious school. I read "Vanderbilt" so many times that it's burned into my brain.

    This has never happened to me because most students in my state, like me, attend University of Maryland. It's a pretty good university and I just like that fact that there are so many different opportunities and classes to take.

    I remember when I was applying to schools the white and black people at my church were all curious of where I was going and some assumed a HBCU. I didn't even know that such a thing existed because all I knew was I wanted to go to NYU but my parents wanted me to stay in-state.

    Some were upset because their children/grandchildren did not get accepted to Univ. of Maryland so they resented me and were all wondering/hoping (the semester before I graduate) if I would drop out. Some appear shocked when I say I am a Biological Anthropology/Pre-Medicine major and they say, "Oh that sounds like a lot of work!" Well duh...

    Anyway, their kids are all lazy and awful so they either don't make it anywhere or they drop out after the first month.

    I think that having someone assume you attended a HBCU is absolutely annoying because why would that be your only option if you were black? If anything in my comment means something to you let it be that I am proud of you for going to Vanderbilt and I don't even know you!

  41. Sorry for my terminology, Rochelle & macon D! You're both right.

    I guess I come here looking for open & honest dialogue, even if there are offensive opinons & nuances in the mix. It's kind of like sports--there have to be rules & refs, but everyone is going to get jostled at some point.

    That's just part of trying to communicate, otherwise everyone loses.

    How the original poster requested the comments to be moderated sounds like a good rule of thumb to me.

  42. @Name...

    There is nothing like: saying something that sounded racist.

    You can say something that is racist, without meaning to. But it will still be racist and you should address it.

    If it 'sounded' racist, it is racist. Intentioned or not. Deal with it, and move on.

  43. @all.
    I'm simply envious that my country doesn't have HBCU's.

    I would have jumped at the chance to attend and have another 4 years of not having to face a hostile education environment where your professors were willfully wishing me to fail and instead pf applauding my success, they grudginly accepted it after disbelieving that it could be my work.

  44. @C,
    "Assuming that implies that any time a white person says, "I was unaware of that prejudice/stereotype," they're doing it out of self-satisfaction. And sometimes they may be, but there's also a good chance, especially depending where & how you grew up, that it's being said out of honesty."

    I'm wondering why you would feel that saying "I was unaware of that prejudice/stereotype" would contribute to the conversation. It seems like either a way of saying "I'm special; I didn't think that." Or of discounting the experience of POC who encounter said prejudice/stereotype on a regular basis by trying to find places where it isn't opperating. Or not having anything particularly constructive to add but feeling a need to talk anyway (a SWPD tendency which let me say I am quite prone to myself.)

    If it really is just plain and honestly true that you haven't encountered it, why does it add to the conversation to say so? Why not just read then?

  45. I don't get the shock so much of where I went to school.

    I get more people shocked when I complain about the interest on my student loan, or the frustration at not making enough money to pay it back quickly with having a second job.

    One of my dear friends actually thought all, and I mean ALL PoC went to college for free, she had been bitching to me for months about how she didn't want her son to have to have a student loan.

    When I agreed with her and stated I was still paying mine she was flabbergasted and said, and I quote, "I thought all of you got to go to school for free!"

    I was shocked but then dismayed wondering how may other white people believed this and were of the mindset that PoC are just to damned lazy to take advantage of a FREE college education.

    I told her I wished school was free but no, we have to apply and get approved for loans just like everyone else.

  46. Luhnfindel: Ugh. yes, I have heard a fair number of White students say ignorant things like that. What depresses me is the way these myths are fed by rhetoric in White media and passed around "below the radar" (or at least below my radar) in White conversations. Um, maybe I'd better that when I hear it, I correct it. I even include the point in lectures, to the annoyance of the students who think I'm insulting their intelligence to tell them something so obvious, but there are always some who say "I didn't know that."

  47. @olderwoman,

    Wow-all I can say is keep on pointing it out. It sucks to be a broken record but you are right-if we don't keep on pointing out the obvious, people in the media who, as you say, push this nonsense will stay a step ahead of us.

  48. @Luhnfindel
    In that same vein, I get similar crap from my white relatives. They encouraged me to go to uni in the US because, apparently, not only would it be easy for me to get in 'because you're a minority' but also I'd be drowning in financial aid. -eye roll-

  49. For blacks seeking a job, particularly in this hyper-competitive market, the hbcu on their resume could be a screening out tool, like their names if they are "black sounding".

    It's a national disgrace.

  50. On the financial aid thread, I'm realizing that maybe the jump is between the correct fact that there are financial aid programs that are for underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged students, such as a donor-funded program at my Uni that provides full tuition and special opportunities to the winners,to the incorrect belief that every POC who goes to college gets a scholarship like that. Schools like to advertise these scholarships because we are trying to attract highly-qualified students of color. The advertising helps to attract not only the students who win the awards, but others who maybe wouldn't have even considered us without the visible effort to attract POC. But it perhaps gives the false impression that every POC wins one of those awards.

  51. @olderwoman, there's also an assumption that POCs get college $$ specifically for being URMs and not necessarily for merit. This can be frustrating as well. I had scholarships in undergrad and I have fellowships covering my grad school costs -- NONE are related to my race. I just happen to be a URM who is also intelligent enough to get merit-based funding. Despite that, I know that I have white peers who assume that my race is largely responsible for my success.

  52. My Education Has Nothing to Do With YouApril 19, 2010 at 6:38 AM

    There's something rather unseemly and pathetic about white people digging for information like this. I've had it happen all my life, really, especially as I stood out academically. The presumptiveness of some questions over the years burns a hole right through me sometimes. I worked my tail off to graduate in four years, worked part-time and interned during the summer, and prayed I'd land a position after graduation that would be fulfilling and paid well. To me, that's what most people want when they're in school, whether they graduate from a PWU or HBCU in four, five, six or ten years. You know, I logically get envy, as much as one can "get" a destructive emotion like this, but mix that with racism and privilege, and you have a lethal combination. I recall one woman who obviously felt goooood, almost in an orgasmic way, about telling an aspiring, friendly, and slightly naive 18-year-old (me) that she'd never do well studying economics. The place I interned that summer never knew I had to deal with this meddlesome woman's ignorance She didn't even work in my department! Even now, I still want to smack that self-satisfied grin off her face.

    More recently, someone I get along with well asked me, a 34-year-old woman, what my SAT's were after she discovered I attended an Ivy. Um, what? Didn't that conversation end senior year of high school? I cut my eyes and told her pointedly that I didn't remember. (I did, of course, but it was none of her damn business.) I was even more irritated because she deliberately asked within a group of chatty WP whose ears all went up like antennae. Worse, someone I hired recently to help manage some personal affairs deigned to "quiz" my background *after* he saw my university sticker on my modest little car, like I wouldn't know exactly what he was doing. Now, I live in D.C., near some of the richest and highly educated black people in the country, so it's hard for me to beleive that WP can go all of their lives without exposure to any of them. More, I wonder how the people who ask these questions, with skeptical eyebrows raised, presume the segue of "What do you do?" -- as in "How can you afford to pay for my services" --isn't obvious to the person seeking their services?

    I don't know how many ways this has been said on this site, but it's tiring spending the bulk of one's "outside time" (at work, in school, accessing goods and services, breathing) making certain entitled, clueless, uncaring WP feel comfortable. In fact, if I dwell on it too long, I become angry and inevitably devise ways to advertise my discomfort with said microaggressions, even if they come from "nice" (TM) people. Not pretty.

  53. I don't know how many ways this has been said on this site, but it's tiring spending the bulk of one's "outside time" (at work, in school, accessing goods and services, breathing) making certain entitled, clueless, uncaring WP feel comfortable.

    Yes. It's yet another way that they're entitled and clueless.

    swpd: insist that poc make them feel comfortable

  54. @Parsley - well, I'm one of the white guys who hadn't heard of it before. Started to post, then cancelled, then saw a few of your posts.

    I think there's a few reasons people will make "Really? I haven't seen that" posts:

    - First, and most importantly, the comments area are a lot like a conversation, and most folks are trying to build up relationships. Shared experiences and shared stories are one of the best ways to connect as individuals, so people are trying to get into the conversation. Or at least I'm pretty sure that's a large (subconscious) part of my urge to participate in the comments.

    - Second, it's a blog comments section. There's that big inviting text box up there on the page; it's just the default thing to do, you know?

    - Third, for those of us who haven't seen this particular prejudice before, knowing more about it helps identify and avoid doing similar things ourselves. So saying "I wasn't aware of that" has two purposes: one, it's a tacit request for more details (in terms of regionalism or anything like that); second, it's an opportunity to vent shock that other white folks would be such jackasses (okay, no surprise there, right?).

    Not saying any of those points mean that the contributions have a point, but at least in my case that's the motivation.

    @Mel - a question for you, hopefully not hijacking the comments (go terps, btw). Did you feel any pressure, internally or externally, to go to, say, Howard?

  55. You know, I logically get envy, as much as one can "get" a destructive emotion like this, but mix that with racism and privilege, and you have a lethal combination.

    Ahhh.... this is it right here.

    Jealousy + racism + privilege = hella problems.

    My senior year in high school, right as we were all preparing to submit our college apps (actually, many of us had already submitted some apps) the majority of my class (small class, I went to a priavte school) got involved in a scandal of sorts. A huge party was busted for underage drinking and a good portion of students got arrested. Almost all who were at the party lost positions on clubs, sports teams, etc... and of course had to report these changes to schools.

    Anyway, a lot of my fellow students did not get into their #1 choice schools. Presumptively because of these incidents. Meanwhile I got into every school I applied to. I didn't fully understand what I was dealing with as I had to have the "you got my spot because you're black" conversation more than once. At the time, I chalked it up to ignorance but looking back on it, it was WAY more than that. Jealousy + privilege + racism.

  56. @dersk

    The problem with posts that only say "oh wow, I didn't know about that" on this blog is that it suggests you're not doing a hell of a lot of analysis on why not.

    I'm from TN. I've heard of UC Santa Barbara.

    I've also heard of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Michigan State University.

    Arizona State University.

    While we know there are smaller schools in all states/areas that people from other places may not have heard of, big schools make the news.

    Howard University was the first HBCU. To have never heard about it says something and if, in your post, all you want to do is express surprise that you'd never heard of it but not want to go deeper and explore why you'd never heard of it is the issue here.

  57. @A - oh, I agree that they don't contribute if they stop at "Oh, wow, that happens?" To clarify, I was trying to look at and explain my own temptation to make posts like that as a reaction to Parsley's question.

    I'm from Southern Maryland - I know about Howard. I mentioned it specifically in my question to Mel, who's going to the University of Maryland, just as the main regional HBU.

    What I've never heard (or seen - though I haven't lived in the states since '94) is people assuming that if you're black you must have gone to a HBC. That's high school in the South and five years of Boston, for whatever that's worth. So maybe folks in Boston aren't aware of HBC's, or maybe it's that the company I worked for recruited pretty exclusively from the Ivies and MIT.

  58. @sciencegirl & funding. Yes, URM are often eligible for and get straight-up merit funding in open competitions. WP often forget this. What is also frustrating is that funding from "targeted" sources is stigmatizing even when the way the money is administered leads the people getting the "targeted" money to be as well qualified or even more qualified than others. For example, some programs first admit whom they want and then decide how to fund each person. It is a different debate about the most just way to use such funds.

  59. To address the "I've never heard of that" thread, in the famous "Invisible Knapsack" article by Peggy McIntosh, in which she lists many of the privileges of being white that occurred to her at the time she wrote it (1988), she names the following: "I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion."

    I'd say this extends to issues of concern for people of color as well. White people don't have to know anything about the life or world of people of color to get along in a de facto white supremacist society. Other white people do not chastise WP for not knowing about HBCU or a racist expectation or stereotype, so to say aloud, "I didn't know that" carries with it no fear of being judged for not knowing.

  60. "second, it's an opportunity to vent shock that other white folks would be such jackasses (okay, no surprise there, right?)."

    Yeah, but this is that problematic tendency we've been talking about on the last few threads: the "I'm the *enlightened* white person (EWP)" crap that implicitly allows the EWP off the hook.

    Which Parsley has already said above.

  61. I think the question posed to A. Smith about how long it took to get the degree was not very appropriate. I have had similar experiences, though based on gender and not race. I am a young woman just weeks away from receiving a BS in Electrical & Computer Engineering. I am one of 3 women in my graduating class of 150. Many times when older males hear what I am studying, they respond with a technical question like, "oh, so are you familiar with *** processor?" or something like that (even if this guy is NOT an engineer...). The question is completely random, and once I have answered it, they move on like nothing happened. A lot of times the question is so random and off-hand I don't know the answer and then they just kind of give me this look and proceed to tell me how important ** is, and how most engineers should know about it, and how surprising it is that I don't. Its really bizarre.

    I am not saying that race and gender discrimination are the same thing in any way. I am just highlighting the fact that some people just *can't* get rid of the thought that white men are successful professionally and no other type of person is or should be.

    **Also, on the financial aid thread, my male colleagues also think I have my school completely paid for bc I am a woman in engineering, but I have only ever gotten 1 small scholarship b/c of my gender... the rest have been merit based, loans, and my own hard-earned money.

  62. I have never met this assumption. I have received the "raised eyebrows" or the vibe of the aforementioned jealousy+racism+privilege = hatred when I mention that I have a M.Ed. It's always the "how in the hell" look of wonder, bemusement, jealousy, and insecurity when they meet me.

  63. I haven't experienced this but my friends that went to Ivies/other elites have. WP constantly engage in one-upmanship to prove superiority.

  64. "Knowing how much to tell them without telling them too much is important, and reading them correctly helps put them at ease and is necessary to ensure that I do my job well."

    You would make an exemplary Bene Gesserit.

    I really think the incredulous Dean's problem half had to do with your being female. On top of the ASSumptions and stereotypes of blackness, the female factor undoubtedly led him to presume you were emotionally frail, tied-to-home, and that you also had a child or 3. I wonder if "Are you a lesbian?" came close to coming out of his mouth. That's the usual next step in such a mind.

  65. Sometimes, stuff like this makes me wonder if well-intentioned WP, when they meet a Black person who's attended an "elite" school, view our achievements as miraculous, and I can't help feeling that way when some people I know gush over things I've done. For example, I have a really high GPA (less than 1/10 of a percentage point away from a 4.0), which is difficult to get, sure, but I wonder if people see it as even more "special" because I'm Black. Are my achievements really that phenomenal, or are they phenomenal because the person's original expectations were so low?

  66. @My: May I ask which Ivy you go to? I asked my wife (Princeton, half Jamaican and half English, grew up in Canada) and she said she's never encountered this particular swpd.

    I'll have to make sure not to ask her how much longer her PhD will take, though.

  67. My Education Has Nothing to Do With YouApril 20, 2010 at 10:31 AM


    Not sure what kind of joke you're making here at the expense my earlier post, but I went to Yale. And just because your wife hasn't experienced comparable indignities doesn't mean that others like me, or her, haven't. I hope your curiosity is satiated, sir.

  68. This comment has been removed by the author.

  69. @dersk-

    Before I begin, I waited purposefully for My Education... to come back and respond before I said something.

    Which "swpd" were you referring to? I ask, because you said "this particular" which suggests you only meant one and My Education... mentioned, in addition to the one the post was about, at least 2 others (if we want to get techinical, we could dig out 3 or 4 more, maybe).

    Another question --
    What was your purpose behind mentioning your wife said she'd never experienced such?

    None of these questions are rhetorical; I would like to know.

  70. caribbele said I think that some people unconsciously have low expectations. Simply put, students at my institution who aim for a high gpa and put in the work for it achieve it.

    I think it's a subconscious understanding of this that added to what irked me so much when that guy gave me two choices for my education.

    Let me be clear that I know both TSU and Fisk are good schools. Ok. We're clear.

    But there's this insinuation that those two schools would've been the best I could've done, with no regard to how hard I might've worked in school. No thought that I could've excelled higher than TSU or Fisk. The assumption runs deeper to being about my own mental and educational achievements which relates directly to what I'm capable of.

    Unfortunately, in the minds of many, black people just aren't capable of much that doesn't involve a handout of some sort.

  71. @R.A.

    I was reading this, wondering if there was something comprable going on in Canada. Being a clueless white person, discrimination towards aboriginals didn't even occur to me.

    What the original post led me to think about was the rivalry and relative reputations of the University of Toronto and York University. Of course they have very different histories and different selling points. But they also have different geographies, and - based only on my observations attending each - different racial/ethnic compositions, I think as a result of those geographies.

    (The UofT being downtown, and York being in a suburb that has a high concentration of African- and Caribbean-Canadians which is a hassle to get to by public transit. While the populations of both school are predominantly white, UofT has proportionately a lot more East Asian students, while York has proportionately more black students, and more South East, South West and South Asian students)

    So I'm thinking a similar thing might be going on there. And coming to think of it, just among UofT students, I would not be surprised if people assume that black graduates attended the Scarborough campus (which is considered less prestigeous than the downtown one).

  72. Caribbelle,

    Agreed. The implication is that a White person with the same achievements would have to be smart, but a Black person would have to be a genius, thereby reinforcing the idea of intelligent Blacks as an exception to the rule.

  73. The conversation in the last several comments about the idea that a black person has to be wow! a genius to perform well academically really resonates with me.

    In my first comment, I mentioned that I don't have the experience of people thinking I went to an HBCU. What I didn't say is that the #1 response I get when people hear I am going to my med school or that I'm in an MD/PhD program (or even when I studied biochem in college) is this kind of wide-eyed incredulity and usually the words, "you must be SO smart!" I find it a bit off-putting, as there's no simultaneously humble and honest way to answer that. But yes, anyway, there does always seem to be a certain element of surprise and I am very often referred to as a "genius," even though I don't really believe that I am. I also get this sort of reaction from black people (mixed with a sort of pride too), and it makes me wonder if we aren't also buying into the belief that black people aren't smart cookies too.

    @Jasmin, re: being the exception to the rule. I've definitely encountered that attitude, very explicitly stated at my school. I sit on the admissions committee for my program, and have heard some professors exclaim things about how applicants are "REALLY SMART, especially for a minority student!" ugh.

  74. Thesciencegirl,

    I know! I mean, I go to a top university, but it's not an Ivy, and I don't think it's that hard to get into (certainly not the caliber of MIT or anything like that). Most people who aren't in the Midwest (or huge college football fans) have never even heard of it. I just find it off-putting to be seen as the minority "pet", like a well-trained mutt who's beaten the odds.

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  76. I think the most frustration thing about being an academically successful POC is the disparity between your reality and the perception of your reality by WP. You know that you probably work harder to prove your excellence, despite the added stress of daily racism distracting you, and yet, all you seem to hear is how things are easier for you. This denial of my very real hard work is incredibly difficult to swallow. Somehow, all of your talent is canceled out in the eyes of many WP. I mentioned this when I blogged about Justice Sotomayor. If I may quote myself,

    "I have heard Judge Sotomayor described as an "affirmative action" case, both for her nomination (see my response above), and for her entire career trajectory. Let's really think about that for a moment. We have a woman who was raised in a poor, urban environment, by a family of immigrants. Her father had a 3rd grade education and no English skills, and he died when Sotomayor was a child. She was then raised by her single mother, who found the means to send her to a private Catholic school, in order to give her a shot at a future that the poor public school system may well have robbed her of. Sotomayor then earned entry to Princeton, where she graduated summa cum laude. So, you can argue until you're blue in the face that affirmative action got her into college (which I seriously doubt, given her demonstrated intellect), but affirmative action doesn't make anyone graduate at the top 1% of a class of Princeton graduates. She then went on to Yale law school, where she was the editor of the Yale Law Journal. I'd like to put this in stark words for you: here is a woman who, through natural intelligence and years of hard work, rose from very humble beginnings to excel at the top universities in the nation, and still, she is reduced to an "affirmative action case." It has to make you wonder just how far people of color must go to prove themselves, when even demonstrated excellence is not enough. This is the reason why Latino and black parents tell their children that they must perform even better than their white peers. Not only do people (e.g. their teachers) expect them to fail, but when they do succeed, no one is willing to acknowledge their success."

  77. @thesciencegirl

    The next time a WP asks me to explain the "black tax" (cause they watched "Something New") or they want to understand "working twice as hard to get half as far" I will direct them quickly and immediately to your last post.

  78. Thesciencegirl,

    Very well said! I hope you don't mind if I email you to ask permission to view your blog (I'll use my school email so you know it's me.)?

  79. This essay deserves to be reprinted in the New York Times' Education section. What you describe descends beneath prejudice into the realm of rudeness.

  80. Wow. I have to wonder, when people say things like this, how consciously they understand what they are really saying. I mean, I'd like to think I haven't ever been this stupidly insulting (that is, I *know* I've never asked anyone how long an undergrad degree took unless it actually came up for a reason, but I hope I've never said anything else that was similarly boneheaded). So it makes me wonder...have I said things to people because of their race without even realizing that that's what I'm doing? I'm guessing probably yes, which is truly horrifying....

  81. Good post. This was interesting to me because I haven't had the HWCU experience (probably will in grad school). But it surprised me slightly because the majority of Black graduates don't go to HBCU's.

    The other end of this spectrum is when you DO go to an HBCU (Howard) and white people invariably (unless they're involved with communities of color) say, "Oh, I've never heard of that school!" ...except Howard's in the top 100 schools in the nation. Or when they think your school isn't "diverse" because it's an HBCU.

  82. This aches to read how annoyingly unevolved folks remain. Dorothy Height, who just departed at 98, told the story of being denied Barnard because they had filled their quota of 2 black females and so she went to NYU. An African American female, I went to Williams College in the 70s.
    It saddens me to read that efforts
    to dismantle and belittle that which should be celebrated, higher learning,

  83. I consistently experience the flipside of this. Though it's hardly insulting, the way yours is, it still irks me in its close-minded leap to conclusions, and tempts me to drop in matricide, for effect.

    I grew up in the NYC area, in an upper-middle class family, all of whom graduated from Ivy League schools. And yet, I never finished 9th grade. Fortunately, I learned to say FUCK YOU at an early age.

  84. LITERALLY gasped when I read the "how long did it take you to graduate" question. I went to the University of Virginia, which is definitely trying to hold onto its PWI/good old boys' roots. As a black female, I realize that I should be relieved to not have ever been asked that question, for I do not know how I'd react. How unbelievably insulting!

  85. @trufizz

    Thank you for clearing something that up for me. I currently live in Dallas and my daughter was just accepted to UT/Austin. Since it's that time of year, people ask me where she's going and I say UT. Sometimes it's assumed I am talking about UT/Arlington, but I have had more than one (white) person upon hearing Austin say, "Oh, you mean HT?" And I say, "No, UT/Austin" (because until just now, I hadn't heard of Huston-Tillotson) and I get a very odd look which I didn't understand.


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