Black in America
This memory will certainly piss a lot of people off. It may even win me few more hidden enemies. But the truth is the truth and since I'm no stranger to being an outcast, I really don't care. I will skip the timeline a little bit and fast forward to my days as a college student. I didn't go to college right after high school because I didn't think it was possible. College in America is incredibly expensive, so much so that most people can’t afford to go without incurring debt. Because my family was already on the poverty line, the idea of college seemed like a pipe dream.
At the time, my best friend was a guy named Vincent Black. Today, he is happily married to a guy named Roger, but before he had come to terms with his homosexuality, he was dating a girl whose father was in charge of getting more black people into John Carroll University. I went to his house once with Vince to visit. The man, Mr. Oleksiak, asked me about college and where I wanted to go. I explained to him that I had no plans because I would never be able to afford it. That night he promised me that if I went to his school, he would make sure that I found a way to pay until I graduated. He also suggested that while I was waiting, I attend the Cuyahoga Community College and earn credits that I could transfer later instead of sitting around idly for a year.
Although we graduated high school in the same year, Vince had gotten accepted to John Carroll a year earlier than I. So, I decided to visit him there to check out the school and see if it was really the place I wanted to spend the next several years. Remember when I told you in an earlier post that there is no story about myself that would be complete without the discussion of racism? It is such a large part of the black American experience, and it is heavily felt on the inside as well as the outside. Despite many orthodox black views on what it means to be black, the truth is being black is about always having to question one's own blackness and society's reaction to us as black people. I don't think there's any other group on the planet that is subject to this kind of psychological bombardment.
The most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life is the phrase, “you're not black enough” It doesn’t hold up in American Society, where society we are treat as a black person no matter how you perceive ourselves. It is naive to have any delusion that you are safe from racism in America, if you are black in America. There are also many white people who deny the existence of racism and say that it is simply a figment of the black person's imagination. Some even say that we are living in a post racial society and that any perceived racism is something that the person created themselves. I do admit that some people see boogeyman when sometimes there are none, but the idea that racism does not exist in America is as laughable as telling someone they are not black enough. If you don't believe me then ask the millions followers who rallied around Trump that were galvanized by racist ideals. But racism is not solely owned by white people.
I have a lot of white friends who I dearly love, and I have been ridiculed and shunned by many black people because of it. Make no mistake I do not give a fuck. I believe in the beauty and humanity of each person as an individual, even while recognizing the social disease of racism. Should I shun those who have been kind to me simply to fit in or to adapt to an ideal ? I really don't think so. Nor does it mean that I cannot see the poison is and duplicities head of racism hiding in the shadows of America. I have walked the streets of my own country and I have not been unscathed.
When I went to John Carroll University for the first time, I noticed it there was a big problem. I saw it in the contrast between the student body and the staff. 99.99% of the cooks, cleaners, and maintenance staff were black while 99.5% of the student body and 100% of the administration were white. I felt like I had walked into a pre-Civil War southern plantation. It was so obvious that it froze me in my tracks immediately. I pointed it out to Vince, but he did not seem to notice anything wrong. In fact, no one seemed to think anything was wrong with the situation. Since I was the only black person that wasn't working as a servant, there was no one else to talk to or ask about it. On my way into the University that day I was also harassed by a security officer who stopped and frisked me and asked me many pointless questions. It was obvious he felt I didn't belong.
Because of all of this, I thought I would rather eat hot shards of glass than attend John Carroll. Mr. Oleksiak convinced me that it was in my best interest to attend his university. He asked me a question, “what can you do about the injustice that you see? You can help me to change it.” The truth is I didn't really have a choice. My grades were not the best in high school, but they were not the worst either. They were just mediocre enough for me not to be able to get a fancy scholarship to any university. Only the most academically exceptional of the poor we're given a chance to join the mediocre middle class and wealthy. Because I did not know how to work the system to find money enough to finance my education, going to John Carroll University was my only opportunity to go to college at all. I had no choice but to help Mr. Oleksiak change the system. I'm not really sure how much change I brought though.
During my first years, my friends were Vince’s friends. Although Vince and I were close since high school, we never become roommates. All transfer students were placed in a dorm off campus and automatically assigned a roommate. My first roommate and only roommate was a guy by the name of David Maher. Despite the fact that we were living in the 90s, he was deeply in love with 1960s hippie culture. We used to call him hippie man. All of his friends became my friends. I spend many days playing hacky sack with them on the quad or listening to really far out psychedelic rock and roll. Because I love the exploration of new cultures and ideas and ways of expression, I was completely hypnotized by it all. I even went with Dave to a Grateful Dead concert. That was a mind-blowing experience as well . It felt like I had entered some sort of other dimensional carnival.
It wasn't until my junior year that more black people began to enroll in the school. Mr. Oleksiak, was very committed to his goal of diversifying the student body and he was good at it. He believed in his mission very deeply and dedicated his entire life to providing opportunity to underrepresented people, including my people. In any walk of life, the folks who you first meet become the circle that you eventually spend time with. Because I was the only black person at the university for a long time, almost all of my friends were the people who I had meant when I first enrolled, white people, one Belizean beauty, and Japanese exchange students. The new black students never accepted this. Behind my back they would say horrible things about me. They called me traitor, Uncle Tom, and Oreo. There was a beautiful black girl I tried to date but she shunned me because she belonged to the group that called me names. I went on one date with a white girl who was the captain of the track team. She shunned me too because she was afraid to be seen with me in public. First girl I ever fully dated was a Japanese girl who did not care one bit about all of the racial politics that were going around. Know this, few things sting more painfully or leave a deeper scar than being rejected by your own people. But I was not about to denounce my friends simply because somebody else believed I should. So, I remained in exile from the newly formed black community inside my school for the remainder of my student days. Unfortunately, that would not be the only time in my life that I would face such an exile, but that story will be saved for another time perhaps.
Eventually, the students, who were there because of the life work of Mr. Oleksiak, just as I had been, rose up against him. They didn't know the history of the school and how much of his blood went into Breaking the invisible barrier that was meant to keep us out and keep us ignorant. They didn't understand his sincerity and conviction in doing what was morally right. They began to complain to the University that it was unfair that an old white man should be in charge of multicultural affairs and diversity. Their voices grew so loud that the university fired Mr. Oleksiak. At least that was the story I was told many years after I had graduated. I was devastated again by the cruelty of racism.
If you are white and using this post as some sort of vindication for your own racism, then you are an idiot . If you are black and feeling enraged because I shared this experience with the public, you're an idiot too. This is my life, and it is happened in exactly the way that I described it give it take a few fuzzy details lost in memory. We all have stuff to work on. We are all flawed.
There is no denying it. Racism is at the very core of the American conscious. That is the one thing I've always hated about my country.