I’ll always be the “angry” and “unreasonable” Black student when I call out racism on my campus
They can’t stomach their own reflections, so the University is going to do away with all of the mirrors
During my first semester of law school, I struggled with acclamation into legal academia, but being at an institution invested in public interest lawyering, I shrugged it all of.
Then, the racial tensions within my first-year cohort at my University exploded after several of my colleagues complaining to Academic Affairs about our only Black professor over a mix-up with a quiz administered during our class time.
Preceding the straw that broke the camel’s back was an entire semester’s worth of deeply racially antagonistic mischaracterizations of this professor. His demeanor was “aggressive”, “discouraging”, and “hostile”. His assignments were always “excessive” or “demoralizing”. His quizzes were always “impossible” and “unlike any assessment [we’d] ever seen”, despite each quiz consisting of five non-cumulative, multiple choice questions.
The handful of Black students in my cohort, and surely our professor himself, knew that white students and non-Black students of color were waiting for a slip-up to qualify their anti-Blackness. And while I can only speak for myself, anticipating the slip-up hurt much more than when it finally came. I was prepared for when it came.
I’ve spent the last five years of my life repressing my racial trauma to transform moments of retraumatization into moments of learning for non-Black people—because if I didn’t do it, who would?
Because is it irresponsible—or even dangerous—for it not to be me, irrespective of how these moments fuel my own demons? Because who am I, if not the wielder of a mirror to the many faces and places whiteness manifests? If I’m not a human form of a system of checks and balances?
Soon, every moment of every day was spent following behind my colleagues with a mop and a bucket, cleaning up their messes. So much so, I was unprepared for the mess I found myself in.
5:33 pm. “Good evening, Indigo”, the email reads, “The following e-mail exchange below with the attached pdf was brought to the Dean and I’s attention. Are you available to meet today to discuss?”
6:15 pm. I finally get to the Dean’s office. I take not even a full sip from my water bottle before, “Indigo, what’s going on?”
A student, maintaining she’d done nothing wrong when she elected to join her colleagues in reporting our one Black professor to Academic Affairs, reached out to me directly, about what she framed as a misconstrued, isolated incident that shouldn’t be lumped in with a string of racially-tinged conduct.
I wrote to her, “Because I have yet to hear even an acknowledgment of the actual harm inflicted, I am personally unsure how it can be implied that self-reflection and self-accountability have been done by the implicated parties. I am unsure if my role within our cohort and my extracurriculars are unclear, but I am by no means an oligarch. I urge you to interrogate some of those feelings regarding how you’ve positioned me and characterized my concerns.”
Obviously doing none of the above, the recipient of my email and a number of her peers sought out administrative intervention. The irony was not lost on me.
“Well,” the Dean started, “Some of this language particularly was brought to our attention. Like, here, ‘If at this point in time there is not an understanding that the aforementioned incidents caused actual harm not merely perceived harm, the implicated parties are disqualified from taking on a facilitation role in any anti-racist programming here, not just those I’m apart of.’”
I stared at the Dean. Bewildered.
“Several students, not just the student you specifically sent this to, have come to us and the bottom line is that they feel bullied and socially isolated.”
My cheeks got hot. My chest got tight. I felt tears well up in my eyes, so I bit my inner cheek to keep them from flowing.
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. I felt myself slipping in and out. I was barely present enough to nod at socially appropriate intervals to show I was paying attention, but it at least seemed like my “I hear you” and “Mhm” were on cue.
“However, there’s also a power dynamic here.”
My ears rang.
“You’re particularly influential and intimidating Indigo… as someone who commands attention within your cohort. You exude this power… Like, here you wrote ‘interrogate ourselves’. Interrogate ourselves? Not everyone knows how to do that—to sit silently with themselves.”
They can’t stomach their own reflections, so the University is going to do away with all of the mirrors?
“We just think you maybe need to circle back and think about how your colleagues are feeling.”
The morning after the meeting, when my alarm went off at 7:30 am, I hit “Stop” and curled into the corner of my bed.
I felt my chest tighten again and I let the tears start to flow.
For how many days it’s been since orientation and I’m still being misgendered. For all of the invasive questions about my lived experiences. For every time I had to rationalize my anger, whether it be lesbophobia, transantagonism, or racism, by offering a source list for my oppression. For the energy I’d wasted not just on this incident, but on all of the dozens of them.
The tears not stopping any time soon, I “circled back” per administration’s recommendation.
“I believe it to be the most healthy resolve if I return to my role as a member of the student body. Meaning, I intend to step back from my role here and to cease being involved in any of these communications going forward.
I find myself in a very complicated headspace with the knowledge that, had I felt safe and supported enough, I likely would have initiated a meeting with those likely now in a state of emotional distress rather than sending any digital correspondence at all. Some of my feelings of lack of support and lack of safety stem from my previous experiences within higher education institutions and I do not fault anyone for the baggage I brought in on my own. I hold myself accountable to healing and resolving those wounds on my own. However, a significant amount of these feelings also stem directly from painful experiences I’ve had since enrolling here, like this one. It is hard to sit with the knowledge that the amount of myself I felt safe enough to share with my colleagues elicited such a deeply callous response with little ponderance on why this was the avenue they sought…”
What I mischaracterized as “growing pains” when I first began law school, now run as one single thread, anger.
Anger that I’d spent the morning not only in tears, but writing a forfeiture of my on-campus involvement.
Anger that the morning after that meeting I couldn’t have just stopped by Academic Affairs or Student Affairs and asked why it is that they insist on dignifying each and every complaint about an “angry”, “unreasonable” Black member of the campus community.
Anger that I couldn’t take advantage of the limitless free sessions with my University’s in-house therapist to vent through how frustrating it is that I cannot even actually utilize my access to mental healthcare because of the very reasons I should utilize it.
Anger that I couldn’t finally pop into my cohort’s Whatsapp Group Chat to ask how and why it is that they’ve come together to form such an insidious, self-sustaining petri dish of rabid pseudo-intellectualism and paternalism.
Anger that this all runs so deeply that I’m surveilling myself, strategizing my self-neglect and how many times this semester I can afford to withdraw from the abuse inducing it.
Anger that there is no remedy in sight.
Indigo, who uses both they, them and he, him gender pronouns, is a Black Puerto Rican lesbian essayist and recovering community organizer. While pursuing their undergraduate degree, Indigo served as the inaugural president of their campus’ Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition, organizing educational program on social, economic, and political issues impacting primarily Black and Latinx queer and/or trans persons. Currently, Indigo is pursuing a juris doctorate degree at CUNY School of Law.