For those of you who may not know, PWI stands for predominately white institution. It can be used to refer to colleges and universities, but in this instance I use the term to refer to my grade school experience. I was born and raised in Loudoun County, Virginia. Specially Western Loudoun, which is as white as Loudoun gets. Ironically, the home that I live in now lays upon land that my family has owned since the mid 1800’s. Needless to say, I can guarantee my family was there before the white families working government jobs started flooding in.
Ever since I entered the public school system, I was usually either the only black child in my classroom or one of few. That being said, I was consumed with “whiteness.” My teachers were always white, the students were always white and the main topics of discussion were about things that were white. In my small graduating class of 300 something students, there were approximately 10 black students. Anyone could quickly rattle off the names of black students within seconds. When I graduated high school and attended college at FIT, there was also a low population of black students. Now that I am student at George Mason University, I have the privilege of attending one of the most diverse universities in the nation and the largest public university in Virginia. While yes Mason can still be referred to as a PWI, the white population is still under 50% and the remainder of the statistic is occupied by students of diverse backgrounds.
Since I have been at George Mason, I have been able to see what diversity really looks like. Sadly, this is the first time I have ever really witnessed it. A multitude of students speak different languages and are from different countries all over the world. Not only am I experiencing worldly diversity but diversity within my own race and within myself. I am so proud to say that many of my friends are from diverse ethnic backgrounds. I am so enriched with culture each and everyday, it is the most incredible thing. Even in my classes like Intercultural Communication and African American Literature I am getting to have discussions about parts of myself that I did not know existed.
However, I still face the same problem that I have faced all my life. And I know I am one of many who face this same stereotype. I am a young black woman, who was raised by two black parents and I still get accused of being “too white.” Before this point in my life, I would say “No, I’m just being myself.” While that is true, after coming to George Mason I now have a different perspective. I can now say “That’s what I was surrounded with my whole childhood so that was all I grew up knowing.” When everyone you are surrounded with is white and that’s all you know, naturally that becomes a part of you. I never had many black friends or friends of other ethnicities not because I didn’t want to but simply because they were not there. There were so many times as I child that I wished I went to a school with predominately black children so I could learn more about “blackness” and “how to be black” so I could stop being asked why I acted so white. If I had a nickel for every time I’d been asked that question, I’d be wealthier than our current “President”!
Now I am finally at a point in my life where I can define my own blackness. It’s not how I was raised, but what I am learning now. My educational experience at Mason has been so much more than just textbook knowledge and it’s something that I cannot put a price tag on (even with my exorbitant amount of student loan debt). As I’m growing into a young women, I can see these changes in myself. I still love my white friends, nothing against them of course. And I will still always have that part of “whiteness” that has been imbedded in me since childhood. However, now I am learning how to let go of the judgement and discrimination that has plagued me from “You’re the whitest black person I know” and other blacks constantly reminding me how I don’t fit into the black community. Sometimes I think maybe if had darker skin or a different voice, maybe people would take me seriously as a black woman.
The point of this story is, now that I am in such a diverse space, I have come to learn why George Mason was the best fit for me and why this has become apart of my journey. I may still be viewed as “too white” but it’s not how other people see me, it’s how I see myself. I am learning and experiencing more “blackness” than I ever have in my life and I finally feel like I may have a chance in the racially charged society. My version of blackness may be different than other’s versions of blackness and that is okay! I am sick of these strict race roles, these strict gender roles and all of the other strict guidelines for how one is supposed to live their life. At the end of the day I am black. That should be enough to be accepted as black. I wasn’t raised in the same black culture as a lot of black people and there’s nothing I can do to change that except take the time to explore it now. I am still a work in progress, but I can now say that I am proud black woman, who will define her own sense of “blackness.”