OPINION: Racism through the perspective of an African-American graduate student

No place in the U.S. is exempt from racism, especially SIUE and the Metro East.

I live in a world where society has taught me to accommodate the comfort of others before my own. Whether it be listening to white people use the N-word in various settings, watching in dismay as white people thrust their fingers into my moisturized kinks and coils or responding with shock to police officers harassing me and my friends, I am no stranger to being on the receiving end of racism.

Six percent of campus’ graduate-student population is made up of African Americans. An even smaller percentage is female African-American graduate students. I was taking a research methods course last spring. My topic focused on social media motives and whether or not people care about credible sources in an era of fake news.

My professor liked the idea. I told him that I wanted to focus on an underrepresented African-American student population on campus. African-American undergraduate students make up 15 percent of the 14,000 students in attendance here. He discouraged me from using this demographic initially. He was worried they would not have cellphones or access to social media platforms for my research study.

In the research I completed leading up to my proposal, including a study from the Pew Research Center on Internet & Technology, there were no statistics to suggest African Americans in college were unable to access technology like their white counterparts. Everywhere you go on campus, everyone is looking at a phone screen. 

There was no statistical basis for what he was insinuating about the black demographic on campus. I went on to complete my research without a hitch. This type of situation is what I envision when I think of  racial bias incident on campus. Leaving a racist note, painting a Confederate flag on the Rock or scratching a homophobic slur onto a car go beyond a racial bias incident and need more attention than just a strongly-worded email.

Here is a story to illustrate what it is like to be a black person in America. Just recently, I left SIUE and drove home. I live approximately 25 minutes away from campus. I exited the highway, and when I made a left turn into my neighborhood, a car made a sharp left turn to follow me.

Initially, I thought this was a car that was going to drive around me. Whoever was operating the vehicle was riding my bumper to the point that I thought they would rear-end me. It occurred to me after five minutes that I was being followed.

I started making random turns and the car behind me continued its pursuit. My mother always warned me about being followed. I was terrified to the point where I didn’t think to call 911. I eventually gave up and drove home, parked my car and turned off my headlights, all the while the car was following my every move.

To my dismay, when the car pulled up beside me, I saw it was a police car. I had done nothing wrong. I initially drove the speed limit, but drove five miles over the limit in an effort to get away from the police car following me. I had no idea it was a police officer following me the entire time.

The officer proceeded to ask me why I had been driving like it was an effort to get away from him. I didn’t want him to think that I was up to no good so I told him I feared for my life, I did not know it was a police car following me and I had been working all day. I also added that I was a full-time student just trying to make it home.

The officer said he should have arrested me that night. He went on to say that it would have been a shame if there would have been a news story about my arrest the next day and told me to have a good night. The only encounter I have had with a police officer that resulted in legal action is one speeding ticket.

To this day, I do not believe that all police officers are bad. This does not excuse the fact that black people suffer greatly at the hand of police brutality. From the perspective of an African-American graduate student, I believe that change starts in the hands of those who will shape the future. America is in desperate need of more tolerance and understanding.

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