To the Population of White Liberals at Princeton,
I call your name to ask you what time it is because my phone is dead. You don’t respond. I call your name the second time, remembering who you are despite having first met you less than 20 minutes ago. I know you’ll never remember mine until I repeat it to you for the 12th time, until I show you my prox and help you sound it out. There is something about societal invisibility that makes me observant of all that is around me.
The professor brings up a topic related to minorities. Me, being the only minority in the room, and having no interest in speaking for my whole community, suddenly feel the weight of your eyes all over me. One of you locks eyes with me. Another one of you suddenly notices how “different” my hair is. This exposure occurs without my consent, it makes me uncomfortable, like I am a rat being analyzed in a lab. Yet outside of this setting not one of you recognizes me when I wave hello.
Your mutual obsession and disdain for my black body is a phenomenon that I always knew existed. I cited it in debates with teachers and friends, wrote about it in public and private settings. But now as a Princeton freshman, trying to acclimate to this exorbitant academic and social environment, I am acutely aware of the role that my social doubleness has on my ability to truly enjoy the Princeton experience.
It’s the overarching idea that my visibility and invisibility is not up to me, but to you. You get to decide when my presence is valuable. My existence is solely for the purpose of affirming your morality and “wokeness” in the moments where you determine that being aware of my blackness is most beneficial to you. I never exist to you as a human being with desires, dreams, and needs. I am your Google search engine for when you want to verify your facts about the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Obama administration, but rarely do you stick around to hear about my passions, the things that make my life worthwhile, and the things that sadden me. I am your diary when you want to vent about how “fucked up” the world is, and how racist some of your white friends are, as if I don’t already know.
There are times when I don’t want to know about the racist thing your roommate said, or how everyone you know (except for you of course) voted for Donald Trump. I don’t only exist to ratify your attempts at political correctness. You look for my approval when it comes to your political viewpoints, but ignore me when I want to share my opinion on a movie, song, or type of food. Don’t get me wrong, discussing social issues is one of my favorite pastimes.I love getting into debates inside and outside of the classroom about the condition of marginalized people in the United States, and this topic is something I am ready and willing to dedicate the rest of my life to. In these discussions I feel a great sense of belonging with you all, as it is one of the only times where I feel I am actually a Princeton student.
However, I can’t possibly have these conversations 24/7, and at the times when I have needed you to see me in a different light, to see me as a human being who has other things going on in her life, you all have shown me that the only important thing about me is my blackness, and the convenience of your proximity to it.
Someone Whose Name You Still Won’t Remember