As Princeton students, we are often reminded that due to our privileged positions, we are also the perfect candidates – that’s right: presidential candidates, senatorial candidates, and even big consulting firm candidates. Our leadership potential is assumed upon entry, and perhaps this is why we sacrifice everything from our youth to normal sleeping habits. As someone engaged with the tides of activism in its many forms – from social media activism to grassroots organizing I have come across a large range of people interested in changing the world. A great number of those I run across are college students or graduates.
However, because the average American still cannot afford to attend college without incurring massive student debt, folks who attend four year colleges often get categorized as part of the “elite”. Marxian scholars would even characterize such figures as part of the “petit bourgeoisie”. This is despite the fact that there are many students at schools like Princeton who come from low income backgrounds, receive full financial aid, and work multiple jobs. Unsurprisingly, this is especially true for students of color and more specifically, black students. The dynamics of race and class are more evident from within Princeton, yet from an outsider’s perspective, by enrolling at Princeton one is alienated from the proverbial masses.
My mother’s Buddhist shrine
is a cheap, improvised thing –
found at East Meets West
(two aisles down from the healing crystals and New Age sex toys),
arranged over gold dollar-store table cloth,
draped over the nightstand from my parents’ first American bedroom,
drawers mostly blank envelopes and binders full of old utility bills.
This past summer, I decided to be a tourist in my own city. A born-and-bred New Yorker, however, I have learned in my nineteen years to avoid crowded sights such as Times Square and Midtown like the plague if I wish to keep my sanity. I discovered a new way to enjoy a piece of New York’s cityscape: church hopping. Churches, ornate and unapologetically enormous in a city well-known for its expensive real estate, are numerous, aesthetically pleasing, and perhaps best of all, free for everyone. Rich, poor, bold, meek, native, or foreigner—all are welcome to the physical manifestations of New York’s strong Catholic community.
I have used the word “strong,” but it is perhaps not as strong as it once was. Catholics leaving the Church for a non-religious life, or even one of atheism, is no longer news. Feeling isolated from the Catholic Church’s traditional stances or simply no longer interested in the banalities of a life of prayer and weekly Mass, many American Catholics are not as “Catholic” as they once were generations past. The Archdiocese of New York, which administers to New York’s Catholic churches, schools, and the community at large, has responded accordingly. Four years ago, the Archdiocese launched its “Making All Things New” campaign, a euphemism for closing churches and combining parishes to cut costs in the face of a dwindling base of support among New Yorkers. Sunday Mass at the Church of St. John the Martyr, where I cried as a newborn baby, drew in my coloring books in the pews as a toddler, and altar-served as an awkward pre-teen, became a thing of the past when the church shut its doors in 2015. However, it remains standing and intact, a silent beacon of what once was on New York’s Second Avenue.
My parents taught me that image is everything
that apples bruised and brown
are always the last to be picked
always assumed to be rotten. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
The bass comes in – high and bright. The steady, slow knock of the snare. Simple, clean, groovy. In true R&B fashion, this tempo makes you want to move your head and snap your fingers keeping your hips still. The bass dips quickly, bringing the mood down. The tone is a bit solemn now, but still groovy. In the background Solange Knowles sings passively the words, “One for us.” The keys enter with a fresh, simple progression and, just as they simultaneously, Solange simultaneously inhales in anticipation of delivering the thirteenth heartfelt message from her newest album A Seat at the Table. Continue reading
This past semester was my hardest semester at Princeton thus far. As a junior, I was confronted with taking five classes for the first time, having to think about my independent research, producing independent research, attending to a more rigorous work schedule, the thought of actual post-graduation plans, familial tensions, maintaining entire relationships and, of course, Continue reading
“All kinfolk ain’t skinfolk” – Zora Neale Hurston
When faced with the astounding fact that there are very few black folks at your institution, any black person may initially seem like a sibling. I remember when I first arrived at Princeton and immediately had this urge to join the Black Student Union. I was simply not used to being around many non-black people, considering my predominantly black hometown. I assumed that by joining the Black Student Union, I would find unity in just being in a room with people with mocha, caramel, burnt sienna skin like mine. As fellow black people, we could understand an arena like Princeton in a way that a non-black person could not. Who else could understand inside jokes about “black culture” and how difficult it is being a black Princetonian sometimes? As a first year, I did not consider or find it particularly relevant that just because someone “looked like me” (which is complicated because black people are perhaps some of the most aesthetically diverse people in the United States), did not mean they had my best interests at heart or even considered our fates aligned. Only later I began to question what words like “community” and “unity” meant, especially in such crucial times when the idea of fictive kinship is perhaps the biggest roadblock to a dialectical understanding of racial community. Continue reading
Whenever another story breaks of the police murdering a Black person I bake two sweet potato pies. This ritual developed slowly and I’m still not quite sure when it became a habit. My first time baking pies in an exercise in grief happened more as a result of circumstance than anything else. Continue reading
This essay was written three years ago on Martin Luther King Day in Oxford, UK.
Today is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday: January 15th, 2015.
I woke up at noon and scrambled to make myself presentable enough to eat in the dining hall. I lingered in front of the mirror, contemplating what to do with my hair. I hadn’t braided it last night, resulting in increased volume and loose, wild curls. My grandma, a Southern woman born and bred, would’ve called it “bushy.”