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I’m a junior at CU Boulder. But more importantly, I’m a woman — a woman of color. I’ve grown to know what it means to be a black and mixed-race woman in America, and I know exactly what that means on this campus. How I identify my race and gender define me every day. It affects how I am treated by my government, workplace and educational institution.
CU Boulder, with its smiling token minority on the cover of every brochure and banner and its rather meager measures of inclusion, would have you believe that it’s a hub for a post-racial society in the center of liberal Boulder, Colorado. If you’ve been here for as long as I have, or have simply been through a campus tour, you’d know that they’re lying straight to our faces.
What CU Boulder doesn’t tell you is that their idea of “diversity” is a 75 percent white undergrad population, 83 percent white graduate population, and 82 percent white faculty population — a faculty which is also 64 percent male.
These statistics are overwhelming on paper and even more overwhelming in reality. Walking through campus has become quite the experience for me, since I stick out like a sore thumb. That’s where the name of this column, Black Girl in a Blizzard, comes from — a stark opposite to the “white bird in a blizzard” or “polar bear in a snowstorm” concept that has been used in modern art and pop culture. But us black folk, and other students and teacher of color, also have something in common with the white bird or polar bear — we are all a mystery.
On this campus, we get the question “what are you?” or “where are you from? No, where are you from from” every week, if not every day. Our “unfamiliar” hair is touched by white people without permission, and we are looked to in classes when topics of race inevitably arise.
We are the butts of jokes in overheard conversations and the models of costumes at Halloween parties. We are the people of cultures they love to take from but hate to accept. We are the swine or the fetishes of white dating pools.
But what’s even worse than being the mystery of a college campus and, ultimately, a nation is being simultaneously invisible. Minority invisibility occurs when institutions are run by white people, for white people. Minorities simply become numbers that just barely meet quotas.
Invisibility happens when classmates ignore the importance of race and are unwilling to consider other perspectives but that of white privilege. It is when people dismiss racism — both blatantly and subtlely
When I first came to this school two years ago, I didn’t want to stick out any more than my skin, hair, or other features already did; I held my tongue and passed off horrifically racist events as anomalies or misunderstandings — events like people crossing streets and whispering “black people” when my friends and I approached them or managers following me in grocery stores asking if they can “help me find anything,” when no one else seemed to need any “help.”
I thought I’d keep my head down so that white people would like me.
But something changed around the time Donald Trump was gaining traction in his political campaign and I saw the red hats worn by peers that were supposedly friends. I began to see discrimination and microaggressions for what they actually are — racism.
While I have always been proud to be black, it became much more prevalent in my life when I started college. I have found a community here, with the woman who personally thanked me for speaking up in class because it had been “a lonely road” for her as one of few black female English majors. Undergraduate and graduates students have emailed me to explain their own related experiences in response to my article on what it’s like to be black at CU.
Black men have explicitly told me they make it a point to show their support and love for black women on this predominantly white campus. Women commiserated with me over the lack of salons in Boulder that can do natural hair.
As I became more aware, more appreciative, more united with my race and people, I not only realized that I have to speak up against racial injustices, I began to recognize the shortcomings of mainstream, white feminism. While I still label myself a feminist – because feminism in its ideal, true form is feminism for women of color, LGBTQ+ women, poor women, disabled women, old women and young girls – this column is about womanism.
For those unfamiliar to the term, it was invented by Alice Walker to separate herself, and other women of color, from the whiteness that feminism historically exemplified (namely in the ignorance that it held in relation to the interaction between race, gender and class in voting rights and women in the workplace).
In Walker’s words, “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender,” meaning that womanism is deeper and more inclusive than mainstream feminism.
White women cannot speak to the experiences of black women, but what they can do is be mindful that our experiences are different and help fight for rights, both formal and informal, that white women might already have but that we do not.
A critique of intersectionality has been that the bar keeps being raised higher and higher for what isn’t “problematic.” To that, I say: nothing is perfect, but there is always room for standing with those who are mistreated by society, and a higher and higher bar just means we have to be improving our movements.
Black Girl in a Blizzard won’t be perfect either, but it is meant to be a column that stands with all marginalized communities.
I’m owning being a Black Girl in a Blizzard of white students. This column is an invitation to white folk to learn about black culture and black issues, like cultural appropriation, colorism, colorblindness and discrimination, with an open mind. But it is also a love letter to my people of color — especially my women of color.
If you haven’t already, I hope you find your voice. But for now, maybe you can relate to mine.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Lauren Arnold at firstname.lastname@example.org.