There’s a certain way in which I think the black community is developed to assist one in escaping the everyday mundane stressors that come from experiencing racism,” one of my sources from last week’s feature on black queer men at Stanford said to me during our interview.
Michael used this explanation to shed light on his recent preference towards men of the African Diaspora.
“My focus on African-American men does partially come out of the experiences I’ve had at Stanford, but it also comes out of a need to feel as if the person I’m with is treating me and viewing me as an equal, so that I’m fully allowed to engage with them and be on the same page.”
Michael’s words resonate deeply with me and frame the development of this week’s column.
In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s shooting, I was paralyzed by my inability to communicate the depth of the trauma I felt having witnessed yet another public and unjust death of an innocent black male. The larger source of my paralysis was the despair I felt having to live with and react against a justice system that has historically failed black men.
This despair, coupled with the loneliness I described feeling spring quarter, led me to make a radical shift in own trajectory on campus – academically, extracurricularly, socially.
I have found myself feeling radically more comfortable with being black.
Around the same time, I switched my academic program to Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity, preassigned to live in Ujamaa House, applied to spend winter quarter in Cape Town, and joined the Stanford NAACP – all rooted in a desire to connect with people and communities that can better sympathize with and respond to my experiences.
Because the black community and black culture can appreciate the experience of negative racial discrimination – whether real or perceived – my preferences have shifted to interacting with black and ethnic communities and consuming more black literature and media.
Erykah Badu, in particular, has become a symbol of my new, black refuge. Singing of the erasure of African (American) history and culture, our struggle for our men and women to empower themselves, the challenges of loving and being loved within such contexts, and our individual and collective excellence, her music has been therapeutic. (My conversion to Baduizm may receive its own full column soon.)
All of these changes came as a huge surprise to my family – my siblings sometimes tease that I’m not ‘black’ enough or express surprise that I am interested in some areas of black culture. But beyond surprising them, these changes also surprised me.
I entered Stanford as someone who was willing to embrace the culture of ‘diversity’ in our university, as long as it meant that I didn’t have to interact with a community I thought I already knew – the black community.
Uncomfortable with my racial identity in the context of my intellectual, social and cultural identity, I avoided the sites that largely house Stanford’s black community – the Black Community Services Center and Ujamaa House.
It was not until I completed an Alternative Spring Break trip last school year (in the height of the media attention to Trayvon’s death) that I came to two major realizations: 1) before the trip, I could count the number of black friends I had on one hand; and 2) I didn’t need to look only to the black community to find people with whom I could express anxieties about the injustice of our world and feel solidarity.
ASB opened my eyes to a world of students from all backgrounds interested in conversations about social justice along lines of race, gender, sexuality, and class. About half of my group were CSRE majors and about half had lived in Ujamaa House at some point, regardless of race.
Finding a place of love and respect with this group and within the larger communities was pivotal to helping me come to a place of loving and respecting myself and the racial identity I inherit.
Fast-forward to the beginning of September: my CSRE-Badu-black-love regimen had all held up well over the summer – when I was removed from the issues of alienation I’d experienced on campus – but I could not tell to what degree the changes I’d made were real and lasting and to what degree they were buffers for an inevitable fall.
Three weeks in, I think the optimism I now hold is grounded.
Two of my courses are led by African Americans–Modern African American History being the first course I’ve ever had that a black male has led, and Queering Afro-Futurism being the first course I’ve had since middle school that a black female has led.
Ujamaa House has shown itself so far to represent the notion that people from all backgrounds can care about and talk about minority issues and how we as a society might address inequality.
And it was only today that I noticed how the Black Community Services Center, (‘the Black House’) has already been the site of very different activities.
Sitting in an NAACP core meeting Sunday afternoon discussing our goals for the year and visions for the future, it took me a while to realize that just hours before, I’d been dancing (which I rarely do) and enjoying it (also rare) with students and alumni at the homecoming ‘Block Party.’ And just a day before that, I’d had the chance to meet the founder of Black and Queer at Stanford and gather with alumni of the group, spanning thirty years.
I don’t wish to paint a picture perfect portrait – as I wrote last week about ‘twisting the screw,’ I will dig a little deeper into my experiences within our black communities – but I can so far describe a sense of ease and comfort that I had yet to feel at Stanford.
Contact Kristian at email@example.com.