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Reality Check: Being _____ at Stanford, Part One

Rummaging through my inbox, it occurs to me that most of the mailing lists I’m on don’t provide me with exceedingly valuable e-mail. People asking for baking supplies, informing similarly interested people about events, guilt-tripping others into attending talks, guarantees of food to lure underclassmen out of their dorms. All pretty standard. But one e-mail caught my attention, or rather, bit my retinas and refused to let go. “You don’t understand what I go through being…BLACK AT STANFORD” it asserted. I mulled over the subject and punchline. I put it in my “Interesting” folder.

“Being Black at Stanford” looks to be a collection of interviews with various people around campus, in the spirit of CNN’s “Black in America.” Its self-proclaimed goal is to “display the perspectives and experiences of the Black Community at Stanford” and “not only promote further understanding of Black experiences, but also foster conversation regarding diversity on campus.” The poster includes several melanin-rich faces in front of the Stanford “S,” looking in pixilated splendor off to the left.

I’m not even sure how to respond to the prompt “what’s it like to be black at Stanford.” Honestly, I haven’t been anything else at Stanford, so I don’t have much to compare it to. It’s strange to think that being a certain color here is somehow radically different from being that color out in the real world. Why can’t I see Stanford from the point of view of another race? I can see the world from several different races’ perspectives. Most likely it’s the issue of time. I don’t necessarily have enough exposure to any individual aspect of life here for very long, so I don’t brood over what could possibly go differently. Classes end, roommates change and I rarely, if ever, see the same person twice in a day.

Really, one of the only constants throughout my time here at Stanford, as a black person, has been the black mailing list. A separate entity from the black community (though you’d never know this from reading some of the threads posted to it), the Diaspora was my fate upon choosing to attend this school. It’s usually a very productive list. I get kept up to date on opportunities from the Society of Black Scientists and Engineers, see what the black pre-meds are up to, get another venue for buying/selling textbooks and receive invitations to top-notch discussions on topics pertaining to the black community on campus and abroad.

And sometimes, it’s not so productive. I’ve traipsed across conversations about whether or not we as a community should stick up for Michael Vick, how to make sure Antoine Dodson costumes are perceived correctly on campus, why selling chocolate vaginas to raise money is racist. Now, I’m not saying that opinions can be wrong, but it is frustrating to have so useful a forum exploited for vehement, small-scale issues that make little to no sense. Maybe it’s just the nature of the beast: you see a couple people wearing bandanas and waving rolled up pieces of paper on campus, you jump to making generalizations about the state of your race in the world. Stanfordians are very fond of extrapolating events into the larger concepts they stem from, a knack that improves papers but sets up situations where people are actively looking to apply large-scale answers to small-scale problems.

This willingness of people to identify transgressions wouldn’t be an issue if there were counterpoints and other mediatory methods in place to ensure that people don’t just run willy-nilly around, trying to apply last night’s reading to everything indiscriminately. Sadly, the Diaspora is what its members make of it, and the thread about Michael Vick won’t get any new angles in it until someone throws some in there. In many ways, being black and on the Diaspora is a constant game of checking to make sure you aren’t being lumped into an opinion you don’t agree with. Silence is consent, and vocalization can be either consent or dissent. I can’t, however, watch the list 24/7. There are times when I can’t respond to anything for days, and can only impotently hope that someone out there has my opinion and the spare energy to do our views justice with a post. At times, I wish the Diaspora were connected to other such mailing lists around the country, such that the Stanford bubble didn’t section people off from reality along racial lines as well. A moderator wouldn’t be half bad either.

Have a chatlist that represents you? Vent to Alex about it at [email protected]

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