Last night was an interesting juxtaposition. The band was good, the alcohol was free, and the food was delicious. I was surrounded by beautiful brown skin and the reassuring presence of good company. Conversation was flowing and I could almost forget for a moment where I was. I sat around the table with friends and drinks and the topic of discussion was politics (as usual), most particularly how to organize and wade through the shit-river that is Columbia University.
I sat sipping my drink as they discussed the demonstration against the offensive Orgo Night. I ate and drank while they debated the merits of “making them cry” versus “continuing the good fight” versus “writing an op-ed” versus versus. I bobbed along to the music, a cran and vodka turning into a margarita turning into a chocolate martini and I thought about the questions that have been swirling in my head for a while now. I thought about how to ask the question of what to do when you can’t anymore and you aren’t sure if you want to. About what to do when you hate your decision to come to this school where wonderful nights are so quickly juxtaposed with nights when you hate your existence and your peers. About what to do when someone whom you loved is now someone you can’t trust and the numbers of the trustworthy dwindle fast. About what to do when you’ve had enough and just want to give up.
For too many people, Columbia University is represented as a forward-thinking bastion of liberality where there is potential and spirit and hope. This opiated way of thinking is cast throughout the narrative and attracts far too many PoCs to their gates with the promise of expanding the mind and enriching the spirit. I was one of them. However, my truth, and the truth of many others is that this campus, this Alma Mater, is a painful reminder that my being isn’t enough. That even in New York, in Harlem, my identity, emotions, experiences and existence can be erased by a white-hand and a renaming to Morningside Heights. My truth is that as more and more days pass, Columbia University and its students are coming to represent a hatred I thought I had left behind in the South and an ignorance I can no longer stand.
And I sat in that room, sipping my drinks, thinking about how to find the words to say that my nights of being booed and hated, my nights of being angry and depressed, my nights of being tired and disappointed are far outweighing my nights of happiness and expansion and peace and joy. I thought about how my friends struggle not with school work but with racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, trans*phobic, and otherwise hateful incidents. I thought about how peace is rarely found for me outside of a few spaces, despite the hundreds more I pay for and are forced to frequent. I thought about how my administration, who so happily takes my dollars, is so comfortable saying that “I just shouldn’t attend” or that “boys will be boys” or that “there’s nothing we can do” I thought about how much I’m beginning to harbor a hatred from a place that once harbored hope and pride. I thought about how much I wanted to leave for something better.
And I keep reminding myself that there are good moments to look forward to. That my friends’ laughter and silliness and joy and the IRC and the Malcolm X Lounge will get me through. That Students Against Mass Incarceration, Radical C.U.N.T.S, SJP, IRAAS, and BSO will get me through. That even when it’s over organizing, that there are new friends to be made and new connections to grow. I keep reminding myself of this truth so that I can breathe. But I worry that one day that won’t be enough to shield me from the onslaught. That one day very soon that won’t be enough. I worry that I’ll go cold. I worry that I WILL just give up instead of thinking about doing so.
And I sat there sipping my drink thinking about how 24 hours before I was in a room surrounded by white skin booing and jeering and trying their hardest to make me feel uncomfortable. I thought about how the room I was in, though beautiful, is not my normal yet and that the other room was. I thought about the walk back to my home in which I would have to cross by reminder after reminder that this place still isn’t for me. I thought about how I wanted to stop thinking.
Tomorrow is my birthday and I can honestly say 19 is one for the books. I keep reminding myself that there are good moments to be had and that somewhere down the line it will all be ok. That I didn’t make a mistake and that Columbia (arguably a sample for the rest of the country) will grow and be ok. I keep reminding myself that peace will come and that my faith can’t falter.
Last night the band was good, the alcohol was free, and the food was delicious.