This one’s going to sound like an epic ramble. I happened to ponder it just this morning. Well, really I’ve been thinking about it for several years, but this is the first time I’ve decided to write about it. Without any further ado:
We’ve all heard the age-old adage about university life: it opens you up. It educates you. it helps you to find yourself. If you were the high school kid who didn’t have friends/a sense of belonging, you will magically find that in the college experience.
But what happens when the college experience becomes underwhelming? Or it’s the eve of graduation and you still find yourself undulating in cycles of crisis and confusion. You want to find meaning and purpose in your surroundings. But what if the surroundings don’t match?
Speaking from experience I can definitely identify some of the blemishes that came with my life as an undergrad. The classes were nice, the professors and staff extraordinarily kind and helpful. But something integral was incompatible: my social surroundings.
True, college is not all about social life. It’s about getting your degree, which I will always be thankful for. But social life determines how we interact with each other. The right environment can help to liberate you from those feelings of shyness, anxiety, self-doubt, and even depression you may have experienced during high school. But the wrong one can multiply them.
Student bodies can often make or break your attitude about the college experience, depending on the kind of people you are surrounded by. I was fortunate to make friends at my school; but I also found myself deeply isolated at times from the rest of the community. I wanted to feel smarter, constantly struggling with my “lack of knowledge” and expertise on certain topics that were essential to my major. I often felt unattractive and boring because of my lack of relationships/social anxiety in that area. At the end of my four years I found myself wanting more. I wished I could have gone back and found an environment where I might have found a better sense of belonging as a writer. And as a black man. Belonging might have filled all those dark areas.
I’m mentioning the race thing for a specific reason. Obviously everyone goes through the pangs of college frustration: self-doubt, anxiety, identity struggles. But this crisis can take on a special form when you are black at a predominantly white liberal arts school. Anywhere you go, the student dialogue is going to be slanted, whether left or right. And, being black, you’re caught up in the middle of two polar opposites that both expect you to accommodate them.
We all know what the “right” slant looks like: heavily conservative, pro-American, militaristic, status quo-
Trumping thumping, blind to the plight of others, rich, white male-biased, etc. When you leave high school you thank God that you’ve finally got away from that shit. Then you come to college and find another band of angry, chastising white people arrayed at the other end of the spectrum.
It is this group I am specifically referring to in the university setting that, in spite of its appeal to “solidarity worldwide” still maintains a pretty whitewashed cultural agenda. The key word is “appeal.” Like the greatest television ad ever produced, but with a really faulty project that not only garbles, but leaks, short-circuits, and even explodes.
Diversity comes in two forms: name and thought. Meaning that people of color have a wide range of interpretations in the way we see the world. When you come into a predominately white college institution, where left or right-leaning, you are expected to ally yourself to a certain agenda. And, in some cases, it doesn’t leave much room for the latter form of diversity.
Die hard conservatives expect all black people to convert to conservatism, and die hard progressives expect all black people to convert to progressivism. And, in the case of some colleges it basically goes like this: I’m a white person who acknowledges my privilege. I’m willing to fight for minorities. If I’m so morally upright, why can’t you be the same way towards EVERY one of my opinions. No, no one actually says that, but the attitude of it might as well be written there.
It’s the expectation that morality and having the right attitude towards social justice entitles you to someone’s opinion. It amounts to asking for allies, based on their color, and then condescending to them in the whitest way possible when that person of color who should be ever so gracious you’re fighting on the right side of history DOESN’T share your views.
You’ve got tons of them: the white environmentalists, white feminists (especially), white borderline Marxists, who are overjoyed you can quote prison statistics, but overwrought with frustration when you don’t want to piss on a national monument (I’m exaggerating there, but the basic idea remains). If we’re white and can say that the system’s broken, then why can’t you agree with us on EVERY solution on how to fix it.
You’re a valuable “black asset” to the predominately white establishment. That is, until you open your mouth to speak. And God-forbid, profess something that runs contrary to their ideology. Then you’re just as “wrong” as the others. Black ally card revoked. The ultra conservatives have a form of this too in their world: it’s called “talk our talk.” And pull yourself out of poverty. Don’t do drugs while my rich son snorts coke and crashes daddy’s car. Always respect authority, even when it shoots you, so you’re not considered a thug; but we have the right to form an armed military when authority doesn’t respect us.
Both extremes really suck. One for being completely wrong (in my opinion) and the other for being mostly right, but completely douchie about it. And somewhat two-faced.
If you’re black, you become a novelty for them. A platform, so to speak, that they can stand on and use to amplify their voices. But your “novelty” always gets co-signed to something else: that’s the price. Even if the issue is perfectly noble (which many are) there is an expectation that you’re supposed to fall willingly into every nuance and disposition. Or else you’re cray-cray.
You can call that “fake consciousness.” A perfect example is the Patricia Arquette post-Oscars controversy. When she, never failing the tenets of feminism, told every woman of color that they need to start fighting for women’s rights. It’s your obligation. That’s kind of what fake consciousness is. In a similar case, imagine the middle-class white girl with rich parents who spends half an hour pontificating on black civil rights. And then proceeds to uproot a black student whose views are slightly more “traditional” or not as “liberated” as hers on an issue such as pro-choice. And then she proceeds to whine about how the black community has never been accepting of other people’s perspectives. If she’s a special kind of moron, she may even tell a person of color to “check their privilege.”
That’s kind of what fake consciousness is: it recognizes and calls you an ally due to the “novelty” of your skin, but eviscerates you in the same breath for the “novelty” of your opinion. It takes people of color and paints them under one brushstroke, not in the same way as those on the ultra-right do, but in a detrimental way regardless. Just because you address social justice issues doesn’t give you the right to the opinions of everyone in the group you’re standing up for. Not all black people are going to be 100% liberal on every issue. They might be economically “liberal” here and socially “conservative” there.
Either way, there’s the expectation that black people (along with everyone else) are supposed to pander to you because your position is morally superior. All of their views are supposed to fall in line and accommodate yours. This is otherwise known as E.N.M.(Expected “Nigga Munificence”). It runs rampant, de facto, in the halls of “white P.C. liberals” (and I hate using that term).
What is your Expected Nigga Munificence? Ask how many statuses you’ve read comparing black struggles to pretty much every other struggle that exists. Or if you’ve ever attended a two-hour panel on white feminism complete with herbal tea, flannel jackets, non-binary drivel (cool, just be yourself), organic snacks, pussy-shaped lollipops, the archaic woodwork smell of independent bookstores, color-coded recycle bins, Safe Spaces, SAFE SPACES and even more SAFE SPACES, endless remarks about random micro-aggressive tweets, Eco bottles by Tupperware, clitoris poems, pamphlets featuring newly-revised proper gender pronouns, and all the trigger warnings you could put on an ancient Greek play. Or the time someone talked to you about the realities of race and mass incarceration before trying to slip you a copy of Das Kapital. Congratulations: you’ve been a victim of Expected Nigga Munificence.
To make an unfair but funny comparison it’s basically the sequel to Get Out. There are many manifestations of Expected Nigga Munificence. One might be (for example) the supercharged white girl/white boy with rich parents and a visa to travel in nine countries who jumps up on stage, gives a long diatribe on white privilege (in spite of likely having little to no black friends), and then drops the mic before any of the actually minorities can come on stage. Why did she do that, you ask? Simply because she decided to read Toni Morrison one day.
Anyway, enough of the jokes. Point is, that social environments can go a long way to painting or tainting your college experience. I chose to illustrate socio-political culture because this is one I have found myself especially exposed to. And with race in the mix, it can make things even more complicated. Do your peers seek you for the “novelty” of your skin, only to expect you to pander to them? Or on a broader note, even regardless of race, do you find yourself isolated due to the growing polarized nature of certain (not all) academic settings? It can be a mental drag when you’re constantly facing two extremes and you’re somewhere closer to the middle, but obviously not neutral. When everyone becomes consumed with trying to morally dominate another person, you start to look in rare, but almost non-existent places for those few who can actually sit down and talk.
And maybe at this point I’m just rambling nonsensically. But I really had to get this thought out: the whole idea of coming to terms with a college experience that really wasn’t all that. And the persistent feeling of not belonging in a whole lot of spaces. And the anxiety and depression that followed.
At times it was hard for me to believe that I had a voice that mattered. I guess that’s what led me to find and establish my writing again. Having my own opinion was very important to me, because it made me feel like I was analyzing things and questioning them, rather than taking everything for granted on first notice.
Although I’ve spent most of this post criticizing them, I do identify as a left-leaning person. I just prefer not to grab a pitchfork and go running after the people who don’t. And I wish likewise that all the “right wing” crazies would stop running after everyone else. Either way, everyone’s running with pitchforks. When the noise trickles down to the university setting you can find yourself in a hard and difficult place. Combine that with the struggles of bearing depression/anxiety and you’re like a blind man fumbling in a hall of mirrors. Sooner or later they burst into shards.
Certain types of college experiences can leave you feeling dissatisfied. You didn’t have your big, fun moment. You didn’t get to cherish certain priceless moments. But guess what: college ain’t the end all. It’s only four years. I’m still trying to live to my potential. And yes, I look back and often wonder why I wasn’t this or that during my teen and young adult years. But I am also striving to look forward. And change my environment. That’s what you have to take away from the “not-so-great” college experience if you’ve ever been there. Count the positives and the negatives and use them as a barometer for deciding your future. Find people who are still passionate, just not not blind with it or tunnel-visioned. Cause, trust me, once you’ve been around that in the school setting, that shit rubs off on you. You become bitter, internally frustrated, and even mistrustful of the world around you. It’s a sort of trickle-down cynicism that I’m still feeling the effects of (can’t you tell in my blog writing).
But seriously, learning to change your environment is integral to moving forward. It doesn’t solve everything, but it starts the process. As selfish as it sounds you should make a list of things that you like/values and find other people who compliment those parts of yourself. It’s a slow and piecemeal process, but one that can help you in the end. Just start with the people close by you. When I returned to Washington D.C. for grad school I started talking to the other students in my housing building, with no expectation of the type of person/people I would find. And I forged relationships, proving that I wasn’t so hopeless after all. But it began with openness. Even if I didn’t agree with someone’s politics. People could joke around at times, disagree, and yet still be in the same circle. Something common bound us together: we were all young adults trying to make it out here. And if our politics didn’t match up we could bond over small things like music and movies. Or just going out to the bar together.
This was the kind of social life that I much desired during college. I was able to find it with the friends that I met there (who I still speak to today) but unfortunately it was not very present for me in the school as a whole. And, of course, this is only my opinion. Others can find solace in the type of setting I just described. But I think that, especially being black, there’s a certain pressure put on you to absorb things a certain way. When that pressure comes from both sides, including the one that you more align with, that can be incredibly frustrating. Yes, Expected Nigga Munificence is a made up abbreviation, partly for humor’s sake. But it really is a prevailing attitude.
Your mental health depends on a good environment: one you can feel attached to and call home. If that isn’t the school you’re at right now or were at, think about any place you have been recently. Was there a particular place that you “vibed” with, based on the culture and people? Does it also offer you meaningful development academically and professionally, as well as socially? Try to work forward seeking that place. Even if you’re not that religious, pray to God on it (seriously). And hope.
That was the longest post I think I’ve written. And to be honest, part of it was self-talk, as well as giving advice. I really wanted to be able to express this thought, in order to address certain frustrations I had looking back. And, yes, if you have had the same thing, it is good to talk about it with friends and family/therapy who can help aid you in your growth. It’s good to address it spiritually, in prayers/meditation, even if this is something you struggle to do on a regular basis. Finding yourself is very important, when struggling through mental health issues. If you want to lower the cray-cray, sometimes you gotta separate yourself from the cray-cray around you. And unfortunately college campuses nowadays are breeding grounds for that. The only way to start by seeking things based on who YOU are. Change the environment.
(Something, something, something, final inspirational words).