ANDERSON: Working twice as hard to receive half as much
Opinions Column: A 'Popped' Culture
On the morning of Homecoming, the freedom on the College Avenue campus was tangible. You could feel it along the off-campus houses as students blasted pre-game music into the early New Brunswick morning. You could feel it as those same fully inebriated students cheered along the main and side streets. You could feel it as students smiled as the New Brunswick Police Department peacefully shut down "dages." Within their freedom was a keen sense of fearlessness. The disturbing of the peace, the litter along New Brunswick streets, the public intoxication, all occurred with little to no fear of any real consequences. As I pushed my bike along the sidewalk, I couldn’t help but wonder how the atmosphere and the stakes would be different if the majority of these students were black or Latino? And as I watched a Latina New Brunswick mother pick up the Friday-night trash from her lawn with her child in her other arm while Rutgers students in red stormed by, I couldn’t help but think of President Barack Obama and this year’s presidential election.
Most black people in America understand there is a pungent double-standard when it comes to their freedom to publicly (and privately) fall short of expectations. Many black people grow up hearing that our racial status demands that we work twice as hard. But by transitive property, this also communicates that white people have to work half as hard. This creates a culture of black anxiety in the face of white mediocrity. This year’s presidential election has done plenty to reinforce this fact. All one has to do is place a 2008 Obama in the shoes of any of the two current leading candidates to see the seething incongruity of the criticism received. While Obama had to jump through several hoops in response to inaccurate accusations before and during his presidency, the horrendous offenses of both Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton are being brushed to the side with an alacrity that would never have been granted to Obama purely due to his race. There is no doubt that had Obama entered the 2008 election with a reputation anywhere close to that of either of the candidates, he would never have been considered “fit for office.”
Being black in America is to understand the true feeling on an uneven playing field. Our slip ups and imperfections are not given the same patience, and are not readily excused. We are rarely afforded the benefit of the doubt. Poor decisions when we are young are not dismissed on terms of “youthful exuberance” or “it was all in good fun.” The age old idea of multiple failures before success or making mistakes along the way are not privileges that tend to hold true for minorities. These messages are ingrained when Bill Cosby gets a show taken off the air but Donald Trump is still a viable candidate for the President of the United States.
That is why I was not surprised to find little to none of the black population at Rutgers partaking in Saturday morning’s “festivities” (another word afforded to primarily to white individuals). This observation is not only limited to this Homecoming, but all football weekends I’ve experienced during my time at Rutgers. Black students displaying their “pride” publicly are few and far in-between. They understand that their “harmless festivities” are seen as “classless riots” and cannot share in the same public freedom I describe at the beginning of the article.
It keeps coming back — black people feel they have to work with extra zeal because in the long run, it is assumed that the judgement they receive will have an extra spoonful of discrimination. This explains the perfectionist mindset of many black students. It explains why black students have a unique anxiety about maintaining the highest GPA possible. As Arthur Chu says in a 2015 Salon article, “Getting by on 'intangibles,' on 'being yourself,' on being vulnerable and revealing your failures — that’s for people who aren’t cultural outsiders.” He says white people tend to be “able to do what they do because whiteness is a roomier identity, an identity where you can screw up and fall on your face and be a fool without letting your people down.”
This feeling of not being allowed room for error is toxic. This self-imposed and externally confirmed restraint felt by black people and other minorities compromises one’s humanity. Human beings, not just students, should feel that they can grow and learn from their mistakes, especially during college. They should not be afraid to show gaps in their knowledge, or flaws in their personality. To not be able to do these things is to not be human. The advice of “taking a healthy career risk” tends to fall on deaf ears when it comes to black people because they know that if they take the leap and fall, society will not be as understanding as they would be to their white counterparts. Additionally, it holds white people at a lower standard, which is equally damaging to their humanity as well. Young black people should not feel that life is all or nothing.
Michael Anderson is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with minors in Africana studies and digital communication, information and media. His column, “A ‘Popped’ Culture,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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