Behind the Veil: The Journey of a POC at a PWI
Racial Battle Fatigue
I am tired. And not the kind of tired where you can just take nap or sleep in late and suddenly wake up refreshed and rejuvenated. What tires me is so much deeper than the lit reviews and research proposals that plague the average doctoral student. What tires me is the way Black people are treated on an all too consistent basis. Being Black in America is a fulltime job. One without PTO, sick days, or holidays (yes, they even disrespect us during Black History Month). We don’t even get bereavement, despite the fact that you can turn to any channel and see that we are constantly grieving the loss of another member of our community. So, when I say I’m tired, what I mean is that my spirit is tired. That beautiful part of me that normally allows me to wake up every morning with a smile on my face and optimism in my heart is tired. It’s exhausted by the constant bombardment of videos and stories that show how incredibly devalued my people are in this country; each image taking another swing at my already bruised and battered heart.
“Racial Battle Fatigue,” a term coined by Dr. William Smith, describes the impact of racial microaggressions on the mental and emotional well-being of people of color. Microaggressions, though sometimes subtle and unintentional, still have damaging effects on those who experience them. While one or two racist comments can be dealt with, it is the frequency at which they are experienced, especially by students of color at PWIs, that becomes unbearable. According to Dr. Smith, these experiences have proven to be mentally, emotionally, and physically draining.
For those who don’t understand the severity of the issue, allow me to enlighten you. I am going to let you in on “a day in the life of doc student of color.” I wake up, turn on the news, and the first thing I see is that two Black men were arrested in a Starbucks. Their crime? Being Black in America. I haven’t even had my cup of coffee yet and I’ve already received my daily slap in the face – the reminder that our country views our Black men as threatening, criminal, and deserving of imprisonment.
An hour later, while scrolling through Facebook, I come across a story about a university administrator who said that wearing blackface is freedom of speech. Blackface? The same blackface that has been used to mock and degrade Black people since the 19th century? THAT’s covered by the 1st Amendment? Really? There was a Supreme Court case, Schenk v. United States, that found that the right to free speech was not absolute. They decided that the amendment does not protect speech that creates clear and present danger to others. I guess they meant danger to anyone other than Black people because I’m pretty sure that dehumanizing behavior, such as wearing blackface, is exactly what contributes to police officers thinking it’s ok to shoot our people in the street like dogs. It’s a punch in the gut when you hear people try to justify or rationalize behavior that disrespects people within your community.
I guess the previous events weren’t close enough to home, because a few hours later, I find out that a racist video has surfaced at my alma mater. The worst part is that I’m not even remotely surprised by it. When I was a student, there were numerous incidents of racial comments, blackface, and even physical assaults – often by White fraternities on campus. It was so bad that Black and Brown students knew not to walk down “frat row” alone (or at all) because of the potential danger. At one point, we held a sit-in and took over the administration building to protest the injustices faced by students of color on campus. It cuts deeply to know that, 15 years later, students are still dealing with the same nonsense.
Despite my desire to crawl into bed and just forget everything I’ve heard, I have to put on my game face and head to school. While on the Metro, a woman hesitantly sits down next to me. She is visibly uncomfortable and is trying so hard not to touch me that half of her cheek was falling off the side of the chair. As the train stops, another seat opens up, and she LITERALLY jumps up and runs to the other seat. Really lady? Am I that repulsive? Contrary to popular (racist) belief, Black people don’t have cooties.
I survive my train ride and finally make it to campus. As I am walking down the street, I see a White woman who is giving me the “what are you doing here” look. I ignore her and keep walking. As our paths are about to cross, she pulls her purse in closer and begins to walk faster. Really? I am student (with a bright pink bookbag), on campus, IN BROAD DAYLIGHT, and you still think I’m trying to rob you?!? I guess Black men aren’t the only ones seen as threatening.
Before I even step foot into my class, I have been slapped by false arrests, punched by blackface, cut by a racist video, and assaulted by microaggressions. But does anyone realize that? Of course not. So, I emotionally limp myself into class, sit down, and pray that no one says or does anything that might add insult to injury. I’m not so fortunate, but I choose to keep my mouth shut; like I often do. Yes, there are days when I speak up against the foolishness, but today isn’t one of those days. Today, I am in survival mode. So, when I’m asked by a White person (which happens often) why I don’t say something every single time, what I really want to say is “if you knew what I went through today (and most days), you would know that I am just trying not to mentally and emotionally bleed all over this floor.” But instead, I just say, “I’m tired.”