Uncomfortable

Chloe Nwangwu

If I were asked to express my feelings on participating in Greek life events, “uncomfortable” would probably be my word of choice. Speaking to my opinion on fraternities in particular, I know myself well enough to understand that some of that has to do with how I feel about being around a large group of men that have been drinking.

While this is not always the case, one cannot deny that some awful things have happened to women and men alike when at­tending frat parties. If there was even the slightest chance that the next horror story would include me, that was a situation I was willing to avoid at all costs.

That being said, still another part of me realizes that some of this discomfort has to do with my opinions (some might say my stereo­types) about Greek-minority interaction. When I think fraterni­ty, I think virile young white men looking for a good time. When I think sorority, I imagine a sometimes golden-haired girl with a J. Crew mini.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being that boy or girl, but in my heart of hearts I know I believe that image to be incon­gruous with my perception of black and African cultures as they are perceived in America. I am convinced that more than just a few members of each group considers the “other” just foreign enough that rather than feeling curious, they experience a sense of relief at the distance. “These people can have no reason to want to associate with me.” And so I stay away from fraternities.

Some of you have cried out “self-segregation.” It’s obvious that is what is going on here. To you I would offer a nod of approval. That is exactly what is happening here. By project­ing my own fears over how I will be received onto Greek Life, I have turned affiliated students into something they may not be. It seems clear that any interactions I have with affiliated groups may be colored by this tendency to self-segregate. Our camarade­rie may end here though. If you believe that self-segregation is the only factor at work here, you are thoroughly deluded.

Frankly, if you believe that racism has died at Colgate, you are wrong. This will rub some of you the wrong way, but do not dis­miss what I am saying because I am an African-American female.

You would only be proving my point. If you think for a min­ute that I only feel racism remains at Colgate because I am black and as a result have some sort of inherent “racism radar,” then that is a racist stereotype not befitting a Colgate student and one you should disavow yourself of immediately.

Perhaps a story would best illustrate my point. At the end of my sophomore year, I was faced with the graduation of a group of men I had really come to respect at Colgate. After torchlight, I was asked to come along as we wished them farewell; they were all housed within the same fraternity – much to my surprise. These guys were almost the exact opposite of the prototypical frat boy. They were wonderful men, easily some of my favorite people, and if they belonged to a fraternity, then perhaps my pre­conceived notions needed to be readdressed after all. Knowing they would be waiting there, I could easily let go of my own fears about showing up at a frat party. With these thoughts, I agreed heartily and we were off.

We were greeted with great cheer at the door and my friends extended every courtesy to make me feel welcome. I was dancing, socializing and having a really awesome time when it happened.

“Uh, who let you in here?”

What?

Take this however you like. This young man may have ad­dressed me with this question because I wasn’t exactly what he pictured when he thought “hot biddy,” he may have singled me out because he didn’t know me or because I was black. Regardless, it was obvious to him that for some reason I didn’t belong there.

To this day I cannot think of a charitable explanation for this question, and I have tried.

Even when originally faced with the situation, all I could do was mumble off the names of my friends as I thought of a reason as to why I shouldn’t blast him with a very pointed, “Excuse me,” or “Your Big, that’s who.” Moral of the story?

There was absolutely no reason that my preconceived notions should have had a play in what happened.

I was comfortable, amongst friends and really enjoying myself. Any stereotypes had been left at the door. So how is it that this still hap­pened? On the other side of the spectrum there are situations that are not so overtly offensive. “You know Chloe, you’re a credit to your race.” Have you ever gotten this one before? I imagine these exact words may not pertain to you unless your name is Chloe, but the resounding answer should be “no!” I will admit that the speaker really meant to compliment me on my accomplishments, but unless he meant the “human race” he was probably trying to tell me that, unlike most black people, he knew I was (insert adjective here because I certainly can’t).

These situations were not me projecting my fears onto other white students and then seeing what I wanted to as a result. These were situations within which I was without unreasonable bias.

And still racism reared its ugly head. While I could regale you with other such tales of ignorance, I think my point is plain.

Racism is still here. It exists within and behind the stereo­types that we all have the potential to hold. And unless we stop pretending that everything is alright, it will remain our steadfast companion.

Contact Chloe Nwangwu at [email protected]