You could only imagine the culture shock it was coming from an inner city and traveling up the mountain to reside in rural State College. It has been a very interesting transition, to say the least. However, the thing that I will remember most once I am gone will be the many experiences I have had when I have been slighted because of my racial or ethnic classification or when that has been seen as a shortcoming to those around me.
I vividly recall an encounter I had my freshman year with a professor who pretty much told me that my field of study was and will be dominated by white males, and he also told me that because I was black I would not make it to that level. His words infuriated me. How could someone who is supposed to teach me the things I need to succeed in my major tell me that I had no chance?
The worst part about it was that no one at the university seemed to believe that things like this happened. This wasn’t the first or last time something like this would happen to me in my lifetime or, more specifically, in my time here at Penn State.
Now, some years later, I can sit back and reflect on the many negative
encounters I have had at Penn State. These situations have included the one involving my professor, statements made on fraternity row, certain derogatory words being yelled at peers and negative depictions of my culture and ancestry for the momentary amusement.
I have seen so many students in black- and/or brown-face, and I doubt many fully understand why it is offensive — so I’ll provide some information.
Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows, in which performers created a stereotyped caricature of a black person. These caricatures were very negative black people. It was a derogatory act that was later outlawed during the U.S Civil Rights movement.
There is no reason that nearly five decades have gone by and we still have to deal with this disrespectful and degrading act. It seems that, in recent months, racial incidents have skyrocketed at our university, and depicting one’s culture as part of a Halloween party or just for laughs is becoming the thing to do.
Well, newsflash: It is not OK.
It was not OK in the past, and it surely is not OK now. We as a people — a people of varying colors, shapes, sizes, religious creeds and cultural backgrounds — need to step into the 21st century and treat each other like we want to be treated. We need to respect each other’s cultures and ancestry and let go of this ideology that one race is superior to another.
Penn State’s history is rich with change and growth. The chant that many Penn Staters hold near and dear, the “We are” chant, was started in response to racial tensions. In the early 1940s, our own Penn State football team coined the phrase “We are” during a time in which black men were not allowed to play football or participate in certain activities.
Recall the history of our university. Recall the history of our nation. No positive change has come without sacrifice and struggle.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” We know the time is now.
Equality and fair treatment of all should be at the forefront of our thoughts.
Ryan Brown is a senior majoring in integrative arts and is the president of Penn State’s Black Caucus. Email him at email@example.com.