I’d like to recount an experience I had at Auburn University my freshman year. The people and organizations will remain nameless, for the sake of their privacy. (Hopefully they’ve grown a bit during the last couple years.)
It was early in the Fall semester, when most fraternities are having parties to attract new members and new girls. A guy from my math class invited me to a party at the frat house he was rushing. I agreed to come, as long as I could bring a few friends.
The friends I had at that point were almost entirely from my high school, which is very diverse. I graduated in a class with a large group of Indians, Koreans, African Americans and a few random ethnicities that were fewer in number. In high school race wasn’t a big deal, although whoever scored the highest on the physics test and broke the curve for everyone else was.
So a few of my friends from high school and I went to the party. Three of those friends were black. We all knew just from walking up the block that this was going to get a bit awkward.
Confederate flags could be found in all corners. On the walls, draped from the balcony, tattooed on more than a few arms and slapped across a dozen hats. Country music was blaring and everyone, except my three friends, was white.
Although uneasy, we decided to roll with it. One of my friends asked two guys nearby for a light (who were, in their defense, highly inebriated). They responded by saying, and I’ll never forget this, “Hey dude, you’re black. Can we, like, talk black to you?”
Okay now pause. When I first heard him I was convinced he had drunkenly meant to say something else. I was horrified and embarrassed because I was the one who suggested we go to this frat party. But I thought that maybe, just maybe, he’d somehow swim through the natty light his brain was currently drowning in and reach his senses and apologize.
No such luck.
“Excuse me?” my friend said.
“Yeah, like yo man. Homie?” he replied, completely missing the looks of disgust across our faces.
It was at that point we decided to leave. I told the man who had invited me what had happened the next class day. I asked if that was typical. His response? “Oh yeah, we don’t really have those people at our parties.”
I think that was the point in my life when I realized how unfortunately ignorant someone in college could be. How a group of people could continue ignorant stereotypes and racism is completely beyond my comprehension and totally appalling.
I wish I had said something to that guy. Something along the lines of “Those people, excuse you? What the hell do you mean, you ignorant-”
But I digress.
I hope my generation and the next generation will work more towards eliminating encounters like that. And I hope people will realize (if they have not already) that there is no such thing as “talking black.” Someone’s race does not determine how they talk and what slang they would use and it’s incredibly inappropriate to assume such. Similarly, there’s no such thing as “talking like a white person.” Speaking in ebonics or speaking “proper english” depends entirely on an individual.