Being a black woman is hard here at the university. In my four years here, I have had experiences that run the gamut between good and bad. During most of them, especially the bad ones, I cannot shake the knowledge that certain things would be easier if I came in a lighter-skinned, thinner, straight-haired package. I am non-white, plus-sized and outspoken in an interesting time in America; supposedly all of the racial problems are fixed and yet there is constantly evidence of the contrary.
In the past someone like me would have been put on display, analyzed and used for profit. While the same is partially true for today’s society, (the recent use of black women as background to the spectacle that is Miley Cyrus at the moment) an insidious form of the objectification of black women is en vogue: making them invisible.
This action may seem to be nearly impossible given the nature of human interaction, particularly on a college campus — or in a college town — but it happens. It has happened to me in the following ways: 1. Classrooms immediately going silent when I walk into the room. This is awesome. I know I’m stunning but please, continue your discussions. 2. Ignoring me. I have my hand raised in front of you and no one else does. I guess my question and/or answer will have to wait. Better still, I am sitting to the right of someone and instead of talking to me they choose another person they do not know to talk to … on my right. 3. Staring. I’m friendly, I promise, just say hi or something.
These instances are by no means the only ways that I have been made to feel uncomfortable this semester, and I know that these experiences are not limited solely to a black woman. There is, however, an immeasurable weight added to these experiences when they happen within a certain historically racialized context and so frequently that they begin to affect how a person interacts. I have definitely stopped raising my hand in a class when it became apparent I was never going to get called on.
I have left some relevant information out of these examples such as the race of the other people involved, not because I do not think it is important, I do. I just wanted to share a bit of my experiences in the hopes that it helps people think about their interactions with other people on this campus who may not look like them. Besides, I have the whole semester to talk about race. Believe me, I will.
Hope Owens-Wilson is a senior southern studies major from Jackson.