Confronting past and present

I have always been the only black kid, or at least one of a few. It wasn’t a situation of my own creation. The teams I swam on as a kid were predominately white; so was my church and my school. It was normal, and I was comfortable with my token status because it had always been that way. Coming to The University of Alabama then, in theory, shouldn’t have been that much of a culture shock. But it was.

With the exception of Freshman Forum, I was relatively uninvolved with the political side of campus as a first year student. As a result, my knowledge of many of the racial issues that run so deep on this campus was minimal for some time. During the nearly three years that I’ve attended the University, I’ve yet to be called a racially derogative term – at least not to my face and I’ve never been attacked – but that can be chalked up to sheer luck. That’s not to say that I’ve been unaffected by what is at times, a highly toxic atmosphere. Each of us still has to breathe the air. And there are those who have witnessed and faced far worse than I.

Oklahoma Wesleyan University President, Everett Piper recently said, “[College is] about challenging your character not coddling you so that you feel comfortable.” Three years ago, I would have nodded in agreement and scoffed at the idea of things such as safe spaces and zones. I too believed for a long time that people needed to toughen up because the world isn’t a nice place. If life is just rough, what is the point of coddling students? It’s a question that has come up a lot recently and one that I wasn’t even sure how to answer.

At this point, I’m sure that many people are tired of hearing the demands of marginalized students and the justification for safe spaces, but maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe by continuing the conversation, people will be forced to think and change. No one ever said the world was a nice place; the six o’clock news is proof of that. Moreover, there is something to be said for the resilience and character of people who do suffer. St. Augustine wrote, “in the same fire gold gleams and straw smokes,” but gold wasn’t meant to stay in the fire forever. Even for someone who managed to make it through this institution somewhat unscathed, every once in a while, a break from the heat is needed.

I managed to go eighteen years without ever really considering what it meant to be black. I don’t think I really had to before becoming a student here, but The University of Alabama throws the fact in my face daily. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just a girl. I’m only Erin. And I think that for most of us, we just want to be.

Erin Mosley is a junior majoring in studio art. Her column runs biweekly.

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