Growing up in a culturally mixed school, I was very accustomed to being around people of all races. To me, this was normal. From elementary through graduation I had a diverse group of friends, so I wasn’t expecting what I found when I started college.
I began my college career at the University of Delaware. In the brochures they always have this big mix of people, just the right number of token [pick a race] people to avoid suspicion, always smiling and generally convincing you it’s a great place to be. This, I found out later, was utter bullshit. Granted, my upbringing was an exception. As a white male, I was a minority in my school. I understood that this wasn’t the case in the country as a whole, but I was at least expecting to see some folks of color.
What I found in my first week of college, was that I was surrounded by white people. I know, how shocking. No, really, it was. This was the culture shock of a lifetime for me, and was even more so when I realized that the school was not only predominantly white, but also very racially segregated. Black people didn’t associate with white people, and vice versa. I found this out the hard way.
One day, in my second year on the campus, over the initial shock, but still quite dismayed, I was handed a flyer for a concert on the lawn. Rap group “Da Truth” and a female freestyle duo called “InVersus” were going to be performing on the North Mall park area. I’m thinking cool, I don’t have anything else to do this afternoon. In hindsight, I probably should have found something else to do.
When I arrived at the concert, I was one of two white people there, one of whom I believe was the campus coordinator or something because nobody was looking at her funny. When I pulled up a seat, however, I’m pretty sure everyone in the room (well, large tent actually, but whatever) looked at me like I was lost or something. I tried to ignore it and just enjoy the music, but the folks made it pretty damned difficult. Seriously, is it so hard to believe that white people can enjoy rap too?
After a while the looks of “are you lost?” turned into something more like “why don’t you leave already?” To make matters worse, a girl I was friends with from high school was there and when I tried to say hi and ask how she’d been, she tried to pretend she didn’t know me! She was completely uncomfortable in the fact that I was even addressing her, and everyone at the table is looking at me like “how the fuck you gonna act like you know her?”
Let me be clear on something. This girl wasn’t just some casual acquaintance. She was close friends with my ex-girlfriend from high school and early college, and we were good friends ourselves too. We even referred to each other as “cousin,” and in fact, worked together at the same job for several months after high school. This was a pisser. I don’t think I’ve talked to her but twice in all the years since that concert, and only on random occurrences that we’ve run into each other. I make a point to not bother. You don’t do that shit to adopted family. You don’t do that shit to a friend. Therefore, we must not be friends.
Suffice to say, the early years of college were uncomfortable for me. I endured that concert, partly to make a point and partly because it was genuinely good local music. But I never attended one of the concerts after that. I know when I’m not welcome. The trouble is, I didn’t feel particularly welcome anywhere. I didn’t fit in with white folks, I had a black girlfriend and wasn’t some lily white spoiled something or other, and I was apparently too white to be allowed enjoy the company of black folks.
For the most part, I stopped bothering, eventually finding friends in unlikely places, mostly folks like myself who really didn’t fit into any particular “clique” like myself. This was fine by me, since I’ve never been one to follow the crowd anyway, but I never forgot the lessons of segregation and intolerance that I learned in my three years at University of Delaware. I bid good riddance to the place, and my only regret was that I didn’t leave the school sooner.