Black History Month is celebrated nationally. But more importantly, it is also celebrated right here on USC’s campus. The 28 days, sometimes 29 on a leap year, are about more than just a seasonal T-shirt from Target. Black History Month is about the very people at USC that interact with the seasonal T-shirts.
Black History Month is about all of us, but also the few of us that exist in the predominantly white space of USC. This leads to a more than complicated existence in a place that reminds us regularly of our history. For me, slavery still affects my life in a lot of different ways. For example, Chad gets to say he’s from Italy but the only thing I’ll ever know is that my family’s from West Africa, which is huge and contains hundreds of different ethnic groups. I will always be mad about that loss of identity.
The black experience at USC cannot be defined as one thing because it is not a single narrative. For the African American community, our ancestry has never left our memories.The whips of slavery never disappeared, but have instead turned into whiplash. One moment spent on being happy to be studying at a top university and then another is spent on questioning ‘why we’re here in the first place?’
I’m the least aware of the baggage I carry around when I’m in a room of Black people. When I went to an all Black elementary school, I never had to see myself as different for so long or question anything. Now, I actively work on agreeing with people on topics and stay quiet when we talk about race in class because I don’t want to be the angry black girl.
I think that people don’t let black people be as complex as humans actually are. Black excellence occurs every single day at the same rate that microaggressions and racism do.
I think people would be less surprised that I struggle and have struggled almost my whole life with mental health issues if they were seeing me as just as human as white women. But I don’t think they are. I am told to be strong.
— Alia Atkins
Being black in America is something that you can’t ignore. It’s always at the forefront of your mind. When you’re doing things it’s always like, “How will this be perceived because I’m black?”
I was born in Zimbabwe and lived there until I was about 12. Then, I moved to England but not like the cool part, the countryside. I think I was the only black person at my school. There were maybe 10 total. It sounds insane but really Zimbabwe’s culture is close to British culture so I got all the references.
In America, we emphasize “freedom of speech” and it’s much more vocal. The first time I was made aware of my race in America was when I first started getting invites to BSA (Black Student Association) and other black organizations, but I didn’t get it. And then I came here and I started to see the demographics and it started to make sense. Like, where were all the black people?
I used to think of other aspects of my identity as more important than being black. Like I’m African before I’m black. I’m Zimbabwean before I’m black. But here I am just black. Black is the first marker of who I am. I read Americanah (a novel by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) this past summer, and I felt like someone had been spying on me and writing about my life. On the surface I am an African American but really, I’m not. I’m not even American.
I used to be more comfortable living in a room full of white people than in a room full of black people. Sometimes I feel insecure in my blackness because my blackness is different from theirs. But with age, it’s become easier for me to understand my place.
— Tadiwanashe Nhete
Most races are a performance. When I’m at BSA, I feel very at home there. However, a lot of the stereotypes and racism associated with the African-American community are very foreign to me because I grew up in Alaska. Even though I vibe with it and understand where they’re coming from, I don’t feel included because it doesn’t necessarily apply to me.
Nobody really understands what race is until you kind of learn it in an academic context. Once you understand that there’s power in how people present themselves and in the color of people’s skin, you start to feel differently because then you’re trying to figure out where is my identity factored into? And that’s especially confusing for me as a biracial woman.
At USC, it’s especially difficult because anything that’s Panhellenic is not very inclusive at all. And that’s a huge part of the social life here at USC. It’d be nice if that space felt more inclusive, but what can you really do to change how they recruit?
— Anessa Feero
I’m from Compton, California. I grew up in San Pedro. Before I came to USC, I was at California State University Northridge– I loved everything about CSUN, especially the diversity, but I was looking to be in an academically rigorous environment and I came to USC for that end.
But honestly, I miss the community at home. I miss being around Compton and being around black people and being in my space—a space carved out for me in Los Angeles. So, living on campus now and being a student involved on-campus, the campus doesn’t reflect the outside at all.
As a transfer student, I also struggled getting used to being the only black student in my class. When I was at CSUN, I would’ve had like five other black people in my class. The spaces we have here are underfunded and most students don’t know about them. I think that’s why I emphasize so much that there should be space for us because I feel like people expect me to be in one of those stereotypical categories when I meet them, especially if they’re not a person of color. I feel like a lot of people of color get it and can really relate.
— Kyara Galloway
I grew up in Compton, but I went to school in San Pedro. In Compton, I saw mostly a community of black and brown people. But I went to school with people who were mostly white and Mexican, and there’s nobody that really looked like me. Early on, I didn’t really know what that meant, but I just knew it was something that I was used to, which is kind of sad now that I think about it.
And I think really coming into college was a way where I wanted to find a community. That you know, looked like me, that sounded like me, that I could really connect to on that level because I was so used to being the outsider. Being the only black kid in my class, I wanted to find someone that could share that experience with me.
At USC, I think the community of people that identify with all of me is really small. There’s not really a singular group that empowers and encompasses me as a whole person. With all the white lacrosse males around, it’s like this university wasn’t necessarily made for us. But if there’s a will, there’s a way. There’s the CBCSA (Center for Black Cultural Student Affairs) and the BSA (Black Student Association), which is a student-run space, but how much effort can I put in when I’m only a student here for four years?
— Kyerstin Galloway
I was born in Canada because my parents were attending graduate school, and then they brought me to Atlanta, Georgia when I was two. Then I was raised in Woodstock, Georgia, about 30-45 minutes outside Atlanta. The demographic was majority White and Christian. Being Somali and Muslim, it was difficult to feel a sense of community because there were no Muslims there. And it really distorted my sense of identity because even though I knew that I was physically different, I was still raised around people that were brought up a certain way and I had some of those experiences. The school system was good but it was very isolating for my family.
In high school, I became more aware of the problems with representation. I really wanted to surround myself with not just people that look like me, but that understood how it felt to be different and embraced differences. And that’s how I ended up here.
But even at USC, being a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, I find myself being perceived by others that might not understand how vastly different each Muslim woman is, as being submissive or conservative. And then with my black identity and being gender non-conforming, I end up at the intersection of a lot of things. Sometimes, that makes my identity feel very muddled. It feels like in every space that I enter, there is some aspect of me that doesn’t belong in that space.
— Awrala-Awo Jama
I’m a college athlete and a journalist at USC. I did a dissertation on the breakdown of college athletes in every major sport– football, basketball, track and field. It’s like basically slavery under a new name, like the NCAA. There’s so many black college athletes compared to their white counterparts, and they’re not getting paid for some of the major revenue generating sports like their white head coaches are.
They see our bodies as so glorified and invincible that they can’t look to see if we’re doing okay on the inside. I know four-star, five-star recruits who come here with depression. [Like me, for example]. I have anxiety. There’s really no support here. Yes, we are here to be athletes, but we’re also called student-athletes. We’re here to perform on all levels. And if you can’t provide that support, I just think it’s unfair.
I’m grateful for my time at USC, but I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my athletic career that have revealed a lot of these deficiencies. A lot of things that people sweep under the rug in the athletic world. And yeah, we are privileged. USC gives us an education, and all these opportunities to be great and to be heard. But I think it’s a conversation that has to be had– that you know, we’re more than athletes.
— Cameron Antoine-Dillon
There was a dual nature to growing up in Portland because my parents were Ethiopian immigrants. While there were so many Ethiopians around me, it wasn’t until USC that I realized that most of my upbringing was very white centric. I really came into my own as a black person. But almost everyday at work in the Media Center (USC Annenberg Media’s in-house newsroom), whether it was related to the Media Center or not, I’d call my dad and be like, “Everyone’s racist.” And he’s just like, “Not everyday. Not everyone can be racist.” And I’m like, “No, I’m telling you, this bullshit happens.”
I’d be so pissed, and it would really fester. It was really nice when it was Black History Month and I did really cool journalism projects through the Media Center. Because it was propagating a more healthy conversation about race instead of kids being called the N-word on campus. Stuff like that either gets brushed aside if it doesn’t affect you or it gets exaggerated to like the biggest thing that ever happened to you at this school when there’s a bunch of pluses and minuses about going here and being a person of color.
— Heran Mamo
I’m usually the only black person in all my political science classes, and people expect me to be the spokesperson for all black people when we talk about racial issues. I don’t like that. I don’t want to have to voice my opinion on things just because I’m black. I feel like I’m entitled to my silence as much as I want.
When everyone in your class looks the same, It’s really like an echo chamber because everyone’s just agreeing with each other on certain things. There’s no perspective or opposition to what they hold as universal truths just because they don’t know about other types of people.
They’re not really as educated about the issues that other people face. It would be easier to deal with [microaggression] if there was a better way to mingle with people of your own community. I know there’s black student organizations here, but I haven’t really heard of anything they do besides giving us free printing.
I used to go out to the Crenshaw Mall, and I’d see the most number of black people I’ve ever seen in California. It was really shocking. I was like, “There’s my people,” you know?
— Bianca McCloud