Why We Do What We Do

There was a significant incident that moved me toward racial activism during my college career. I noticed that White students seated themselves at the front of the class room and African American students seated themselves toward the rear.  But, Mulattoes, ethnic Whites, and foreigners seated themselves either center right or the room. Assigned seating is rare in college classes so it was evident they had subconsciously assigned themselves to an familiar racial hierarchy.
RT_Overlays__ignored_by_utest__2.pngThe first time that it happened I asked the professor if I could conduct a short student survey. I asked  “How many of you know where your ancestors come from”?  As I expected, White and Middle Eastern students spoke of more than their ancient ancestry, but gave intimate detail of their ancient legacy and frequent visits to their motherland. One White student gave reference of his family crest and land ownership.
Of course the African American students weren’t able to trace their ethnic lineage beyond Americas southern states, such as Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. Some found it ironic  that they couldn’t  connect a  detailed legacy to a time frame that was pre-plantation; or that wasn’t linked to the “Great Migration”. In fact, most were reluctant to revisit any parts of the racist south from which their ancestor came. However, the real irony and maybe even the tragedy of the interview begged the question. Why didn’t African American students find an ancestral connection to their name sake-Africa?
I found the answer to this haunting question in every college text I encountered, as they all read and taught that the Caucasian was the Alpha and the Omega. From Anthropology to World History-from the Sciences to the Arts. Indeed the idea was to lift the White man up in our eyes as the creator of all things; from fire-civilization-language-the arts-even Ford Motor.  College taught me that the American Education system was created to do more than write the African American out of history, but to erase him out of all time by first erasing him from his own mind.

~Deborah White


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