Dantrell Cotton – An Encounter with Whiteness

 

This week, we have a blog coming from a recent University of Wisconsin-Madison Master’s Graduate. Dantrell Cotton spent 7 years in Madison attending UW obtaining both his Bachelors in Community and Environmental Sociology and Masters in Environment and Resources degrees. Dantrell also participated in Nehemiah as the Choir Director and an Empowerment Coach for Madison Inspirational Youth Choir (MIYC). Dantrell has recently relocated to Massachusetts, where he is now attending Harvard University obtaining his ED.M in Higher Education. Dantrell has some personal, reflective posts that share of his experience as a black male in higher education, as well the intersections of faith, justice and reconciliation. You can find additional blogs at: www.revealingjesus.wordpress.com. Please engage with Dantrell’s words here.

 

 

As I sit in this coffee shop reading Desmond and Emirbayer’s “Race in America,” I can’t help but reflect on my recent encounter with whiteness, and how it manifests in expectations for people of color. So here it goes:

So, my mom and I went on a college tour of Harvard’s campus, and a “nice” Southern white woman from Mississippi singles me out from the rest of the group and say, “Are you an incoming student?” Macroaggression #1 (and no I am not reaching…like who else go on “College Tours” lol). In a crowd full of white and international students (mostly of Asian descent), it was clearly assumed that they were admitted students, but for me, it was unsure. After all, I am: 1) Black, 2) pursuing my second graduate degree, and 3) At Harvard.

So, I respond “Yes, completing my Education degree.” Her response, “Wow! It must’ve been your dream to be here. You must be honored” Microaggression #2: “Hahvahd” is so out-of-reach for me (and other POC), therefore, being here is such an honor. Her question brought out the problematic notion that when POC pursue a post-secondary degree at an elite institution, it must be a “dream.” (It also highlights that she is aware that such institutions were not traditionally established for POC). I don’t think she thought it was a dream for the white and white-passing in the group, because their presence is expected.” Well ma’am, coming to Harvard (or any school) is not a dream, it’s a reality that I hope more Black and Brown children see as the exception. (Disclaimer: this is not about equal access to elite institutions like Harvard; that’s another conversation.)

What am I getting at though? In my experience, whiteness often manifest itself as the by-product of niceness. It isn’t always blatant or aggressive. Depending on where you live, it can be underhanded, passive, and even well-intentioned. So, be aware of the assumptions and beliefs that even fuel that questions that your brain desperately wants to ask. Remember that inequality continues when “nicely” delivered in “compliments,” “curiosity,” and ” diverse learning experiences.”

So, to respond to that oh so “nice” woman’s comment: No, it wasn’t a dream to be at Harvard, it was a blessing from God. The product of fasting and prayer. And “No,” I am not “honored” to be at Harvard, I am blessed and elated to receive God’s grace. Nonetheless, Harvard is honored to have me, and the other brilliant Black and Brown scholars that have and will continue to grace the campus. To my Black and Brown scholars grinding, know that you are needed at your respective institution (from community college to Harvard). You shouldn’t feel “honored” to be at institution – save the honor for God.

This is no angry rant, its rooted in love. I love my White brothers and sisters (yes, everyone just as Christ did). I, too, have much to learn. No one is above correction! Consider this post a needed reminder (in this case, to my white brothers and sisters) to be conscious of how we engage and learn from one another.

With that said, I am loving Harvard and Cambridge thus far!

 

-Dantrell Cotton