I want to look all children in the eye and tell them their humanity is valued and their worth, immeasurable. I want to be right when I tell them they can do anything and only their wildest imaginations are the limit. But tragically, as a descendant of African slaves, I have not always felt that my life was valued and I cannot consciously sell a dream to African American children without cautionary tales about what they may encounter.
For example, I would have to share my horrifying experience being chased with scissors by a classmate in middle school as she tried to cut off my “monkey” lips after calling me the n-word. I will have to share how high school friends stopped speaking to me and said disparaging things when I was accepted to Stanford, and not to ball or drop it on a dance floor.
Conditions have improved dramatically since the 1860s or 1960s and I am immensely grateful that I am allowed in any restaurant and can drink from any water fountain I please. But while I do not take progress for granted, I realize more is needed. It is no longer about overt racism and hatred (though those sentiments can flourish) but rather about systems of oppression in place that are crippling generations and must be dismantled, as many of us are working toward.
We realize that our society does not always hold true to its creed, from its factory farming system to its public education system to its criminal justice system. We confront this and fight tirelessly for transformation.
There is no magic elixir to undo America’s heinous creation story. It is impossible to alleviate the pain. But we must work to treat the deep underlying wound. Conversations about race must occur if we are to sustain progress. Acknowledging that we were not all born with the same opportunities; that systems have despicably failed some more than others; that hard work and desire are not all that matters; and that each of us harbors thoughts that are destructive, are critical to healing our creation story.
I am TIRED of talking about race. I am a human being with much more to offer than my chocolatey melanin. I do not want to be labeled by my pigment. However, it is my obligation, by virtue of my being here, to give my voice for those who are muted. Activism is particularly important among a class where there are disturbingly only 28 African and African-American students among 800+.
Please fight for my humanity, our humanity, with me. I love the phrase “one (wo)man can change the world” because it is true! The work starts and ends with you. Inside of your heart and mind. Collectively at The Wharton School, we will touch the most powerful people in the world. Each of our voices and energy matter, just like our lives. I hope we use our power to heal and not aid in the ongoing erosion of a unified humanity.