Hey activists, you can't force everyone else into activism
The hardest lesson I learned as a 'contumacious' activist
I couldn’t tell you what I was fighting for at the time. It may have been Black history classes. It may have been Black literature classes. It may have been getting BET in the cable lineup. At one point, I was debating with the college newspaper about incorporating black news. I was challenging everybody all at once. Still, when I got an email from a Black faculty member asking to meet with me, it never occurred to me that he’d ask me what he did.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
I opened my mouth to bring up the next bone I was picking, and he waved his hand.
“How are you doing?” he asked again.
“Fine,” I answered. “Why do you keep asking me that?”
“I’m worried about you,” he said. “I agree with everything you’re fighting for, but you’re fighting harder than the entire black population on this campus. I’m defending you against faculty, but I’m worried about your grades. Are you keeping up your grades while you’re in this one-woman activism campaign?”
I stared at him. Then I blinked. At that moment, I wasn’t altogether sure what my GPA was or my grade on my last college paper. I had to really think about it. That used to be a priority. But now I was just ready to write scathing letters to deans, challenge (extremely racist) faculty members and fight against a university that damn near begged black students to show up only to disrespect us on a regular basis.
What was worse for me was the amount of black peers at my school who agreed with me but then shrugged. They just wanted their academic degrees. I wanted them to fight with me. They wanted to lay low. I was disgusted.
I was acting exactly like Will Smith was in “Bel-Air” (Season 2, Episode 3). While watching the dramatic documentary spin-off of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” I realized how annoying 18-year-old me was. I also wondered if I was borderline bullying my peers the way Will was doing with Carlton Banks. Twenty-three years later, I’m pondering on whether I’m still doing the same thing.