The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I was chatting with my beautiful mother yesterday.
I wish everyone could have daily chats with my mother. The world would be a much better place. There’d be far more understanding and far less ignorance. Because the thing is, chatting with my mother is more than talking to one amazing human being. It’s about talking to all the amazing people who came before her and passed along their knowledge. When I talk to my mother (and my father, for that matter), I’m talking to my ancestors. It’s not just what Mama said; it’s what Mama said, which is what Great-Grandmother Big said, which is what my Great-Great-Grand said, which goes all the way back to the wisdom of the tribal elders in the kingdoms of Africa. I’m a Black American and that’s how it goes: Our culture is oral and communal and passed from generation to generation amen.
That stuff is ageless and that’s a beautiful thing. But there are so many things in our world that are changeless and it’s not at all beautiful.
Anyway, Mama and I were talking about my brother’s impending college graduation. He is at the top of his class earning a Computer Science degree from the University of Central Florida, one of the best programs for C.S. in the country. He is a Black man doing great things and going places. And I used to change his diapers.
I am so incredibly proud. The world for him is so different from the world my parents experienced when they graduated from Florida State University in the 70s.
And yet, so much has not changed.
Mama and I were chatting about Baby Bro’s experiences in his program, how more often than not, he was the only Black person in his class, how he often suffered endless microaggressions as a result. Classmates attempting to explain concepts to him that he already had a better understanding of than they did. Professors showing concern that he’d be able to “keep up” in the class before even getting to know him or his work. (Did I mention he’s graduating top of his class? Ok, just checking.) Being told over and over how great it is that he’ll be a “talented Black programmer” because clearly you have to be White to be just a “talented programmer.” The list goes on.
And the list is familiar. Baby Bro and I are a decade apart, and that list was familiar to me as a psychology and French major, as a law student, as a library school student. What is more, the list goes back even further.
During our conversation, Mama recounted her own list from years ago, experiences that she and my dad faced in what was supposed to be the closing years of the civil rights movement. In an institution of higher education that had just been integrated less than 10 years before. The stories were the same: being the only Black person in the class, having classmates attempt to explain simple concepts, professors showing concern that they wouldn’t be able to “keep up” in the class. Same list. On and on.
The only possible difference was that Mama clearly remembered being in a social science class in which a White classmate openly discussed the “laziness of certain n*ggers.” Amazingly, this was a class taught by one of the very few Black professors at the time. And as far as we know, Baby Bro hasn’t faced any of that overt racial aggression. But as someone who works in higher ed myself, I know it still happens.
Mama was frustrated that so little had changed for her “babies,” that we’d all had to experience so much of what she and my dad fought against in their day. I share her frustration. But I also keep on keepin on.
I continue to do the work of fighting oppression because the history makes it that much more vital. I do it for me. I do it for Baby Bro. I do it for Mama and Daddy. And I do it for all the ancestors and all the descendants going back and moving forward.
Un jour, ça va changer. Il le faut.
One day, things will change. They must.