One of my first encounters with a foreign student is one that I will never forget. I was sitting with a few students, having the typical introductory conversation by informing one another on what we’re studying and where we’re from. After getting through the basics, one African female student asked me, “Is Black Lives Matter really a thing in the U.S.?” I immediately smiled; I knew she was referring to the negative press of the movement. By asking if what she saw on the news was “really a thing” she seemed to insinuate that whatever it is sounded unreal or even absurd. She talked about how she’s seen and read about the riots and arrests that have happened because of police brutality. I shared with her that Black Lives Matter is not only very real thing -- it’s a movement. I told her that where you are and what’s happening at that specific time, determines what you’ll see happening in the movement. I assured her that, for the most part, it’s not as if as soon as you walk out of your house for the day, you will be shot because you’re Black. After the last comment her body relaxed and she said,
“Okay, because I was thinking about visiting the United States.”
This instance reminds me of how much of an impact the media has on all of us. If we don’t have a personal experience in another country or around another culture, we take what the media presents and interpret it as doctrine. We don’t always consider what part of the story is left out. It’s not surprising that although African Americans have progressed in status, the media still mainly marginalizes us and downgrades that progress to portray us as nothing more than general stereotypes. However, the tragedy in this is that there are some who internalize these stereotypes, thus discrediting the progress and unknowingly perpetuating inequality.
My internal reflections of marginalization didn’t stop here. In one of my classes, we were discussing wicked problems, problems that are complex with no simple solution. The initial question posed was in relation to who should have access to higher education in the British system. We had to choose between a black boy, Sean, who received the grades BBB, and a white girl, Chloe, who received ABB. Chloe came from a private school, while Sean came from a public institution. As we gave an explanation as to why we made our decisions, I would say that quite a few students chose Chloe because of her grades and background in private school. They, therefore, believed she was the better student because of her qualifications and resources.
I asked the question, how can we assume she’s better because she was able to go to private school? What if Sean is just as qualified but just didn’t have the resources to attend a private school or receive extra help? Consequently, the conversation became about potential versus attainment. Another international student posed the idea that in choosing Chloe, whose grades were only slightly higher despite her background and access to resources, we increase the gap between classes, and thus, races. One student, a white male, responded to this by exclaiming, “Well whose fault is that?” Yeah! He actually said this. Many people chuckled. I wasn’t sure if he was serious or joking. However, internally, it was a huge problem for me. Many of the exchange students from the United States, whether in favor of Chloe or Sean, gave more diverse responses, taking into consideration the systemic issues that I hear a lot about at UNC Chapel Hill.
Even though it was a hypothetical situation to get us to understand the complexity of wicked problems, I was able to observe the wicked problem surrounding me. Some of the students have the very mindsets that prevent blacks and the impoverished from attaining higher education. It’s this mindset that writes us off before we’ve even gotten a chance to prove our ability. We are marginalized because there are many of us who don’t have access to resources such as tutors, or a private school education. Though I have been blessed with my former private school experiences, there are others, like Sean, who aren’t able to receive the extra assistance. Even without the extra aid, he was one grade away from obtaining the same grades as Chloe. Yet it is because of that small difference that many saw him as unqualified.
These two experiences have influenced me to be very reflective, in every circumstance, while studying abroad in Manchester. I personally have not experienced marginalization that prevented me from gaining access to higher education. Nor has the media directly caused me to personally be stereotyped. However, from these two moments, I now look forward to more conversations that I can have to get a sense of how others think here, as well as help, eradicate and dismantle the thought processes that lead to being marginalized as a group. I am inspired to help change the thinking that many have become complacent both within and beyond the classroom.