October 3, 2017

GUEST ROOM | We Are Not a Monolith: Nuances of Blackness at Cornell

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A response to Sunspots’ “Combating White Supremacy Should Not Entail Throwing Other Black Students Under the Bus” 

I believe African/Caribbean students are taking up a lot of space on this matter. The only public discourse that I’ve seen published are from these students. As an African American whose family has been in the Americas since the start of Transatlantic slavery, my opinion is equally valid, and so I’ll share on my experiences.

The voice of African American Black students are stifled. We are labeled as “Just Black” on campus, and our Blackness is constantly called into question. There is a clear divide in the Pan-African Black community and no one wants to talk about it. The fact is, African American students are the minority of the minority community. Six percent of students on campus are of African Descent, and of that six percent, African Americans are only a minute percentage.

Furthermore, because of Cornell’s racist and discriminatory financial aid policies, most international students are wealthy because Cornell doesn’t provide financial aid to international students as easily. This is inherently classist and perpetually discriminates against poorer international students.

Many argue that “Blackness is one-dimensional and we should stop dividing ourselves because it is counterproductive to our goals… we’re all just black.” This rhetoric is dismissive and fails to acknowledge class privilege, skin tone, and other forms of privilege in our community. Things like homophobia and sexism run rampant in our community. Not all Black people experience racism and discrimination in the same way. We are not a monolith, so stop treating us as such. When I walk in a room, I’m never just black. I’m a heterosexual, able-bodied, black man from a low socioeconomic background.

I digress, but since race is the most apparent thing in society and it is the topic of discussion, I’ll speak to that.

Again, not all black people experience racism in the same way! Racism operates on three levels: individual, structural, and institutional. Everyone from the African diaspora may all experience racism on the individual level (being called the n-word and being restricted from a white frat party being only the tip of that iceberg). But international students who call another place home don’t have to deal with the ingrained institutional and structural forms of oppression in the same way American Black students do. (Housing discrimination, mandatory minimum sentencing, War on Drugs, school to prison pipeline etc.)

This is not to discredit their experiences with now postcolonial and neoliberalism in their homelands. I’m just arguing that it looks very different and we shouldn’t all be lumped together without addressing the nuances of blackness.

Lastly, BSU’s demands were completely taken out of context. In no way, shape or form were they insinuating that Cornell should admit fewer African/Caribbean students. I don’t think that admitting more American Black students means admitting fewer international students. These things are not mutually exclusive.


Marquan Jones is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.