Oppression Does Not Define My Blackness

Oppression. Whenever I hear this word in a class discussion, I am inclined to listen more attentively, knowing that somehow my identity, my Blackness, will require me to offer my stance in the conversation. As an Afro-Caribbean and a Black-American, I always feel obligated to diversify the discussion with first-hand experiences. Every class discussion subtly suggests the notion that my thoughts—shaped by my Blackness—are only necessitated in the context of subjugation, that my identity centers around one idea and one idea only: oppression.

But during winter term, my class read “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, a novel by Zora Neale Hurston. This book introduced me to the intersecting identities of Black people. Throughout the novel, Hurston focuses on the growth of the Black protagonist, Janie Crawford, depicting her not as a response to whiteness, but a full, complex human being. Someone who experiences the effects of oppression but is not defined by it. Readers see Janie experience heartbreak, growth, and so much more. Janie’s story does not perpetuate stereotypes of Black people being complacent entities in a white-world, but instead paints a full picture of what being Black means, something that Andover has failed to do.

In search for equity, balance and inclusion, Andover constantly addresses Blackness through the lense of racism. Andover asks its students: how do we focus on becoming an anti-racist institution? How do we create an equitable and inclusive environment for students of all races? While these are all important questions to build a safe school for Black students, one question still remains: when will Andover shift its lens from Black people as beings who simply respond to omnipresent racial oppression to beings with a rich, unique, complex history—a history that is rich with music, dance, traditions and Black power? In the fight for anti-racism, Andover has categorized Black lives as the representatives of the race problem, redefining and skimming over the complete meaning of racial health, depriving Black students of a space to be fully, independently themselves. 

When only speaking about Blackness in the context of fighting against racism, we do not celebrate Blackness for its distinctive beauty. Black people are not simply the product of racism—we are people who encounter racism. We do not simply exist to retaliate against white oppression. We are Black students who get stressed over French quizzes, English papers, and lab reports.  We are whole humans who strive to make a name from ourselves that is not always adjacent to white subjugation, but to Blackness itself. 

When you look at me I do not want you to see a struggling, oppressed, Black girl, but a one who is aware of her history and more. A Black girl not defined by slavery but by the steps she takes to create a name for Blackness, as its own race. I am Black. Full stop. But when I am surrounded by anti-racist seminars, one of the only places where Blackness is discussed on a larger level, it is hard to remember that I am more than the oppression I face, that I am more than a reaction. When I am constantly bombarded with the struggles that result from whiteness, without being reminded of the beauty of Blackness—it’s hard to view myself as more than an oppressed Black kid.

Andover makes me feel incomplete and extraneous. Andover makes me feel that without constant persecution, without consistent suppression I am not Black, because that is not what Blackness looks like. This is what racial health looks like in this community. So I didn’t question these feelings—rather, I believed they were unavoidable in the process to racial health. Looking back, I see that Andover has only delved into the superficial parts of racial acceptance, but nothing more; honestly, it is shallow activism. 

Through this branding of Blackness as something perpetually connected to whiteness, Andover has only touched upon the surface of racial health. In this community, racial equity comes across as the mere acknowledgement and eradication of racism within our community. However, this definition implies that racial health solely calls for a reaction. As a person of color, this definition leads me to feel that I need to constantly acknowledge my “inferiority” and deprive myself of worth. Can I be nothing more than this oppression? Will there be a day when someone would address my achievements more often than they ask me about the racists in my life? 

Blackness is so much more than racism. It is so much more than a means to prove anti-racism. At Andover, ensuring education on equity, equality and Blackness, is more significant than the underlying stereotypes that are perpetuated by teaching Black history and Black experiences through a white standpoint.Let’s take history class, for example. When it comes to the history of Black liberation, whether it be through emancipation or Black Revolutions, many history textbooks that are referenced depict Black people as passive participants in their freedom, while habitually portraying white people as their means to salvation. This is because Black history is taught through the eyes of whiteness; rarely do schools use the voices, stories and perspectives of Black people as the primary source of education on Black history. Jaeden Glace ’23, a History 300 student, introduced me to “Give Me Liberty,” the title utilized by Andover to cover the topics of slavery and Black emancipation, and written by a white male named Eric Foner. When describing events, such as Slavery, Foner often uses a detached voice: “For slaves the voyage across the Atlantic was a harrowing experience.” The times when Foner does decide to retell the stories of oppression through the eyes of Black people—“Equiano, who later described ‘the shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying,’ survived the Middle Passage, but many Africans did not” (Foner, 108). Foner only uses Black accounts when it is beneficial to prove a point that was made by him previously, not to truly teach about Black history from the viewpoint of Black agency. 

This year, Andover has taken steps to introduce a Black historical consciousness by “having students read accounts of Black people’s experience during times of bondage and emancipation, and other points in US History,” said Glace. However, he then goes on to say that “there are also many instances where our class is given accounts written by white advocates, but not Black people themselves. [Additionally,] the perspective from which we are taught varies from teacher to teacher. Some terms I have had teachers who were really good at providing diverse viewpoints and accounts on events in US History, but in other terms, they were not as diverse.”

As a whole, Andover has taken steps to recognize Blackness in spaces that have mainly been dominated by whiteness, but it’s not enough. We must discuss Blackness more often without the pretense of racism, and without a month that necessitates the support of Blackness. We must acknowledge the oppression that has influenced Black lives everywhere while also appreciating the variety of identities that complete Blackness. We must promote a holistic understanding of Black families, music, dance, holidays, politics, history, and innumerable other elements of the Black community. Blackness is so much more than the whiteness which restrains it. When you look at me, see me as a Black kid who happens to experience oppression. Do not look at me as an oppressed Black kid, because I am so much more.