Dear Predominantly white Institutions (PWIs),
Thank you for the opportunity to attend your school; I mean thank you for employing me at your private nonprofit entity. Undervalued and unrelenting, I know I will be an asset to your educational institution. I hope to be in partnership with you, not indebted to you. To get to this point, I have worked to be great, not an ingrate.
Before I even accepted your offer, I had to and will continue to do cost-benefit analysis. The cultural capital acquired in these college preps may not be worth the psychological payments for an expensive portfolio of stock “diversity” photos, macro-aggressions, and other hidden fees. I must also see notes on the conflation of bonding and bondage.
We all know who ultimately benefits from my value and my victimization. It’s just business as usual. If you don’t think our relationship is transactional, then riddle me this: how are these private schools investing in the protection and prosperity of Black and Brown pupils like myself? And I am not just talking sports scholarships until they get injured. I will gladly put my money where my mouth is.
Let’s be clear, meritocracy is a myth. While I did work hard to get where I am, I know that politics, policies, and pruning were a part of my placement. I recognize that wealthy (white) faces in high places need a black token, a black sheep, or a black scapegoat for the public perception, performative allyship, and perpetuation of prejudice in these prestigious private schools. What exactly will this preparatory prepare me for? What am I prepared to do in the name of this private institution? How am I being prepared to stay and play in my place?
If you let the (white) admin and alumni tell it, I owe this great institution for their academic resources. If you let me tell it, I would state that this institution consciously or subconsciously wants to own me — my likeness, my Blackness, my busi-ness, my happiness.
And from a very young age, I, in this Black body, learned that I own nothing, not even the name on the back of the jersey. And as for my spirit, there is a vested interest in stealing that from me. Moreover, I know I am owed nothing, not even my humanity.
Of course, admissions offices will stick out stats about recruitment, not retention; of course, pie charts about demographics will be presented in Powerpoints; meanwhile, students of color will never see a piece of the pie; and of course, these schools will admit students of color, not their issues of white fragility and white supremacy. While these schools try to secure Black and Brown pupils, I look into the eyes of white leadership and see insecurity, indifference. And I have seen some of the most intellectually rich people churned out by poor systems. As long as the company meets its bottom line...it is what it is.
And to be even more clear, I am no victim or freeloader; I have a choice to stay or to go; regardless, I am willing to work for mines. I’ve always had to. Having never really been comfortable in these precarious school environments and this world for that matter, I have to cooperate, more like co-exist, and compete with others and myself. I am operating within a complex sociopolitical crucible. I am forged by fire and threatened by the prospect of blending in and so losing my individuality, my Blackness, and my sense of self in a white melting pot. I can't say I am better because of it. I just adapt and evolve.
And don’t worry, I will never bite the hand that feeds me because I will never eat from those hands. And you will never see these calloused Black hands carry plates to feed the bottomless bellies of the bougie benefactors aka the grandchildren of white donors whose names are bigger on the checks than those of the recipient. And yes, I have seen Brown students carrying brown boxes in high school mailrooms during study halls, when they are supposed to be studying, of all things.
Where there’s debt, perceived or planned, there’s exploitation. Where there’s power and privilege, not to mention deep pockets, there is malpractice and marginalization. The owning class maximizes profits by cutting costs and or cheapening labor. How much can and will an institution make off my hard work, sweat, and tears? Have you seen how these institutions work? Have you ever seen an institution cry before?
All I'm saying is that we have to be honest about the state of affairs and implications of attending these schools. I stand before you, as a graduate of a private school and a dual degree holder from a private university — Leland Stanford Junior University to be exact. And before you say I made it, ask yourself, what have I been made into? Spare me the lecture or the studies on student resilience when these institutions can bounce back and even benefit from scandal after scandal without any real retribution. Growing up, I once saw a white kid get caught with a white substance by a top school administrator on school grounds, and the kid returned to campus the next day with a smile and a sick story to tell. The white kid was green and out of pocket like his parents, who generously donated each year, earning them a shiny plaque that will always remind me of my market value. So don't talk to me about grit when I have seen graft.
I repeat. Before you say I made it, ask yourself, what have I been made into? A somewhat self-hating Black man who thinks of himself as a part of the Talented Tenth when really he may be a unknowing undercover agent of Anti-Blackness. I mean I was educated in their schools. Too ugly to fathom, right? I'm too articulate to be so abominable, right? Life in the margins is further magnified when you are made into a White solution for the alleged Negro problem in our American school system. (Thank you, Mr. Washington and Mr. Baldwin).
And now, I sit on the other side of those desks, as a teacher, in a private school. Call me complicit but never complacent. Being here at a PWI yet again means returning to that insidious state of discomfort. I just laugh when asked about stepping out of my comfort zone--more like stepping out of my mind and body, suspended in a state of Double Consciousness (DuBois).
After spending my early career teaching in fairly diverse low-income schools, I’m partially here because of bills and familiarity. I have lived, learned, languished and lasted in these environments. Consequently, I’m no saint, savior, or shepherd. I may even be a hypocrite for accepting checks from a corporation we call a college prep. They say if you build it, they will come; people who look like me built these very edifices and now lay under them. People with Brown skin clean the hallways just to be treated dirty.
Furthermore, let's think about when they come, how will they come, engage, and leave, and at what cost. As an unofficial ethnographer, I am here to study, participate, and report the misinformation and mistreatment as well as the victories and virtues. I won’t be here forever; let's be real, these institutions wouldn't allow it anyway, so I always make sure to pay homage to the cafeteria ladies, secretaries, security guards and other staff (these institutions make sure these people are not included in faculty) who grounded and guided me. Most importantly, just because it is familiar does not mean it is good for me.
In my 30s, I now realize that I had to pay to play. I had to make certain investments in myself. In the process, I incurred certain costs, took on certain debts, and realized certain gains. My grandma picked cotton in the middle of nowhere, Texas. If she never survived, I wouldn't be here. With that said, I would never tell anyone to not exercise their options. Rather, I would just say study the terms and conditions of the contract before signing and know what your end goal is. I give these institutions credit for mystifying the attrition process. I may put my trust in certain individuals but never the institutions.
Before I am laid to rest, I mean laid off, I want to retire with these insights.
When has my admission and attendance at this elite prestigious institution NEVER been about the money? And to keep it PC, when have I ever not been property or collateral? I repeat what is your preparatory preparing me for? What coping strategies and tools will I obtain, especially when the institution disappoints me, disarms me, and ultimately discharges me?
I urge anyone with any interest in entering PWIs to learn the language of money before the power of money renders you expendable. I will leave these spaces eventually, but I wonder whether my mind will do the same.
The one who didn't get away but got even.
P.S. Hopefully, my two cents will pay dividends sooner rather than later.
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