Photo courtesy of DU Professional Education | Ese Obrimah asserts that students of color are tasked with creating an inclusive space, but are only part of the conversation when it is convenient for others.
Eminem released a song featuring Beyoncé titled “Walk on Water” on Friday. In the chorus, Beyoncé sings, “I walk on water, but I ain’t no Jesus. I walk on water, but only when it freezes.”
The song reminded me of the pressure people of color face to overperform in order to gain half the recognition their White counterparts do. Requiring people of color to be beyond exceptional in order for their work to be acknowledged, whether subconsciously or intentionally, is problematic and contributes to a system that undermines us.
At Xavier, I’ve noticed students of color are asked to walk on water constantly to create a more inclusive space. Whether it is international student housing, bringing attention to and addressing racist incidents, building a better relationship between the student body and XUPD or getting more inclusive programming, students of color are at the forefront.
There is nothing wrong with students of color working toward an inclusive campus if we choose of our own accord to do that. The problem is when there is an expectation from students, faculty and staff that students of color will always show up to point out the problems that are affecting them and then be there to help fix those problems. It seems that students of color only add value to Xavier through our ability to make Xavier more inclusive. This manifests itself in different ways, from the forums where it’s expected that students of color show up and give input to the class discussions about racial justice and different countries where the students of color and international students are basically asked to teach the class.
While it is important to ensure that students of color are included in events, conversations and in implementing change, it is problematic when you only include us because it is convenient for you. Professors who feel they are not well equipped to have conversations about race should seek out resources and talk to other professors rather than relying on the one or two students of color in their class to lead the discussion.
Asking, or sometimes requiring, students of color to do more work than White students simply because they are students of color is problematic. We saw this come up again during the student government elections that just passed. Members of tickets who had previously never been involved with students of color and international students were suddenly in and out of the Center for International Education and Center for Diversity and Inclusion and had an understanding of issues that past and current students in those offices have been trying to address for years.
Co-opting the work we do without recognizing us in order to make you seem “woke” or look like you are invested in the issues that affect us is appropriation of our knowledge and experiences.
Dr. Bettina Love, an author and professor of educational theory and practice at the University of Georgia, said in a presentation, “To think that the reason we (Black people) were put on this earth by the creator is to fight racism is demeaning. But we gon’ do the work anyway.”
This quote is the reason why the requirement that students of color do the difficult work of making Xavier more diverse and inclusive is problematic. You take advantage of our willingness to work. The work we do is not easy. It takes time. It is emotionally exhausting to constantly have to defend our needs as well as the needs of others, and if care is not taken, the requirement to do that work will have harmful effects on us. In fact, it already does.
In the last chorus of “Walk on Water,” Beyoncé sings, “If I walked on water, I would drown.”
Ese Obrimah is a senior marketing major and staff writer for the Newswire from Lagos, Nigeria.