As I get ready to leave campus in May, I do not take my education for granted; being a UC Berkeley student has changed my life in ways that I could have never imagined. Still, being a Black UC Berkeley student means that my blessings must come with an equal amount of traumatization and suffering. I am both bitter and grateful regarding my experience. I fought hard to remain an optimistic cheerful (albeit salty) student by preserving my humanity through radical self-care in tandem with intentional community engagement. Now, I wanted to pass on some of my own reflections dedicated to all the Black UC Berkeley students who are continuing their journey here that have helped me preserve my #BlackWomxnMagic navigating this institution for the past 4.5 years.
UC Berkeley does not deserve to have Black students
As I am sure we are all aware, there are only 1,000 very different and non-monolithic Black students from all over the world (living with hella different intersectionalities) who attend this institution. This means that we do a lot of underappreciated emotional and intellectual labor for our classmates, staff and administrators — both non-Black people of color and white — bearing the weight of their growing pains unlearning (or even defending) their internalized anti-Blackness learned from our white supremacist society. We are some of the most diverse representations of Black people these folks have ever seen in their lives, and they do not know what to do with us on a subconscious (and occasionally, structural) level. We have to facilitate “conversations” through the micro-, mezzo- and macro-aggressions against our humanity in order to teach people through trial and error how to love us better. This is draining, violent and consistently delegitimized. All of us deserve $100,000 checks (and even more for Black queer, trans and disabled students) at the bare minimum for reparations for the informal “cultural competency trainings” we do day in and day out existing here. Black Cal Fam, we are valuable gems on this campus; UC Berkeley needs us more than it can even imagine. Take up space — you are royalty, blessing the campus with your melanated existence.
We only have so much magic to give; choose endeavors intentionally
Let me reiterate, just being on campus as a Black student is work by itself. Often times we are always asked to sit on all the committees, run for all the offices and join all the coalitions to “ensure that that Black voice is heard” and that Black students are “included” — as if we are the ones solely responsible for advocating for our belonging here. It makes no sense, but alas it is a tragic truth, since so many spaces on campus aren’t in the frame of mind to think about the needs of our community. I realized this gap, but as a Black student marginalized in multiple ways (womxn, poor, disabled, first-generation college student) I had to be intentional that these campus groups could add to my holistic well-being somehow in exchange for my intellectual or emotional labor assisting them in bettering my community.
It has always been in my experience to always add things to my plate of things after reflecting on the following:
- Does this work give some sort of validation of my time and energy in the ways that I need? (through means such as free dinner, stipend, units, letters of recommendation from powerful people, safe space to speak truth to power, etc); and
- Am I fulfilled in someway emotionally/intellectually/spiritually/etc. doing this particular work serving the Black community?
If an opportunity was lacking in any of the criteria above, I did not do it. I cannot pour out without being poured into in some way. Find the micro-reparations in any endeavor(s) you feel called to join.
We don’t gotta be strong all the time
For those in our community who have an increased capacity and drive to advocate for the Black community, please know your work is appreciated. For those who are in high-stress seasons, don’t feel like you have to get involved with everything. There are only 24 hours in a day, and you can only do so much. Try not to get caught up in the campus culture hype that you need to be doing a lot of things in order to be “making the most of your time.” You are worth much more than your productivity. Saying no and setting boundaries is completely fine; at the end of the day, you need to be able to exist and make it through this institution. Be unapologetically loud about the fact you need support — we suffer in silence enough already.
Brilliant Black Beings, bless the campus, but don’t give it too much of your magic; it was not made for us in the first place.
Brittney Enin is an extroverted, #BlackWomxnMagical, fifth-year majoring in public health with an emphasis on structural equity and racial justice. You can follow her on Twitter @NerdQween.