Black students can educate others

It is important for a young black male to be proud of who he is in today’s America. Certainly the African-American man of today has far more opportunities than he has ever had in this nation’s history.

As a student at the predominantly white University of North Carolina at Wilmington, I have chosen to exercise one of the opportunities I have thanks to the work of the great civil rights leaders of the past. For the sake of learning how to communicate well with all types of people, I have chosen to attend a historically white university.

Most of the black people I know or come in contact with respect this decision. Other black students on our campus even agree that for some blacks, attending a white university may be helpful. Sophomore D.L. Thompson for instance says, “I’m learning how to deal with real America on this campus.”

Unfortunately however, many other black people seem to buy into the ignorant theory that this decision makes me a sellout and will lead to me forgetting my cultural identity. I would like to let everyone who feels this way know something right now; it has so far done just the opposite.

Attending UNC-Wilmington has forced me to take a more active role in minority affairs. The percentage of minority students at my school is very small, totaling about eight percent last year with no evidence of a significant increase this year. Because we are so small in number, we must all actively support minority organizations and functions if they are to continue to be relevant. I, for instance, have chosen to cover minority events for the campus newspaper. I felt a need to do this because it wasn’t being done and I was just as good as anyone else for the job.

At a black university, I may have been tempted to just sit back and let someone else handle the responsibility but that isn’t an option here. Either I had to step up to the plate and take action or nothing would change. Being at a white school has thus helped me realize how important and valuable my individual efforts are to the black community and persuaded me to give what I can.

Being at this campus has also permitted me to help white students better understand black students. While at a black leadership conference at East Carolina University, I was unfortunate enough to have to argue with a young black man from a predominantly black college who believed that because I attended a white college I was completely ignorant of black issues and concerns. He seemed to be under the impression that my ethnic identity just vanished once I got my acceptance letter from UNCW and I was now just a white guy with dark skin. He harbored this attitude despite the fact that his fraternity, though a traditionally black one, was founded at historically white Cornell University.

He couldn’t have been more incorrect about me if he tried to be. While at UNCW I have consistently kept up with black issues either in the news, in magazines, in discussions with other black students, and in class.

Plus, I have had the opportunity to give white students a black perspective on issues and challenged them to consider some things they hadn’t considered before. Many white students had never learned of the apartheid or the concept of Tokenism while growing up. Such issues are common knowledge to me and many other young blacks. My being here not only encourages me to better know my heritage but also introduces white students to my heritage.

And introducing white students to my heritage has yet to cause negative results. Many white students feel that more diversity on this campus, religious and ethnic, would have a positive effect. Green Party President Roey Rosenblith is even trying to organize a student coalition aimed at improving diversity. Senior Jonathan M. Adams, who is white, says about increasing diversity, “We need more diversity on campus. I think [active seeking of minorities] is an awesome idea.”

Finally, I believe my attending this university is justified because so many leaders from the past fought hard so that I would have this opportunity. Going to a good college was a privilege long denied to black Americans.

Back in 1963, many in the black community rallied behind a couple of students as they entered the segregated University of Alabama much to the dismay of Governor George Wallace. Yet now it seems like many blacks want to accuse you of forsaking your heritage if you attempt to receive higher education at a white school.

If it’s so bad for a black student to be at a white school, what then was the purpose of all the civil rights action last century? If all black youth are expected to go to black colleges then the civil rights movement was all done in vain. Schools might as well still be segregated.

Attending a white university is justifiable because I am taking advantage of an opportunity that my ancestors didn’t have but probably would have liked to have. And I am taking advantage of an opportunity that I have because so many who preceded me wanted me to have it. If the civil rights leaders didn’t want my generation to have the right to attend white schools, they wouldn’t have risked their lives and fought so bravely for it. And I show my respect and appreciation for the benefits they earned for me by using these benefits to make something out of myself.

Please consider all the hard work that black Americans had to do in order to gain the right to even attend schools alongside whites. Attending a white university hasn’t diluted my identity as a black male; it has strengthened and reaffirmed it.