Reflecting on race, affirmative action, and Blackness: A call to commit to inclusion

AbuBakr Sangare

Content warning: This article includes mentions of death, racism, and violence.

As a Black student, race is the focal point of many interactions I’ve had during my time at the College. My relationship to my own Blackness has been an intimate emotional and spiritual one, with many highs and lows as I’ve developed into the person I am today.

In light of the second anti-Black hate incident reported on campus in the span of two weeks, safety and comfort, in relation to race, has significantly been called into question for many current Black students, myself included. The recent oral arguments of the Supreme Court’s consideration of race-conscious admissions practices, as President Maud S. Mandel reiterated in her statement to the community, likely signals the end of affirmative action. The imminent threat of the end of race-conscious admissions policies has added to the gust of anxiety air for many students, myself included — will there be fewer of me on campus?

On the subject of race, I’ve experienced many feelings of betrayal from institutions, friends, and peers — if we all want equity and change, why can’t we achieve it? Why does bigotry and hate still exist and persist within our community? This betrayal lends itself to loneliness. People I once looked up to now perpetuate hate, intolerance, and racism — skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.

Constantly watching people who look like me be brutalized and executed from all fronts of society contributes to these feelings of isolation and leads to an internalized ethos of fear within the body. Whether it be anti-Black hate speech and imagery or videos circulating online of a young Black person gasping their last breaths — we are constantly exposed to pain. The loss of Black life is an all too common tragedy that occurs, one that we witness in between classes, problem sets, and essays.

In the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, I witnessed firsthand the transformation of discourse in relation to the Black experience. It was as if the spotlight was suddenly on us, with everyone posting BLM content on all forms of social media — all eyes are on you. Social isolation due to the pandemic during the 2020–21 academic year magnified these feelings of hypervisiblity when the College reintroduced more in-person events — I’m the only Negro in the room.

Reflecting on my time at the College, two distinct mantras impressed upon me in my first year have uplifted me during my darkest moments. These words have shaped my experiences at the College and qualify the position I hold today as, proudly, one of three Black chemistry majors at the College — existence is resistance. During the most challenging moments of my journey, I felt at odds with myself, dissatisfied with feeling as if I was merely surviving and not thriving — surviving IS thriving. As a consequence of certain feelings and experiences that bred isolation during my time at the College, I was driven to find shelter and community during my time studying away, leading me to the Mecca, the real HU, the Howard University.

My experiences at Howard can be summarized as follows: peace, love, acceptance, and, most importantly, totally immersive Black excellence. Upon my immediate return to Williams, I lamented the loss of such a magical place, naively believing that no semblance would be possible at the College. However, upon returning to meet the wonderful Black first-years and the Eban House, a spark of hope and joy ignited in me at the prospects of a brighter future.

This future, however, is now under imminent threat in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent oral arguments on race conscious admission — it is up to everyone to take action to ensure an equitable, positive, and enriching experience for all members of the College community.

To the College administrators and faculty: It is imperative that you publicly voice your commitment to equity in the wake of the current climate. The College must use public media outlets and social media to loudly and proudly take a strong stance against ending race-conscious admissions practices — it is not enough to simply sign an amicus brief. We must be proactive in our support.

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, during the questioning of Mr. Patrick Strawbridge, the Counsel for Petitioner in University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC)  vs Students for Fair Admissions, presented a scenario of two students with two different backgrounds to illustrate the potential negative effects of ending race-conscious admissions practices. Case 1: a student granted the privilege of five generations of institutional legacy status at UNC, predating the end of colored water fountains. Case 2: a descendant of the enslaved whose family hadn’t been given the opportunity to access education, let alone UNC due, exclusively, to them being Black. Not acknowledging race erases the lived experiences of historically marginalized groups and disadvantages them in comparison to groups who have had a legacy of privilege. The College, particularly with its legacy practices, inherently sides with the privileged over the oppressed. The question remains; in face of a scenario mirroring that which Justice Jackson outlines — how will our admissions office respond? Embodied in the melanin of Black folk is a history of oppression and struggle — you can’t see me if you don’t see my race. Our Blackness qualifies who we are. Disacknowledgement of race and experiences bred from it paint an incomplete picture of applicants, particularly those of marginalized backgrounds.

To my fellow Black students: You are not alone in your experiences of not relating to your peers. I implore you to aggressively seek spaces of community and continue to craft, build, and fortify them, just as you have — just as I wish I had, lacking strength. Exist unapologetically and practice radical self-love. Surviving each day is thriving. By virtue of being here, we’ve proven ourselves to be worthy, deserving, and capable of kicking serious ass. No matter what trials and tribulations lie ahead, we gon’ be alright.

AbuBakr Sangare ’23 is a chemistry major from Phoenixville, Pa.