[Scenes of Racial Instruction series]
This week, one of my first-year students stopped by the black studies office a little distressed. She had just gotten out of one of her other classes. She had left the room right after the class had ended because she needed to go to the restroom.
In her haste, she forgot her purse, and returned to the class when she remembered it. Almost everyone was gone. One student there informed her, though, that her professor had the purse. She came to me for help since she couldn’t find the professor at her office.
No sweat, I told her, and we went to the main departmental office of the professor to figure out where she was having her next class. When we caught up with the professor, she informed my student that she had given the purse to another woman in the class.
"Why?," my confused student asked.
“You don’t know her? I thought you knew her” the professor responded.
“Not beyond our class,” said my student.
"Oh," said the professor.
We left as the professor was beginning her next class. It turns out that my student and the student who was given her purse are the only two black women in the class. The professor assumed that the two of them knew each other, were friends, etc., perhaps, because they are both black.
My student informed me that she sits somewhat near the other student in class, but she also sits near other students--all white--in the class.
My student and I moved around the campus a little looking for the other student with her purse. We went to the library. We went to lost and found hoping
the purse would be there. No luck.
Finally, as we were in the student center someone approached us and gave my student her purse. The other student who was initially given the purse had seen a group of
young women gathered together and said “Any of you know" [L.O.]. Someone in the group said she thought so, and the student gave her the purse. Fortunately, one of the students in the group knew my student.
My student and I talked about the important lessons learned, about how there
will sometimes be assumptions made about her by white professors and maybe others on how close she is to other black students when there are only two of them in the class.
My student also talked about how she learned a little something about the need to
see connections to black women that she might not otherwise be connected to.
That last lesson reminded me to tell her of that old African American saying,
“We might not have come over in the same boat. But we’re in the same boat now.” We laughed and shook our heads.
[This entry is a piece from a series on "scenes of racial instruction" -- moments when an authority figure teaches students what it means for them to be black.]