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Why Black Graduations Matter

Solidarity ≠ Segregation

Her Voice

Earlier this week, a number of conservative social media personalities including, Candace Owens, posted viral tweets like the one below claiming that Harvard University's annual black graduation ceremony was "racist."


In response, there has been a fair share of news coverage and debates regarding the "place" for this kind of targeted ceremony in what is supposed to be a "post-racial society."

Newsflash: With the KKK marching on college campuses and rampant discrimination taking place against Spanish speakers, I think the last few months alone have confirmed that we are NOT living in a post-racial society.

While notable advancements in race relations during the last few decades should not be ignored, they should not be used as ammo to invalidate the unique cultural and social experiences that black students face at collegiate institutions. As a black woman who is graduating from an Ivy League university and recently participated in my school's black graduation ceremony, I have always been perplexed by those who claim that black graduations are some kind of oppressive Jim Crow era undertaking.

Why are y'all so mad?

To be clear, black students are not being forced to attend separate ceremonies, but are requesting that these additional recognition ceremonies be available. More of a celebration to commemorate an incredible achievement with those who encountered similar experiences, the narrative of black graduations has been twisted into something ugly, when in reality, they are beautiful.

The author, far right, and friends at Cornell University. (Raheel Yanful)

Why is it a crime to celebrate a pivotal life event with those who you likely spent a lot of time with? Why is it a crime to acknowledge that the experiences of black students can be different?

For four years, if not more, we have served as the defacto experts on all things diversity in our classrooms, defended our intellect in environments where we might have been assumed to be inferior, questioned our beauty in a society that uplifts Eurocentrism, fielded ignorant questions about simply being a black person in America, been congratulated for "being so articulate for a black person," been criticized for having too many black friends, been criticized for having too few white friends… we have put up with a lot. While it's not Jim Crow-level oppressive behavior, as conservative pundits only seem to recognize, these microaggressions do build and manifest in ways that can eventually become too much for some black students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs).

This experience isn't the case for every black student, but it clearly applies to many of the black student populations, including my school, who have gone on to request black graduation ceremonies. Like many other students of color, I have friends of all races but have a unique bond with other black students who have also spent the past four years experiencing the highs and lows of being a black student at a PWI.

Our similar experiences have connected us.

There is something so comforting about being able to let your guard down and acknowledge that what you are experiencing is not an isolated event – it is human nature to bond based on adversity. Despite a number of obstacles, black students have kept pushing and likely made it look easy. But, don't get it twisted. Just because a certain population has been blessed with the privilege to be ignorant of our circumstances does not mean that our experiences are invalid.

I refuse to allow people who do not walk in my shoes tell me my shoes aren't necessary.

So, the same way schools offer varsity sports recognition ceremonies, LGBTQ ceremonies, and Greek affiliation ceremonies, black graduation ceremonies bring together students of similar experiences and validate their accomplishments and the journey that brought them there. In this case, racial background is the differentiating factor in black graduations, and it should not be so controversial. Seeing color and acknowledging differences are not inherently racist unless those factors are used to prevent one population from equal opportunity and resources.

In short, let me and my homies graduate in peace.

We deserve it.

Featured image by Raheel Yanful, courtesy of the writer

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