I don’t remember very much having to do with race during my college time, and those few memories are from my freshman and sophomore years.
My last two years were almost completely “white.”
I attended Georgia College (now Georgia College and State University) from fall of 1976 through spring of 1980. Of the predominately white colleges in the state, Georgia College had one of the (if not the) highest percentages of black students. I’m thinking it was between 15 and 20 percent – but it really might have been closer to 10 percent.
That means everyone else was white.
All of my professors were white and all of my fellow English majors were white. Unless I’m forgetting someone. But I don’t think I am.
Though my last two years were very white, my first two years were much more racially diverse.
I lived in the most integrated dorm. Since I couldn’t live in my first-choice dorm, the one on the main block of the campus (Bell Dorm) as a freshman, I chose the smaller of the other dorms, Wells Dorm. I didn’t want to be in the new dorm, Napier, the one with the tiny windows.
Wells was the furtherest from the main block of the campus, but I’d rather have a longer walk than have tiny windows.
Wells was also the dorm most of the black girls chose.
That afforded me the best chance to have black friends. Except that I played basketball. That gave me another chance to have black friends.
During my freshman year, I remember hanging out in friends’ rooms with a mix of black and white girls. We talked about everything. I’m guessing we talked about race, but I don’t remember specific topics. Just that we hung out together.
We also ate together in the cafeteria. I do remember noticing that we had the only racially-integrated table there. At our college, we mostly self-segregated.
Except at our table. There our dorm friends – both black and white girls – ate together, sharing our days and experiences in conversation. Every day.
That only lasted during my freshman year, though, because that was my only year in Wells Dorm. Once I moved to Bell at the start of my sophomore year, my friends became white girls – mostly the ones who lived on my floor. And white guys, fellow English majors.
No more black friends. Because I didn’t live around black girls.
I don’t think my friends from the previous year returned to school. Surely we’d have remained friends even though we didn’t live in the same dorm? Surely??
I don’t know the answer to that.
But I do know that by my junior year, I was hardly ever around black students. That was because I’d quit playing basketball after my sophomore year.
While I was on the basketball team, I had a couple of black friends, teammates that I was around almost daily.
I remember once walking downtown with a couple of teammates to the pizza place. I teased my black teammate, “You know you can’t sit with us when we get there.”
I was teasing, never once thinking she couldn’t sit with us.
But when I saw her reaction, I knew that was a real concern for her.
She believed I was serious.
That her white friends wouldn’t sit at a restaurant with her.
I quickly recanted. I told her I was only teasing.
But I still remember that instance now because of her reaction. I felt badly that I’d teased her about something that was so sensitive. And apparently so possible, even in the 1970s.
How could I have been so unaware??
Another time I was unaware must have happened around the same time. I don’t remember exactly when it was. Maybe in the spring after basketball season?
One of my teammates was driving down with our manager and another friend to Georgia Southern College to visit friends. My home was only about 45 minutes from there, so I could get an unexpected weekend at home. My teammate offered for me to ride with them, and I accepted. My mother agreed to pick me up in Statesboro.
So one Friday afternoon, I climbed into a small car with three black girls, and we headed out on the drive from Milledgeville to Statesboro.
Somewhere along the way, we stopped in a tiny town for gas.
This was the time before convenience stores. You got gas at a locally-owned station, and the owner or his worker pumped it for you.
We four climbed out of the little car and went inside for snacks while the owner pumped the gas.
And when we, snacks in hand, got back in the car and pulled out of the station, my three friends burst out laughing.
I had no idea what they were laughing about. I was completely clueless.
“Did you see the look on his face!??” they practically shouted. They were talking about the owner.
And then I knew why they were laughing.
The white owner was angry that a white girl would be hanging around with three black girls. Riding in their car, talking with them, being their friend. Apparently he gave me withering looks.
Because I was white and not used to being scorned, I didn’t even notice.
But my black friends did.
Because they lived in a different world, one in which they were often looked at with disdain.
They lived in the same world that my other teammate lived in. One in which you might not get to sit at the table with your white friends at a restaurant.
In both situations, on the walk to get pizza and on the ride to Statesboro, I was ashamed that I was so unaware.
Yet I continued this lack of awareness of the racism that is inherent in our society.
You see, I have more stories that show my lack of awareness.
Too many. Not just college stories. Stories from my young adult time and on into middle age.
And so, in the next weeks and months, I’ll continue this series on my racism, which manifests too often in my lack of awareness.
There is so much I had (and still have) to learn.