Hidden away in our ivory tower, it is so easy to shut out the real world that begins just feet away from Harvard’s gates. Most of us don’t even have televisions other than for recreational purposes, so there is no opportunity to casually watch the news. While some do subscribe to popular newspaper outlets, most students rely largely on our social media newsfeeds to decide what content we consume.
As amazing as this technology age is, being inundated with information can have its side effects. In one scroll down our screens, we not only consume the newest funny Vine or BuzzFeed video, but the deaths of black men and women caught on tape. Both types of videos go viral, and as a black person, unfortunately, both are relatable.
I’ve grown tired of reading the most ridiculous headlines about black people—regardless of age, gender, or culpability—doing everyday things and being killed for them. If I have to see one more post trying to differentiate Black Lives Matter from All Lives Matter—like we should ever have had to defend this statement in the first place—I may scream.
Walking on the red cobblestones that pave the sidewalks of campus is like being in another world—and I am split between the sense of awe I, at times, feel to be attending this university and the burden of pressure it gives me. Depending on the day, one emotional side wins over the other—at times due to what current events are dominating in the daily news. This may not be uncommon among the majority of Harvard students, but the experience of being a black Harvard student remains undeniably unique.
While I think many of us would love to just be regular young people, who worked hard to get into this school, our position here is a political statement in itself, and there is a long history informing that. In recognizing this, I think we often feel a sense of responsibility or obligation that leaves us torn. We try to just be carefree, fun-loving, and celebratory. Yet, there is a part of us that knows we must unfailingly regard ourselves with seriousness, weight, and drive to further some nebulous cause.
When a new case of police brutality ending in the death of a black person gains national attention, it affects the mood of the community here on campus. There are those who take to Facebook to rant, expressing their anger and pain, and those who bring it up in conversation among friends. Some just remain silent.
No matter how emotionally affected we may be by the news, though, we try to shake it off—putting on a brave face and a fake smile every time we step out of our rooms. But unlike broadcast news, which we can turn off and go about our day, any time we open our Facebook for a brief moment, we are hit with a new wave of articles, videos, and everyone and their mothers’ commentary.
It is almost impossible to keep up the facade in the face of that. Subconsciously, at first, but then purposely: I made the decision to unplug when all of this is going on. It is hard to avoid the new cases of police brutality and black death entirely, but it has become entirely too easy to disconnect, to go about my life as if it is not happening. I do not actively search out details, and I scroll past articles and viral videos.
I refuse to consume black death—in what seems like public executions—like it is the newest, popular television show.
There is such a thing as white privilege that allows many to navigate this world untouched by the carnage, but we black students also have a choice not to let these emotionally traumatizing moments distract us from our goals. It is a fine line to walk, especially since we are privileged to attend this institution. So, in some ways, it almost seems as if we are ignoring the problem—the termination of black lives. These are human beings, after all, but we are not the ones killing them.
For the sake of our emotional and mental health, we are allowed to take a break from the news, social media, or conversations with friends—and just be. We’re allowed to forget about the politics of it all, and regard ourselves as individuals outside of a world where skin color seems to automatically mean a death sentence.
This place is challenging enough as it is, so why not let it be some kind of safe haven—whatever that might mean? For me, it means burying myself in my work and taking advantage of every opportunity to better myself—because I know that choosing not to keep up with the latest death doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten or deny what is happening. It means keeping my mental well-being intact, while channeling my emotions as fuel to succeed.
Ifeoluwa T. Obayan ‘19, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Leverett House.
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