I don’t know at what point it truly dawned on me. As I recall, it was more an accumulation of little hints and tip-offs throughout my first year at Michigan before it finally hit me, without mercy.
If I had to choose a specific point, it could have been when I realized I could never afford to move in with my friends the following year at Landmark. It could have been earlier than that, during Winter Break, when everyone was booking their plane tickets back home to places like San Diego and the coasts of New Jersey. Or it could have been later, when conversation began centering on which uncle or whose friend’s mom everyone was going to get in contact with about a summer internship.
These were the sorts of characteristics of a color of people that I began to find myself in regular contact with. They all spoke a different type of language. They said things like “closed party,” “my cousin at Columbia” and “what’s FASFA?”
When I return to my hometown in metro Detroit, I am vigorously reminded of the differences between my upbringing and the upbringings of my green classmates. For the first time, I compared my uniformed 1,000-square-foot home to the Snapchats in my inbox of faraway places with manicured pools and Congressmen neighbors. I started to resent the necessity of my school-year employment I had previously thought was the norm. I began to feel that I was entitled to a trip to Europe on my parents’ bill, because that’s what I was hearing from my greener counterparts.
From these same people I hear, “Michigan was my fall-back school,” “I can’t go to Detroit, I’ll get shot,” or “The only thing decent in this state is the University.” It’s degrading to students like myself, who owe their success to their father’s manufacturing job in the automotive industry and in-state tuition.
Straddling two cultures, while at the same time questioning which one it is you actually belong to, is as confusing as it is domineering. Whenever I see my own elderly neighbors, my friends at home and favorite high school teacher, they all raise their eyebrows and make sure to ask me, “how is it going over there at the big school?” When I’m back in metro Detroit, I am distinguished by my accomplishments at Michigan. But when I’m in Ann Arbor, I am put down with subconscious comments.
But I am now a rising senior, and am accustomed to socializing with students whose skin color is not just black, brown, yellow or white, but also green. Though my interactions with vibrant greens initially discontented me with the reflection of my own duller shade, today I know that it has increased my understanding of colors that are not just synonymous with race, but that are also propagated through income brackets. My experiences at Michigan sometimes dilute my perception of wealth distribution. But my studies at Michigan have taught me that even being a dull shade of green still means being exponentially more privileged than the vast majority of others throughout the rest of the state, country and world.
Michigan students are black, brown, white, yellow, red, orange, gray, purple and green. But most importantly, we are all maize and blue.
Kristen Anderson is an LSA junior.