At birth, I entered the lifelong process of blindly learning what it means to be white. Life coaches bestowed the notion of whiteness in me — my parents, peers, teachers, institutions, media, song lyrics, legal system, schools and countless others. Through an unspoken process of socialization, I have learned how to be white.
At just four months old, my parents left a country filled with bloodshed, hatred and nationalism in the hopes of finding a utopia called America. Instead, they found the same deathly and suffocating grip choking the people of the United States. It was no longer just religion that simply divided people: It was race.
At age two, my parents were already socialized by American society which included adopting the notion of separation and oppression along racial divides. They soon learned that this country was quick to assume, doubt, ignore, belittle, torture and deny based on the color of one’s skin. Now, America looks onto Bosnia and its civil war as a senseless affair between ignorant barbarians.
Bold statement from a country with a similar history.
At age five, Ruby and I were lumped together in preschool, because our teacher assumed that her non-white dialect and my non-English accent went well together and made us equally un-American.
At age seven, I desperately wanted my hair to be braided with pink clips and beads on the ends, but an unspoken and uncomfortable exchange between my mother and the hairdresser ensued that proved silent resistance could be overlooked in order to appropriate someone else’s culture.
At age eight, my parents climbed the social ladder and moved away from the poor inner city.
At age eight and a half, my parents started to lock their car doors when they wandered back to their old neighborhood.
At age nine, my whitewashed town grew afraid of others after 9/11.
At age 10, my father pointed out the factories piled in Detroit and told me that all I would have to do in order to avoid the assembly line would be to work hard in school.
At age 12, the evening news showed white individuals and lumps of color.
At age 13, I learned the world history of white conquerors and saviors who acquired God’s duty to spread civilization to the rest of the world.
At age 14, I moved to a rich, white area to go to a better school, and soon learned to ignore the too-close-for-comfort “ghetto” separated by an invisible border of high taxes.
At age 15, the cool kids in high school bonded over creating their own racial slur.
At age 16, my role models included all of my teachers at school — all of them white.
At age 17, I let my head bob to the rhythm of lyrics and beats produced by a different race: by a different world ridden by a struggle I will never experience.
At age 18, I watched the masses of my affluent white peers receive academic awards while the handful of black students received athletic awards.
At the University, I thought the campus was very diverse and welcoming.
At the University, my heartbeat quickened when a black man was walking towards me at night.
At the University, my slight accent attracted inquisitive comments, and my response of being born in Bosnia made me seem interesting and cool while immigrants of color received snickers and were negatively regarded as “fresh off the boat.”
At the University, my white guilt drove me to smile excessively at people of color as they walked by.
At the University, no one demanded that I speak without an accent, while others rolled their eyes when a foreign GSI entered the room.
At the University, I am heard, listened to and respected.
At the University, my voice belongs to me and does not speak for all people of my same identity.
At the University, I am free to be me. No questions asked. No assumptions made. No threats hurled.
At this very moment, one question lurks: What I am to do with what I have learned?
What would you do? I dare you to take ownership of your education. Disrupt the cycle of bombarding messages, teachings of white norms and suffocating reinforcements.
Maja Tosic is an LSA senior.