Updated: Jul 21, 2020
Art by Simren Kshetrapal
Assume. “Never assume, it makes an ass out of you and me.”
People make assumptions all day, every day. Assumptions grease the wheels of social interaction. If a person is wearing a ring on the fourth finger of their left hand- they are married. If someone shows up to a burning building holding a hose and wearing fire-resistant clothing- they are a firefighter. If a young black woman rolls out a yoga mat right as a white male walks into the class- it’s for him, it’s her job. No need to ask, just step onto the mat and thank her, nice and polite.
It made for an uncomfortable moment, having to ask this white, male fellow student to get off my yoga mat. I was now feeling very un-zen, which unfortunately affected my practice for the rest of class. The experience also brought into relief the stories I’d heard about UCPD officers following Black students who walk around campus without backpacks on, or about frat brothers making racist jokes in group chats and emails.
A second jarring moment occurred about a year after the yoga mat incident, as I was speaking with a fellow Black student at an event aimed at supporting community among Black women. Upon hearing my name, she told me that recently, one of my former professors had mistaken her for me, was confused that she wasn’t me, and then seemed surprised that we didn’t know each other. I understand that professors teach many classes, and I understand that the University of Chicago has shamefully few Black students, but this woman and I bore no resemblance to each other aside from the color of our skin.
These experiences are both small, in isolation. Perhaps I shouldn’t have let them get to me,
for my own sake.
But not letting things get to me is harder than it sounds: to roll with the punches, I have to get punched.
My credibility and individuality as a University of Chicago student are up for scrutiny. It is easier to dodge the blows when I know where this scrutiny might come from, like guest speakers at the Institute of Politics, or the UCPD.
But sometimes it hits you by surprise, like at yoga. And then you feel like an ass, for assuming that you were safe.