American society has made many strides since the Civil Rights movement, but that does not mean that a post-racial society has come to fruition. There may be no physical barriers separating the races, but a white-black dichotomy still exists in many universities.
At Harvard, a handful of undergraduates have attempted to voice the struggles of black students through a photo series titled “I, Too, Am Harvard” posted on tumblr. The idea was sparked by an independent study project done by a sophomore named Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence.
In the photos, the frustrations of some students as well as comments that others have made toward black students on campus are written on whiteboards. Not all of the comments are explicitly racist or intentionally hurtful, but instead most seem to be comments made off-hand and carelessly.
They are statements like “You’re lucky to be black […] so easy to get into college!” or “No, I will not teach you how to ‘twerk.’” These statements might be said jokingly, but they are offensive because of the deeply embedded stereotypes that they promote.
“Our voices often go unheard on this campus, our experiences are devalued, our presence is questioned-- this project is our way of speaking back, of claiming this campus, of standing up to say: We are here. This place is ours. We, TOO, are Harvard," the blog states.
In the Jim Crow south, blacks were kept segregated from whites in schools, restaurants and neighborhoods. In "I, Too, Sing America," Hughes hearkens back to the days of slavery when African American house slaves were treated not as human beings, but as mere property, relegated to back rooms and dark corners unless needed.
Hughes affirms that, despite being the "darker brother" who "they send to eat in the kitchen," he is still beautiful and worthy of representing America.
In the modern context, Harvard is often acclaimed as the paradigm American university with an amalgamation of all cultures and ethnicities represented.
The goal of this campaign is not just to berate people for their senseless comments, but also to attempt to disrupt traditional racial sight-lines and to highlight that black students are more than just a box on the US census or college application, in contrast to the commentary they regularly face on campus.
Photos courtesy of I, Too, Am Harvard/Facebook.