Being Black at Harvard: A Thesis

Andre Chatfield, Harvard University

Since birth, all odds were against me. My mother was fifteen years old when she went into labor, and I was detached from my biological father before my third birthday. When my mom went off to college, I waved goodbye before I was consciously aware of the situation and resided with my grandmother until I was nine years old. Words cannot explain the pains that I experienced from being isolated from my mother for so long. Most of this substance however was hidden behind the vagueness of a new environment and an unfamiliar face when I was sent back into her custody.

Years later, I still lay my head down on my pillow at night and contemplate the struggles endured to reach this very point in my life. As an underprivileged black male attending a pretentious school like Harvard, I have been embedded into a realm that was once surreal to me. And these opportunities would have remained concealed within the confines of the privileged few had it not been for physical abilities, an unwavering determination, and a bit of luck, perhaps.

But irrespective of all the triumphs and the accomplishments I’ve attained throughout my collegiate experience, there’s one thing that has always remain unchanged: the distorted image perceived by my white peers. Over the course of my life, I have been internally seized and apprehended, stripped of the liberating identity presumed by society. For twenty-two years, I have experienced anxiety and overanalyzed particular scenarios with a fear that my actions, or my mere thoughts, would impose a threat to my well-being. As a black male within a society based on the underlying yet foundational standards of inequality, discrimination, and supremacy by a dominating force, being black in America is grueling. It requires constant awareness. And at times, it demands patience and tolerance to evade ignorance.

But this isn’t new to any of us. This is something that we can all relate to. These aspects of the daily routine have become so deeply ingrained within our identity that it goes without saying, society needs to change. A week before my best friend and I first set foot on Harvard’s campus, an 18-year-old African American male by the name of Michael Brown was shot and killed by police. Then Trayvon Martin. And Sandra Bland. And Eric Gardner. Four years later, we’ve seen no justice. We’ve continued learning new names of individuals lost to a distorted system intended to keep our society safe.

On April 13th, 2018, state violence spread to another community. One perceived to a be safe space to the immoral acts of police brutality and racial discrimination. One that I, too, felt somewhat sheltered from the existence of aggressive force and violence – Harvard University. And this not only reminded me of the struggles we’ve bore witness to over the years but encouraged me to take a moment to embrace my brothers and sisters. To appreciate the blessings that have been placed before me because there is no way to predict the future that lies ahead. Though one’s future may seem bright, filled with endless possibilities and hope, we as people of color still remain susceptible to a dreadful end. A swift turn in events in which our dreams can be dried up like a raisin in the sun.

So, as I sit here in my dorm room on this Ivy League campus, I am aware that my identity is perceived as a threat. I am aware that I will be judged by the color of my skin and labeled as dangerous due to common historical fallacies. But there’s one thing I always remember to alleviate this feeling of unease – my blackness has equipped me with the tools necessary to surpass this corrupt societal system and to see the light that lies beyond it all. And for this reason, I can hold my head high without a doubt in my mind.