By Lance Reynolds
Is this real life or is all of this just a dream? My new normal, until early May, is getting within feet from elephants, seeing lions chase after warthogs and hearing monkeys holler throughout the night.
But beyond being exposed to the beautiful wildlife of eastern Africa, I have also seen what life is like in a black and developing country.
When I woke up the morning of Feb. 19 to the campus news of stickers with the message: “It’s ok to be white” back in Vermont, I ignorantly didn’t make anything of the incident. I initially thought the message was fine and a form of free speech.
It did not take long for my attitude towards the news from back home to change dramatically.
As I learned verb after verb in my Kiswahili (Tanzania’s native language) class, I tried to envision what it felt like for students of color to see “It’s ok to be white” posters around campus.
Emails from Public Safety and President Neuhauser stating that the incident was related to white supremacy and hate groups made me feel guilty. No matter how much I did not want it to be the case, I saw some minute parallels between my experiences here in Africa with the incident.
Living in a part of the world that is predominantly the opposite color that you are is not easy.
I have gone into Arusha – Tanzania’s third most populated city – several times now with my classmates. Before getting out of the bus and onto the streets, I always try to have a positive mindset. However, it’s been near impossible for me to carry that mindset through the entire duration of the visits.
It’s overwhelming being young and white while walking the streets of Arusha. It’s easy to stick out and locals constantly stare at me and my classmates.
Now if I saw posters that read: “It’s ok to be black” like how students of color at St. Mike’s saw “It’s ok to be white” posters, I would be nervous for my safety.
My three week home stay in Ngaramtoni, a village of Arusha, was not easy.
Although we only exchanged in very small conversations, my family fed me breakfast and dinner each day, let me clean myself at the end of each day and gave me a bed to sleep on each night. They cared for me as much as they could and it was a truly relieving feeling.
I find it despicable that there’s still problems in America with race relations. With my recent experiences in Africa, I hope everyone back home can imagine themselves in the shoes of people of color to see how unnecessarily overwhelming it can be.
I believe it is too often times that I and other St. Michael’s students get wrapped up in our own campus bubble. We get so focused on our everyday lives with academics and other obligations that we fail to see other people’s perspectives on life – that it’s not always so bright and glamorous.
I hate the fact that it took an experience like studying abroad in an African country to learn that a message like “it’s ok to be white” is actually hate speech and not free speech. It shouldn’t have taken this much for me to learn this lesson.
We must create a dialogue with people of other color back on campus and let them know they are one of us, just like how my home stay family accepted me as part of their family for three weeks. We need to make sure the voices of people of other color are heard. We must not continue believing that since our lives may be going well then everyone’s life must be going the same.
We are all one people.
Lance Reynolds ’19, is studying abroad in Tanzania this semester.