Last night, around 9:30 p.m., I tweeted a story about my experience meeting a group of white people who thought Black people went to college for free. An article from the New York Times about the United States Department of Justice's intention to "investigate colleges for discriminating against white applicants" had reminded me of the conversation, now 12 summers old. I was having dinner with a group of my all-white coworkers, and I had just told the table that I was planning to attend college that fall. One of the men nonchalantly revealed that he hadn't applied because for him "it wouldn't be free" like it would be for me. I was startled. So were the 22,000 people who retweeted my story since I shared it.
The replies I received were also revelatory: Black folks who had had similar experiences; white folks who didn't believe my story; and Native Americans who hear the same about themselves. There were many people who were shocked to hear anyone could believe Black people got to go to college for free, and others who insisted we actually do. There were also the white folks who were taught the same things as the people I had that conversation with years ago, folks who were ashamed when they found out just how misguided they'd been.
The conversation exploded well beyond me, and that's honestly the best part. I write personal essay and tweet stories from my life because I believe in the power of personal storytelling to reveal the greater truths of humanity. When people from all walks of life respond to my story with stories and beliefs of their own, the bigger picture is impossible to ignore.
Do I believe that all white people think Black people get to go to college for free? Nope. Do I think we should be talking about the ones who do, and how that belief feeds the enduring narrative of economic anxiety in some white families and communities? Absolutely. And until we start having those conversations, uncomfortable as they might be, the cycle of ignorant racism will only continue.