One night I watched “Dear White People” on Netflix. A particular dynamic resonated with me. In the newest season, the series’ protagonist Sam White, played by Logan Browning, is in her senior year of college. Since her freshman year, White struggled with the school administration over race relations at the fictional Ivy League Winchester University. Through her radio show, Dear White People, she became a symbol of fearless resistance to centuries-old oppression and antiquated norms for her Black peers. Now in her senior year, Dear White People has become a cornerstone of Winchester culture.
Those who have graduated college know what that year is like. Relief mixed with anxiety and a dash of excitement litters the air. Your four years cultivating this “thing” that will somehow propel you into the life of your dreams. Now as a full-fledged adult in the world, who shall you become? And as you look forward, you notice that there is a wide-eyed freshman who has that same gleam in their eye as you once did.
To Sam White, this freshman is Iesha Vital, played by Joi Liayé. After witnessing the deaths of unarmed Black people, the riots of Ferguson, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Vital represented the collective fire in Generation Z for Black liberation. White is Vital’s hero. However, she is also Vital’s biggest disappointment. White must make decisions for the sake of her career at the expense of her personal ethics. Vital argues that White, like many others in her class, have lost their uncompromising stances against white supremacy.
From Radical to Reasonable
Although I am far from being referred to as ‘old’, this sentiment drew me back to my younger years at Howard. Currently, the students are in a battle with the administration over housing failures and a lack of transparency over the allocation of student funds. You can learn more about the revolution and how to support student protesters via their Instagram page, @_thelivemovement. Not too long ago, my cohorts occupied the A-Building to express our own grievances. The multi-day protest resulted in nationwide media coverage, public support, and the admin giving in to certain demands made by student protestors. The culture of Howard has always been a revolution. Seeing students today fight for their voices to be heard fills me with pride.
Today, my cohorts work in various roles in a multitude of industries. I too found myself putting down the protest signs and picking up a salaried job. And that word from “Dear White People” echoes in my ears every time I clock in: uncompromising. Have I compromised my revolution for a paycheck?
The Power of Compromise
Through my writing, I dedicate my attention to addressing specific issues hindering Black liberation. However, as I code-switch to navigate my predominantly white workspace, I feel the disappointment of the more radical version of myself. On the other hand, the younger me would have been fired the first day and ended up hungry and starving. The life of the revolutionary is not an easy one. Growing up, we read about the amazing feats of activists like Malcolm X and James Baldwin. It was so easy to idealize them and the work they put in on a daily basis. As I got older, the magnitude of that commitment became more apparent.
What was also apparent was how unsustainable that lifestyle was. Many organizations and small communities funded activists’ lifestyles during the Black Power and Civil Rights movements. I cannot look to my community to pay my rent nor do I expect anyone to. My choices to survive may be a compromise. But it’s the compromises that have given me a platform to serve those that look like me. A part of me hates that I had to “play the game” in order to gain footing in the system. But if being granted my position via affirmative action, white guilt, or whatever helps me create equitable solutions for people of color, I will compromise as much as I need to. I may have gone soft, but it’s these kinds of hard choices that have kept our community thriving for generations.