Being Noah Tesfaye #5: Life as an Black Student in Silicon Valley
There aren’t too many of us around here, if I’m going to be honest. We don’t get the opportunity to connect per say, and there is only one other Ethiopian family at my school. I don’t really like to think myself as much of an anomaly as much as someone unique and with a special heritage. But it’s a struggle being Ethiopian. I am not going to deny the frustration of not being able to connect with people like you every single day.
The first thing that I want to make clear is that it frustrates me to be African because people feel comfortable saying negative things about black Americans. For example, many students will make the stupid jokes about how athletic black people are, and not only are being racially insensitive, but often do it to provoke a laugh out of me. However, those moments destroy me because people behave as though I am not black. “Oh, you’re not black. You’re Ethiopian.” While I like to think of myself of as Ethiopian, I am African American. All your statements about black people, no matter how related I may be to those comments, affect those of us of African descent too.
I don’t often spend too much time thinking about these thoughts, mainly because I struggle to decide how I should approach people who differentiate me. The same way a black person would be so offended by being called stupid and uneducated is the same way I feel if someone assumes my people are starving and my family lives in a hut back home, which some do. It also frustrates me that everything I do seems to be even more impressive because I am black. People are more shocked at the course load I put onto myself. They are shocked I did a summer program at Columbia not just because it may be hard to go to, but because of the preconceptions they have of black people, whether they mean it or not.
I often suffer from the complete opposite experience that many of my good Asian friends deal with. Where they are assumed that they are tremendous students and great at math, I fall under the stereotype of not being the smartest student and less sophisticated. Sure, at times, I wish I could not be as preconceived as smart, but thanks to the environment I go to school, I can be accepted for the skills I have and they judge me based on my efforts, not my skin color. In many ways, that’s why I appreciate being a black student in Silicon Valley. Most people are very open and friendly to all races and it allows for there to be a synergy that doesn’t exist in many…