When ‘Black Like Me’ Means ‘White Like Them’

Boluwaji Ogunyemi, via a kind reader:

From my first steps onto campus, I was determined to make my Nigerian parents proud and to seize the opportunities they had left their native country for. I had graduated high school in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s most eastern province, at the top of my class and as student body vice president. Being the single black student in a school of 600 had been immaterial to me. I had not developed a sense of black identity because, simply, I did not have to.

So here I was at the University of Western Ontario, the sole black on a dormitory floor made up mostly of white students from Toronto and a few ethnic minorities. It was, for most of us, the first time we were living away from home, and we spent time asking honest and sometimes naïve questions about one another, including ones about religion and race. It proved to be a safe, collegial space to check our biases. Or so I thought.

A few months in, we received an email notification that our exam grades were available. One by one, the pre-meds among us logged onto the reporting system to access our scores and, following the lead of one floor mate, shared them aloud. Each of us had already fallen prey to the paranoia that even a single mediocre grade would compromise our chances of medical school acceptance.

2006/1999: Acting White.