To my black siblings, you are not alone.
For those of you reading this on your laptop right now sitting in a lecture, the only black person, your presence matters. So often we spend our time talking to white people about our experiences. Justifying them, qualifying them, creating bar graphs and quantitative analyses to legitimize them.
But we forget to speak to each other.
So right now, I’m speaking to you.
When I graduated high school, I was the only black girl in my graduating class. I dreamed of a university where I could see people of color and other black people, who, like myself, were ambitious and quirky and passionate about learning. Making it to UT seemed liked a gateway to the education I deeply desired and the community I’d lacked in high school.
What I, like many of us, found was a history of bleach bombs and border patrol parties. I found myself the only black person in literally every one of my honors seminars. I found statues praising the “achievements” of confederate leaders. I found court cases questioning the legitimacy of my acceptance to the University.
And this Wednesday, I was again reminded that my very presence — my very desire to receive a high quality education — could provoke outrage and indignation.
So we learn to keep our heads down. To get the best grades. To swallow the racism and harassment and exclusion with a laugh or a sigh.
But we shouldn’t have to.
If anything, Wednesday’s events have reminded me that even though the black student body is less than 4 percent at UT, we are here. We take up space in all the best ways. Our allies and friends are fighting in solidarity for our right to be here. Most importantly, we are here for each other.
Every day we not only battle the trauma of seeing another black person systematically killed by the police in our own country, but we feel smaller waves of anti-blackness while existing at our own university campus.
So this is a love letter to you. The 4 percent who find themselves constantly fighting to have a voice — fighting be recognized and included — know that you’re not alone. Know that your unwillingness to back down in the face of injustice is beautiful. Remember that your joy is radical. Your existence is revolutionary.
To my black siblings, you matter.
Your education matters.
Your communities matter.
Your experiences and fears and emotions matter.
Your black UT matters.
Our black UT matters.
Barnes is the director of operations for Students for Equity and Diversity and a sociology and journalism junior from Houston. Follow the organization on Twitter @Austin_SED.