Noah Tesfaye: Black & Booming
February 13, 2018
One of my life mentors, Stacy-Marie Ishamel, once tweeted about how you can’t be mediocre if you’re a minority in this country. That hit me hard because if anything, I want to be extraordinary — I want to change the world by helping people one life at a time. But every time I try to work hard, I end up falling under the disappointing truth of, “Black people work twice as hard to get half as much.”
Being a blip, a tiny black speck, on this diverse campus has made me want to be the best representation of people like me. I don’t ever want to give anything less than the impression that I am the most respectful, sincere and thoughtful person in the room.
I can’t afford not to give that impression. The unfortunate truth of America is that it is very difficult for a black person to thrive without taking education extremely seriously.
At Los Altos, there were 25 African American students last year in a school of over 2,000. Growing up in the Silicon Valley as often the only black or only other black student in any situation disappoints me. It’s not just that no one is there to share the experiences with you, or that you know how few black students there are at Los Altos, but it’s disappointing because I have to explain myself.
Over and over again, when I get asked, “How many APs are you taking?” the reaction to my response of “four” is one of utter shock. This kind of questioning is just a stigma of the bigger problem that I only have classes with three black kids in total and am the only black student in The Talon.
Although not spoken about, the very fact that I am the only black person in some of my classes is sad because I know there are so many capable students like me that want to achieve great things.
Everyday when I go to school, I never truly feel like I belong. Sure, I appreciate being able to say my family’s from Ethiopia, and they worked for decades to give me the opportunities I have today. But I hate feeling alone.
It’s annoying, especially when you look at the only other black person in your APUSH course and someone says something ignorant about the civil rights movement, and all you can do is shake your head. I can only hope that my presence grants someone a broader perspective. No white student can ever know the struggle it is to be a black student, dealing with overt and subtle racism on a daily basis, especially when you’re discussing an issue relating to my right to even vote in this country.
There isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t realize how thankful I am for the opportunities I’ve been granted. But there also isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not afraid of being pulled over by a police officer; my mom sets an earlier curfew than the rest of my friends because she fears my life could be in danger if I drive at night. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get almost scared looks from people when I walk downtown.
But you know what? I don’t need to give a damn about how other people perceive me. Yes, I love hip hop. Yes, I love to tackle undiscussed race issues. Yes, I only wear sweatpants or shorts and a hoodie every single day. Mr. Smith told me a few weeks ago that black students who want to achieve great things need to be okay with being uncomfortable all the time. He reminded me that even if I don’t feel like I belong, that’s the price I’m willing to pay to achieve great things.
Now, I thrive in situations that are supposed to box me in. I want to go out into this world and destroy every single preconception you have about me. Just because I’m the only black student in this lane doesn’t mean I won’t make it to the top.