History does indeed have a way of repeating itself -- a little too soon at times.
Several months ago the grisly murder of Carol Stuart, a pregnant white woman, reportedly by a black man, shocked much of Boston. The shock grew to national proportions when it was reported that the assailant was not the black man that the media and many individuals had so readily believed him to be, but the victim's husband, Charles Stuart, a white man.
This past Thursday, my school newspaper, The George Washington University Hatchet, published a story of a rape. In this story, someone identified as an officer of the Washington police force, along with a GW student, Mariam Kashani, told the story of the rape of another GW student. According to Kashani, when the assailants were finished with their act of rape, they commented, "you were pretty good for a white girl."
Kashani described the two men as "muscular, young-looking black males, both over six feet and wearing dirty, torn clothing." She later added that they "had a particularly bad body odor."
Needless to say, as a black male on GW's campus, I found myself in a state of paranoia. I felt confronted by numerous looks of suspicion as I walked around campus the following day. I noticed groups of white women crossing the street as I approached them -- as if I posed some large threat. I noticed university police watching my moves a little bit differently than they had before. I'm sure that some of my white peers will say I was simply imagining things. But as I talked to many black students about this incident, I found that many of them shared my perceptions.
The following day I learned that Kashani's story had been found to be a hoax. But it was a hoax I learned something from. I now realize that my university is not safe from the rising tide of racism across the nation's campuses. I also realize that campus media aren't immune to the pressure to further enhance stereotypes that has affected many other of the nation's media. On campus, the GW Hatchet is being criticized as not having fully done its job in scrutinizing reports of the incident as much as possible -- perhaps one of the most important jobs of the press. Some people accused the media in Boston of too readily accepting the case of black-on-white violence. It appears that the Hatchet has now supported many of our society's stereotypes regarding black-on-white violence.
This week the Hatchet printed a special four-page edition to explain how the false rape story came to be published. But of course the damage is already done. I have been graced with yet another stereotype that I must face as a black male on a predominantly white campus. The realities of this stereotype and the pressure that I face as a result of it clearly place an additional obstacle in my path toward achievement. This stereotype adds to others which affect many aspects of my academic and social life. My white peers can only begin to comprehend the obstacles posed by these stereotypes.
When I entered this university several years ago, I did so expecting to encounter various racial incidents. I saw these potential incidents as preparation for going into a professional work force dominated by white males. I felt that if I avoided incidents of racism and prejudice by going to a predominantly black university for my undergraduate studies, I could be left unprepared to confront racism at a later date. In addition, I believed that I would be able to make a few friends who had a different racial or ethnic background than my own. I felt that perhaps Dr. King's dream of black and white children being able to play together was closer to being a reality than it had been 20 years ago. I have been told differently by this incident. I have been told that many people still are not willing to accept me on the basis of my character but rather will judge me by the color of my skin.
I realize now that perhaps that day has not arrived when I can feel comfortable attending a predominantly white school -- and such a day is a bit farther off than I had suspected. In the meantime, numerous people will no doubt continue to look at me as a potential rapist, drug dealer or thief. Thus, I will continue to build my internal defense mechanisms, preventing many whites from getting to know me because, as a result of their accusations and distrust, I will surely grow to distrust the majority of them. This internal mechanism of building mistrust will surely continue to build within many of my other black male friends. As a result, I acknowledge with some fear that we will continue to be a nation divided.
The writer is a junior majoring in international relations at the George Washington University.