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The Black Experience at Deerfield
Adebisi Akilo '21 Contributing Writer
October 11, 2018

This week I have slept through first period, done poorly on multiple assessments, and accumulated an interesting amount of APs. It’s not the end of the world, but sometimes at Deerfield it can feel that way, especially when I see all the people around me thriving. I have faith, mostly, that I will eventually get there at my own pace.

But for now, I am disappointed in myself. I spent so much time trying to craft the best way to catch people’s attention to highlight the challenges I have faced without offending them. I wanted, like all of us do, to be liked, embraced, and accepted. I was afraid to write this article because I didn’t want to mess up. But if I never start to share with others how I have experienced the world, we will never learn to do better as a collective.

Credit: Madeline Lee

So I will start in the summer of 2017. I had anticipated, to my capacity, all the ways Deerfield would be different from home. I knew from my revisit day, the diversity statistics available online, and the cost of attending this school that the people here wouldn’t look or behave the same way my friends back home did. But I was fine with that. I wanted to experience what I had never experienced before.

Then, I got here and I realized my capacity to anticipate was very, very small. I was ready for the difference, but not the unkindness. I did not want to be here and I found myself retreating into pieces of a much younger me: weak, frail, and painfully quiet.

So, I called my mother and I told her I didn’t want to be here. I knew then that my mother was going to tell me that she didn’t want to be at work, but that’s where she is, so I should get over it sooner rather than later. I called anyway seeking maybe some comfort, reassurance that things would be okay, or just something. But I was not at home anymore.

And when a girl told me in the Johnson 1 common room that she had mistaken me for Khalyse Benjamin, who is at least a foot taller than me and three shades lighter, because “you and all your friends look the same,” it reinforced for me that I don’t belong here. I was caught in between responding to what I know she meant, which is that all of the black girls in my grade looked the same, and what she said. But I smiled and walked away to avoid being stereotyped as the militant and aggressive black girl.

As freshman year continued and I fell into some semblance of a daily routine, the snide remarks, blatant dismissals, and ignorance just became a part of that routine. Make no mistake– I am not desensitized. In fact, I recoil every time, but they no longer upset me as they used to. I got tired of investing in other people’s opinion of me, after someone called me an “angry black bitch” for disagreeing with them about racism at Deerfield. More than anything now, it just disappoints and saddens me that the world has been slower to change than I hoped it would have been.

Sometimes, however, things get to me especially badly. My freshman winter was really rough, and the disrespect of the people around me didn’t make it any easier. One Sunday at brunch, my friends and I were conversing when a boy at the table said, “Adebisi, you don’t even know what the hell you are talking about. You always try to make everything about you.” I responded quite mildly as an act of self defense, and another boy at the table added, “This is why people say you are angry.” I cleared my plates and ran out of the dining hall. As I ran out with my face hot and tight, I was sad that no matter how hard I tried, if I expressed any iota of emotion or passion it would be called anger. I was sad, frustrated, and embarrassed that I was spoken to like that in public and couldn’t defend myself. I felt like a caged animal that Sunday, and sometimes I still feel that way.

At the school that takes away so much of me, but has also given me something I could not get anywhere else, I am trying to understand where I belong in the world. I start with the things I am sure of. I am Black. I am African. I am almost American. I am a woman. I am a sister. I am a lover of people. I am a friend. I am all these things the world forgets when it sees me. And at Deerfield, I have to remind myself that I am all these things, whenever I view myself more critically than I should. I can’t remember a day when I felt that I belong here. I don’t fit the mold of the typical DA student, and I see the world very differently from almost everyone here. And that’s okay, because I’m building a life for myself here through the friendships I maintain, the empathy I share, and the love I hope to give. I am confident that, in my year here, I have seen genuine good in all those who have shown it to me, and my heart is still open to see it in those who are willing. At this point in my life that is all I can do: be willing.