Are they entitled to my opinion?

Header image for the article Are they entitled to my opinion? Credit: ARTWORK BY AARON DOUGLAS

Picture this: you’re sitting in a lecture and your professor is lecturing on this week’s special topic focused on diversity. The lecture is rooted in deconstructing systemic issues, which then concentrates on “the systemic injustices perpetrated against the Black community.” Like most of your classes, you are the only Black student out of a handful of racialized students in your program, and you start to feel the eyes on you. As your professor begins to outline the data regarding various facets of life, the results are grim. All the data is pointing towards vast disparities in socioeconomic success, health, and education among others, compared to their white counterparts. And just like that, the discomfort in the room is palpable; the feeling of your white classmates staring at you intensifies with each pitiful sigh they utter from hearing the discrimination and brutalities initiated and/or perpetuated by some of their ancestors. Then, to your dismay, the discussion portion of the lecture begins.

This dreaded discussion is usually kicked off by questioning, “Why in 2022 do these issues persist?” to which the professor always finishes that statement by looking at YOU.

YOU, the sole Black student in the class.

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YOU, whose community is being negatively reflected in the data in disproportionate numbers.

And YOU, who must sit there and hear your classmates’ comments dismissing, undervaluing, and disparaging the efforts or “lack thereof” (in their opinion), the Black community employs to close the gap of disparities.

They all look to you to provide them with the answer, essentially asking for you to provide them with the reasons that YOU can, but so many others in your community cannot.

And to that, I say, no. They are not entitled.

They are not entitled to my experience. They are not entitled to the generational trauma that I biologically hold within me as a descendent of those oppressed before. NO, they are not entitled to the emotional labour that it would take me to educate them.

Rejecting that false sense of entitlement, they exert over me, by expecting me to educate them on Black issues is no small feat, nor is it required. So as Maxine Walters would say, “I’m reclaiming my time,” and unless I intrinsically feel called to share, my opinion is my privilege. My classmates are not entitled to my experiences by virtue of being in my presence during class. I now recognize the gift that it is to have a voice in spaces where my ancestors couldn’t, and I now know the value of my voice, and sharing my experiences is not always up for conversation. Only in spaces where the emotional labour I employ can add perspective to a conversation without requiring that I also educate and build the framework of knowledge for my white colleagues from the ground up, will I feel comfortable enough to share my opinion. Because, my experiences are rich in value and ancestral knowledge, and they are not entitled to my opinion.