Bus Rides at PWIs
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
One of the worst things about being an African American girl going to a predominantly white private school an hour away from your house with students from relatively wealthy backgrounds is the bus ride there.
Before going to my current high school, I would call myself a morning person. I was accustomed to waking up early to get to school, but not so early that I could say farewell to the night’s last few stars and greet the sunrise in one trip.
My high school’s yellow school bus would pull up to the empty Target parking lot at 6:20 am and leave at 6:40 am (6:45 I later found out if you sent a quick text message when you were running late, which I often was) every morning.
So, you could imagine ninth grade me's lack of excitement during my first day of high school. My old school, a public charter school, which I went to from kindergarten to eighth grade, was ten minutes away from my house. There, everyone shared the same socioeconomic status and skin complexion. I never noticed that until I left.
In reality, the bus was a portal that took me from world to world. And this isn’t an exaggeration. The world alters before your eyes. Neighborhoods transform. Grocery stores morph from Shoppers to Whole Foods. Roads get less bumpy.
Single family homes and apartments become huge mansions and the question mark after “how many families do you think live there?” Like the outside, I, too, seemed to change. My current high school was a bigger transition than the admission pamphlets could have prepared me for.
I feel pressured by an inner voice (my conscious? my trained inner censor?) to put a disclaimer here. I have made and continue to make great friends, and I have had awesome experiences at my current high school. I consider myself privileged to have earned an elite, financially aided education.
But, I have to ask myself: why should I have to choose between a great education and sanity? That too may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s the little things that affect you more than you think. As I watch the sunrise on the morning bus, I take the chance to prepare for the day’s little things.
Like being burdened with having a black perspective. It’s having to pick and choose when to stand up against microaggressions to avoid “angry black person” stereotypes and preserve the validity of your argument, deciphering your history from the abundance of white narratives, and getting pity instead of understanding from well-intentioned, self-appointed allies with white guilt.
It’s masking your feelings when being asked “what’s wrong” by saying “I’m not a morning person and I’m tired” instead of “I’m not a morning person and I’m tired of being a high school student struggling with life and a black high school student struggling with life at the same time.”
It’s your teacher asking the class “where your family was originally from” (my ancestry.com results weren’t in yet so I couldn’t answer) or “have you been to (insert whatever new country we were talking about)” and not being able to raise your hand (because seriously how often do these students go on vacation?).
It’s the lack of representation in teachers and in literature in the classroom. It’s explaining why it’s not okay to touch my hair or explaining that your hair didn’t magically grow a foot overnight and that you were wearing braids. It’s beauty standards, and Homecoming, and intersectionality, and colorism within the community you love.
It’s deciding whether or not to sit at the “black” corner for lunch. Because are you isolating yourself from others? Are you still black if you don’t sit with the other black kids? Are you still black if you don’t mirror black tropes and your peers’ expectations of what a black person should be? Monachopsis is the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place. This word describes my lowest moments at my current high school. It’s feeling alienated.
But on the bus ride home, there’s no censored talk. No code switching. No gaslighting. No jokes with a preface (and no disclaimers). No white fragility to grapple with. No pity. Just understanding. Just trading stories of slightly racist confrontations and being called another black student’s first name.
Just laughing about the day’s pain and microaggressions (laughter that’s as loud as it wants to be). Just eating overpriced snacks from the school’s vending machines as you bump and bump to music that’s too loud while driving over potholes.
The bus, in a way, feels like home away from home. Your guard is low and you don’t have to navigate which elements of your identity to allow to surface. One of the best things about being an African American girl going to a predominantly white private school an hour away from your house with students from relatively wealthy backgrounds is the bus ride home.
You are reminded that you are not alone, that you belong, that you have a place too. To me the bus is acceptance and a love that’s reciprocated. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what everyone wants?