So, leaving my lonely dorm room, prepared for class and wanting to waste time, I walked to the Clark station for a pack of smokes. I passed the elementary school and peered at all of the black faces for a moment. One girl with pigtails looked at me quizzically from her small desk. I smiled, which made her look more confused, so I continued walking; I assume she redirected her attention back to the blackboard.
Arriving at the small gas station, I walked in to find an African American man in red-orange overalls, covered in spots of grease. He took changes from the woman behind the counter and looked at me.
“Hello,” he said, “how are you?”
I smiled in return, half shocked to be acknowledged. Maybe he thought I was a high school student instead of a college student. After all, doesn’t everyone from Albion hate the, presumed rich, college students?
“I’m fine… how are you?” I replied, looking down and watching him as he picked up the change he had accidentally dropped.
He stood up and looked slightly to the ceiling, as if thinking about how to answer. “I’m good,” he said with a big smile, while looking at my small, pale face. “You just made my day… seeing a face like that.”
I smiled and probably blushed, kinda confused and flattered at the same time. “Thank you,” I said, as I stepped up in line. I thought about his comment for a second and wondered what feature or features could possibly make his day, even though I probably should have taken the compliment at face value. Maybe it was the fact that I always smile at strangers before looking shyly to the floor. Maybe he caught that smile just before looking down. Or maybe it was just my youth; I do look much younger than nineteen.
“Albion College, right?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered with hesitation, remembering the conversation I had with an Albion High School student and how he turned around and ignored me after he found out I was a college student.
“Man…” he said, trailing off, as he started to lean against the exit. “If I were younger, I’d be there with you…” And then he left. That comment made me think even more. Although still flattered, I now felt guilty. Why is it that a city heavily populated with African Americans has an over-abundant population of rich, white kids going to college there? Why is it that this kind man is working on cars, instead of going to school, which he obviously wants to do? Why am I still naïve enough to believe that I can change these inequalities with an anthropology degree?.. I would still like to think of it as hopeful instead of naïve.