Vincent Anioke ’17, a software engineer at Google Canada, writes about reckoning with Blackness as a first-generation immigrant at MIT.
My first week at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was rife with revelations. I learned that five days sufficed to build a photosensitive robot from wires, circuit boards, and Legos; that burritos were tasty, if a bit messy, their insides prone to spilling on formerly white shoes; that I had an accent. This last bit revealed itself directly, from the passing remarks of an airport taxi driver, and indirectly, from a classmate’s occasional furrowed brow when we were deep in conversation.
Like breathing, recurring sensory details recede into the background. In Nigeria, where I was born and raised, nearly every skin I saw was black, so color had no weight. In America, skin had spectra, variation. With each new tone that the eyes processed, a flood of implicit associations followed. White was the norm. Black was fraught, frequently associated with headlines about imprisonment, police killings, everyday discrimination, and angry protests. For many, those associations would subconsciously shape their very first impression of me. Paradoxically, I was now both “newly Black” and “always Black.”
Image: Andrea Daquino
Anioke, Victor. "Engineering while Black." MIT Technology Review, 20 October 2020.