Poor Brown Man's Guide to Surviving a Rich, Predominantly White University

You were a good student in high school and you got accepted early to a great university in Upstate Nueva Yol. If you're like a typical Dominican from the inner-city of New York, you're probably worried about completely different things than your white American peers. 

A scary, dangerous negro outside of his safe space
I used to worry about the length of the papers I've be tasked to write and feared sleepless nights, but the truth is that if you choose the right major and select your classes carefully, you really will only have to worry about staying alive for the 4 years needed to graduate. There was a learning curve when it came to the workload, but navigating my university's social and cultural scene took me beyond college. Before I went to Yale, my life had been the warmth of my extended family in small, mountain-town-Dominican-Republic, followed by the cutthroat reality of orphanhood [by 15] in the South Bronx.

My father was working class, died young, never graduated college, so he taught me to survive in the Bronx, not to navigate the nuances of upper-class American society. Here's what I wish he would have told me, or at least this is what I think I would tell my son if he were off to study in a predominantly white, elite university in the United States.

1) People don't mean what they say. White Americans in general are indirect, upper-class Americans even more so. Instead of telling you to flush the toilet, your roommate is likely just to compliment you on how clear your urine is.  If a compliment comes out of nowhere, double check to make sure the person wasn't bothered by something related to that. If you hear: "I heard your music last night, it was so nice," it probably means that it was too loud and irritated the hell out of them.

2) Don't give compliments. You may think you're being nice, but the white girl you're talking to already thinks you're a Latin player, and every complimentary or nice comment you're making is convincing her that you have ulterior motives other than friendship. Even your male classmates will suspect that you're a homosexual if you compliment their appearance. My gay friend was once at a gay party, wearing a pink seersucker, and the white girl later told me: "I've never seen a guy try so hard."

3) Appearances matter, but because you're intimidating. Your black Timberlands served you well in the 'hood, but to your white friends they look like military-assault boots, and anything military-related conjures the word "assault" in the mind of sheltered suburbanites. This threat factor in the rich, white mind is further amplified by your skin color and working-class background. Your white classmates will wear sweats, backwards hats, dirty shoes and such, but you are not allowed to operate at that level. Before exiting your dorm room, ask yourself: "Is this something that makes my dark face look even more menacing?" If in doubt, defer with "yes."

4) Don't ask questions. You may come from a culture where asking questions means showing interests, but to an upper-class white American, questions conjure thoughts of an "interrogation" or may make you appear to "lack knowledge." Further, questions may be interpreted as a sign of microagression, especially if those questions are finance or race-related. You will notice that your classmates seldom ask questions in class. You should strive to do the same; save your questions for a private tutor. 

5) Don't talk about your family. If you haven't made the mistake of asking someone what their parents do for a living, don't make the mistake of discussing what your parents do for a living, or even if they're living. White rich Americans don't care about your family, don't want to hear family stories, and are glad to be away from their own families. They don't miss their parents and are just happy that the money keeps flowing for their degrees. They likely suspect your parents don't give you financial help, but would rather not know because it allows them to keep their heads high above your "affirmative action ass."

6) People suspect they're smarter than you, don't discuss grades. Your white classmate's parents paid 4,000 thousand dollars for him to take a Scholastic Aptitude Test preparatory course; a test in his native language. He feels superior about his 750. If he finds out that you only scored a 650, he will gain confirmation that affirmative action netted you entry into the university. It doesn't matter that you worked for that 650 by buying a 20 dollar prep-book using the money you made during your weekend supermarket job bagging groceries. 

7) Don't make jokes, avoid smiling. You may be funny to your working-class immigrant peers, but white people are interpreting everything you say literally. Use of the word "crackhead" may be acceptable in the Bronx, and so may be sex jokes, or laughing at "bums," but though your white friends have never interacted with a member of any of those marginalized demographics, they feel that they're in a better position to understand the emotions of other groups [they're smarter than you, after all.] White upper-class people never had to worry about getting punched by a crackhead bum, they probably only had to worry about getting bullied by another disgruntled rich kid who called them names, thus name-calling is the most dangerous form of anti-social behavior in their minds. Though your sense of humor and ability to smile even the day after your father died is what helped you survive your school in the 'hood, joking in the face of tragedy will only convince your white classmates that you're callous and thus dangerous, which they already subconsciously suspected from the beginning. 

8) Don't discuss your drinking or other "party" habits. You may have seen 200 movies telling you that college was going to be one large keg party and Amsterdam coffeeshop, and this may be true for a lot of athletes in fraternities, but if you're just a brown guy sitting in a cafeteria, don't discuss your drinking. Perhaps you casually drink half a liter of wine a day, while your white classmate gets hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after chugging cheap vodka and beer over the weekend, but the white people will say that you're a bad influence for drinking wine everyday. White people don't see each other as a bad influence, but just by virtue of your presence, you're distracting.

10) Don't discuss politics. Chances are that your skin color and manner of dressing already lead people to believe that you're a "radical" or an "anarchist" so if you  discuss your love for Malcolm X, it will provide confirmation in the white mind that you're on the verge of starting a Black Panther Party and shooting up the school. 

11) Don't talk about your sexual life. Chances are your peers are getting black-out drunk and raw dogging each other, but you discretely having regular safe sex with one girl they don't know will provide them with confirmation that Latinos are "hypersexuals" who have wild sex every night, which they already suspected subconsciously upon meeting you, especially if you're handsome and well-mannered.  If eventually they do know that you proudly sleep around, they are far more likely to believe that you're a "pedophile" or a "predator" than a white guy who doesn't discuss his sexual life but sleeps around as much if not more. Though transparency leads to less suspicion for white people, this is not a brown privilege.

12) A friendly person is not necessarily your friend. In the 'hood, if someone doesn't like you, they will let you know and you will both politely avoid each other. White rich people are duplicitous by nature and will smile and say hello and wave to you even as they go on to spread malicious rumors about you. Expect betrayal at every step of the way.  

If you are at any point in doubt, behave as you would during a job interview, and treat your classmates as you would a work colleague competing for a promotion [name-dropping and signs of nepotism are frowned upon.] Due to the way laws are structured in the US -- with universities receiving federal funding and thus being subject to federal regulations that can make any encounter a potential sexual assault lawsuit or lead to a discrimination allegation -- you have to presume that the other person is going to sue you for something wrong you may say or do, and you have to operate with the constant reminder that those people who could be sued by you, will behave in a manner influenced by those lawsuit fears.