Locked out? Black? Tough!

The scene: I stand outside my entryway, shivering in a t-shirt as the first real snowstorm of winter descended upon the northeast. I had done it again—run outside to do something random and unimportant, and in the process, had forgotten my wallet and ID in my room. Luckily, I saw a fellow Davenporter walking my direction who was sure to come to my rescue.

I put on my nicest “I-know-you-don’t-know-me-but-could-you-let-me-in-this-door, please?” voice as I asked him to admit me entry. He looked at me, my arms folded across my chest for warmth and the vapor of my breath visible as I spoke, and dryly stated: “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not in Davenport” as he walked past. End scene.

So, normally, I wouldn’t make such a big deal about this, but LIES! Not only did I know he was in Davenport because he’s my year and we lived in the same entryway in Welch freshman year, but I’m also a Master’s Aide and just last week, I sent him the e-mail to come pick up his package from the office.

This incident got me thinking — flashback to freshman year. The scene: I stood outside of Welch Entryway A, having gone to meet the pizza delivery guy at Phelps Gate. My new Yale ID of which I was so proud was locked in my suite; therefore, I was locked out. Two freshmen came out of Entryway C, and as they passed, I asked them to let me in (probably in the same voice, but a little lighter since I was younger) and, for the first of many times, was denied admission into a Yale door: “Sorry. We’re not in Welch.” That time, I had to call security, and the pizza was cold by the time they got there.

Experiencing this on my way in as a freshman and on my way out as a senior really made me realize how my Yale experience has come full circle. It also made me realize that despite how liberal and diverse our community is and claims to be, we still have many issues that we need to overcome.

My friends and I often tell each other “lockout horror stories” and laugh half-heartedly about how one of our experiences was worse than the others’ or it was actually the “death of our existence”. I suppose that normally, this would be funny — except all my friends who share these stories happen to be black.

Now, as a young, successful black man at a predominantly white institution, I’ve learned to be careful about playing the race card, and I don’t think I’ve ever done it during my time at Yale. Even when I think I’m being mistreated due to my race, I avoid bringing in race as an issue because I don’t want to be characterized as that “angry black man.” In fact, that nice voice I use when asking someone to let me into an entryway was designed specifically for that purpose: to be non-threatening. I guess it doesn’t work.

Part of me wants to give the perpetrators of this crime the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps because I was in my sweatpants and carrying a big boom box that one time — because I had just come from dance class — meant I didn’t “look” like I “go” here. Or maybe those classmates and dorm mates of mine really didn’t recognize me. But what about those times when I was carrying a backpack with the same textbooks as you were carrying? And what about when I addressed you by your first name because we sit across from each other in section, and I know you have access but still didn’t let me in? What is really going on here? I just have to ask: Is this happening to me because I’m BLACK? If I were WHITE, would you let me in?

I think it’s interesting that when racist cartoons are published in campus publications, or racist epithets are spray painted on the “safe spaces” in which we live, or costumes supporting racial stereotypes are worn, our campus community goes up in arms. We have rallies, protests, panels and even summer “diversity” reading (see “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,” the class of 2011 summer reading assignment). Let us not forget that our actions each and every day can be as hurtful and divisive as those outwardly racist actions. Don’t make any one specific event the poster child for the Yale anti-racism movement; make that movement a part of our fabric everyday. Those events referenced above are clear cut hate crimes, but perhaps being denied entrance into a Yale building for no apparent reason other than one’s skin should be categorized as one, too.

Surely with the recent spate of theft, we should all be mindful of protecting ourselves and our peers. I know that even I personally am more cautious about locking my doors (probably why I lock myself out so much!). But the next time someone asks you to let them into an entryway, think about it for a second before you dismiss their request. If you do decide to deny them entrance, be sure that it’s for a sound reason and not because you’re categorizing and stereotyping an individual based on the color of his skin or the way he is dressed.

Our campus community would be much better for it.

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