Kemper: Content over color

Kemper Fi

On Jan. 23 and Jan. 31 I received e-mails with the following provocative question in 27 point bold underlined Arial font: “What are your feelings about ‘Blackness’ at Yale University?”

I like it. I like Greenness more. Though the faded rusty copper clock on Harkness gives solace through the winter months, I long for the cacophony of emerald, jade, lime and shamrock greens that adorn our hills and shade our walks through the spring and summer months.

Like all absolutes, Blackness should be used sparingly, as an accent and not a fabric. The black brick corrugation on the new health center looks atrocious. But I want more Blackness. The black mullions on the gothic facade of Davenport are far superior to the dull steely gray that pervades the windows in Branford.

And we could use more accents. We dress black tie for special occasions. Yale used to have students dress black tie for dinner. We do not need to dress up for every dinner, but dress for Saturday dinners would be appropriate. More than a choice of fashion, it is a sign of respect — taking the time to put yourself together demonstrates a respect for the extraordinary efforts of the dining hall workers and commitment to the inherently social occasion that is dinner.

We especially need blackness in font. Except in extreme cases, colorful letters confuse and dilute the meaning of words. Shape defines a typeface, and shape depends on the sharp contrasts that black provides. It was odd that the question in the e-mail was in blue.

But this e-mail probably did not have mullions or typeface in mind. This e-mail came from the Black Students Alliance at Yale. They followed up the main question with a list of topics: the black community, the Afro-American Cultural center, race relations, interracial dating, etc. Neither architecture nor tuxedos came up. Apparently skin can also be black. Or at least sufficiently dark that we call it black.

So how do I feel about it?

Certainly the question has something to do with identity. That is a big question. Who we are informs where we live, what we care for, with whom we associate, and what responsibilities we assume and seek out. It gives meaning to our interactions and creates a ruler and a compass by which we measure our successes and failures.

Many identities are foisted upon us. We do not pick our family or our country. It is rare we choose our religion. But I have yet to receive an e-mail asking me how I feel about “American-ness at Yale,” how do I feel about “Episcopalian-ness” at Yale, or how I feel about “Kemper-ness” at Yale.

Why does our skin color merit such special attention? I visited the website for the Black Student Alliance at Yale. According to the description, they concern themselves primarily with culture, community and advocacy. Those are all healthy concerns. But they also dedicate their efforts specifically to the “lives of Black students at Yale.”

There is something especially inescapable about skin color. We can choose and determine how important our family, country and religion are to us and — more importantly — what meaning each identity carries. But we do not choose our skin color. I can lie about my family, move to another country or convert to a different religion, but my skin is undeniably white (or rather, a reddish tan).

So what do I feel about an organization claiming as its own people who have no choice in the matter?

When an organization claims as its constituents students not of a particular persuasion, but of a particular color, it makes an assumption. It assumes that people whose skin color is black identify with them, and that people whose skin color is not black have less to do with them. Nobody assumes somebody is a Spizzwink — the term means nothing.

The randomness of the name — whether it is Spizzwink, Manuscript or Dwight — leaves the focus on their actual purpose. Identities, and organizations that create them, should bring together a group of people in pursuit of a given project or in the promotion of a set of principles. Tying an organization to something as bereft of content as the color of skin only limits the project and hobbles those principles.

Celebrate a culture, pursue equality and justice, and above all build meaningful relationships with your kin. Let us, as Yalies — or whatever name we should give our group — fight bigotry, hatred and oppression wherever it should reside and in whatever form it should take.

But let us try to leave colors out of it.

Nicolas Kemper is a senior in Pierson College.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    In *Song of Solomon* Toni Morrison creates the symbol of a white peacock thereby emphasizing that “whiteness” is the absence of something (deficiency) while “blackness’ is its total presence (abundance): that magnificent quality—-COLOR.

  • Jaymin

    Black ties at dinners probably wouldn’t display our respect for the dining hall workers, but rather would just reflect how much we get our heads stuck up our own arses sometimes.

  • ohno

    Written like a white guy. Try this argument again when you don’t compare identifying as a Spizzwink to identifying as a black American.

  • NathanHale

    “I visited the website for the Black Student Alliance at Yale.”

    Oh, my!

    Er, but did you even *talk* to members of BSAY before writing this? A *single* member? Okay, did you talk to a black person before writing this? Email a black person? Call a black person up on the phone? Close your eyes and think reeeeaaally hard about a black person reading this article? You didn’t! Oh lawdy. Becuase if you did, I think you would have thought twice about the gross generalizations made in this article.

    > “When an organization claims as its constituents students not of a particular persuasion, but of a particular color, it makes an assumption. It assumes that people whose skin color is black identify with them, and that people whose skin color is not black have less to do with them. Nobody assumes somebody is a Spizzwink — the term means nothing.”

    Huh? What? Spizzwinks and Black Student Alliance? Were you trying make an argument? QUE?

  • Madas

    Amen. The only path to riding ourselves of racism. Case in point is OhNo. Would I be a racist if I said sounds like a black person wrote that? Definitely. As is he.

  • ohno

    First of all, not a “he,” but you had no way of knowing that. And secondly, it would depend on WHY you were saying it “sounded like a black person wrote that” whether or not it was a racist comment. I said it because only someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be unable to escape the color of your skin – a white American in the majority – would write an article whining about how no one ever asks him for his opinion on what it’s like to be Kemper-American, or claiming that if we just stopped talking about race (aka, pretend we’re all default white) it would just go away.

    I am a black student who has never been involved with BSAY or any other cultural activist organizations on campus due to lack of interest. But Mr. Kemper should read this line that he wrote: “Identities, and organizations that create them, should bring together a group of people in pursuit of a given project or in the promotion of a set of principles” and then go back and read the part where he claimed to visit BSAY’s website and saw that they engage in activities that “promote culture, community, and social justice.” I would call those given projects and principles. It just sounds like he’s troubled those projects don’t directly serve or involve him.

    “So how do I feel about it?” “So what do I feel about an organization claiming as its own people who have no choice in the matter?”

    Well, to be honest, it doesn’t really have much to do with you, does it? They’re not claiming you. There’s already debate in the black community about issues of racial identity – that’s the whole point of the blackness at Yale project. Shocker.

  • soulfoodforthought

    I find it strange the this article is entitled “Content Over Color” when color is all that Kemper seems to focus on. He equates “blackness” with skin color and dismisses it as no different than “greenness” or the black in our clothing. In reality, “blackness” is so much more than color, much more nuanced than shades of black, and much more than a trivial label. Blackness describes an American subculture and a history of shared experiences, struggles, and triumphs. We shouldn’t discount all of that CONTENT for the sake of making a point on COLOR.

  • graduate_student

    ಠ_ಠ

  • weeva1

    I think part of what Kemper missed in this article is exemplified when he says “Celebrate a culture, pursue equality and justice, and above all build meaningful relationships with your kin.” and yet doesn’t seem to realize that the Black community has it’s own very distinct and complex culture that it should, as he states, celebrate. He then goes on to say that, “Tying an organization to something as bereft of content as the color of skin only limits the project and hobbles those principles.” The color of one’s skin, especially when that color carries with it a long, rich and painful history, is anything but bereft of content. Tying an organization to that – something that has affected generations of the families of Black Yale students and indeed generations of Americans – is not something that hobbles the principles of a group. A group, defined for decades by their skin color, that has been so limited in their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness is a group that probably should have organizations dedicated to “promoting culture, community and advocacy”. And so it seems that what BSAY provides is an organization that “bring[s] together a group of people in pursuit of a given project or in the promotion of a set of principles” based on an identity that has been established by American society, otherwise known as “being Black”, not by BSAY itself.

  • IvyOnyeador

    I just want to thank the author for adding more evidence to the growing collection on the Yale Blackness tumblr that there is a serious ignorance problem on this campus. You wrote this entire article dismissing an effort to engage in real dialogue about an identity that shapes many Yale students’ experience. Actually, Blackness shapes everyone’s experience in New Haven, no matter your race. Downtown New Haven has many Black people, our dining hall workers are largely Black and YES, some of your classmates and college mates are Black. You may choose to ignore this and believe that “Blackness should be used sparingly” and we’re in America where you have the right to believe that. Why not just say that I, so-and-so, do not care about the experiences of the people that share my campus and city and it bothers me that those pesky people in BSAY keep wanting to talk about how this identity that, you’re right, they didn’t choose, affects every facet of their life whether they want it to or not.

    PSA: Black people often have a different experience in the world simply based on race. We often have to deal with annoyance that we care about our skin color. We have to read articles where authors find it acceptable to liken being Black at Yale to clothing, and mullions, and fonts. I could go on and on about the history of racism and oppression and how TODAY this racism continues in the form of subpar education and hyper incarceration of Black people amongst other things. But I won’t.

    There were some promising sentences in this article: “Why does our skin color merit such special attention?” and “There is something especially inescapable about skin color”. But instead of actually engaging in these questions, which the email was asking you to do, you wrote this inane article making no point and using silly examples.

    Finally, I want to say this, the Black Student Alliance at Yale is all about “fight[ing] bigotry, hatred and oppression wherever it should reside and in whatever form it should take”. I invite you and everyone else to the discussion on these issues at the Afro-American Cultural Center (211 Park St) at 7pm. Come on by, it will be helpful and enlightening.

  • River Tam

    > PSA: Black people often have a different experience in the world simply based on race. We often have to deal with annoyance that we care about our skin color.

    Get over your skin color. As someone who is part black, part asian, part latina, and part everything else, I don’t identify myself as belonging to any race.

    Guess what – I don’t end up whining about oh-how-hard my life on some stupid tumblr blog.

  • weeva1

    @River Tam
    – As someone of mixed heritage as well, I have to disagree with you on your post. As someone who is NOT fully black (you say yourself you are part black and part many other things), you cannot know what it is to walk around in America as a Black person. Anyone with a background that is of an ethnic or racial minority has a different experience, but as my skin is not a color most would call “black”, I don’t presume to know what the experience of walking around with skin that is definitively “black” to the public is like. You shouldn’t presume that either. People who’s ethnicity is ambiguous to the naked eye have a very unique and interesting experience, but I don’t think they should compare themselves to or judge the experience of people who are identified as or who self-identify as “black” in America. That experience has been shaped by hundreds of years of race relations in an America where skin color, particularly “black” skin, was the biggest thing to define a person and their life…you can’t just get over that. Until you live life as a Black person, you really can’t say anything.

    p.s. – I don’t identify myself as any one race either, rather I recognize all parts of my background….you can’t really preach about that to someone who does belong to one race or who chooses to. It’s every individual’s choice.

  • KevinBeckford

    There are several things that are undeniably problematic with this piece. First of all, we must ask- who made the author an authority to define blackness? What qualifies him to say how it should be demonstrated and the appropriate extent to which blackness can be demonstrated? The author states, “Blackness should be used sparingly, as an accent and not a fabric” acknowledging the existence of (a) black experience(s). However, the spectrum of “blackness” and the extent to which it can be demonstrated is infinite, something the author misses. The point of the “blackness blog” is to get people talking about their opinions and perspectives in regards to blackness; as many black students will tell you, the “black experience” can not be confined. There are hundreds of black students on this campus and consequently, there are hundreds of ways to encounter, experience, and view blackness. To say that it should be used sparingly and as an accent is merely telling of the author’s unfamiliarity with the diversity that exists within the black community. Also, the whole analogous references to black ties and what not is incredibly offensive; as determined by the person, blackness can be skin color, ethnicity, experience with struggles, experience with triumphs, nationality, or a combination of all of these things. To compare a (admittedly so, fluid) IDENTITY to a black tie and black clothes is foolish. I get its the Yalie thing to be creative and I’m sure the author was trying to be poetic, but let’s get real. I love the question the author poses- why does skin color merit attention? It’s a very important question to ask, but in this context, not so much.

    {Also, for the record American identity and religious identity are FREQUENTLY discussed, so the Episcopalian-ness example is silly. Yale is a place with people from all over the globe, from different states, different nationalities, different economic positions, different religions, etc. IDENTITY IS ALWAYS DISCUSSED on this campus. }

    I encourage those who have questions about blackness at Yale to come attend the Black Student Alliance’s Discussion on BLACKNESS on Tuesday, 7:00 pm at the Afro-American Cultural Center (211 Park Street). You will find a variety of experiences and perspectives, especially among those that identify as black.

  • Mink12

    It would have taken you literally 15 seconds to walk from your room (or the YDN office) to the Afro-American House and talk to an actual black student at Yale (omg!). The most involved members of BSAY pretty much live in that house, so you really had no excuse to forgo a short trip to the house to learn more about BSAY before writing this mess. You should really be ashamed of yourself.

  • lprol

    @River Tam — Your flippant comments are unproductive, wanting, and dismissive. The “oh-how-hard my life” whining you’re referring to is a very real struggle people of color hailing from every walk of life deal with on any day of the week. Simply claiming a multiracial heritage doesn’t give you license to rail on others for the various and often painful experiences they have had owed to race, much less for expressing those experiences.

    You denigrate people for speaking honestly about their racial experience on the Blackness at Yale Blog, but your half-baked comments, likely conceived in 10 seconds or less and hidden behind the alias of a username on the Yale Daily News website, are supposed to warrant our attention?

    How about you gather up some nerve, walk your ass over to the AfAm House with your BFF Mr. Nicolas Kemper, put on a nametag, and try saying this? If people call you out, it’s not because they’re picking on you. It’s because you’re wrong in the worst way.

    -*LAWRENCE LIM*

  • davenport12

    I love you, Lawrence Lim.

  • LizLee

    @Lawrence!

    <3 Excellent point regarding whining!

  • River Tam

    > @River Tam — The “oh-how-hard my life” whining you’re referring to is a very real struggle people of color hailing from every walk of life deal with on any day of the week.

    “People of color” don’t have “very real struggles”. *People* have very real struggles. To suggest that “people of color” (a phrase I hate, by the way) have more struggles or license to complain about their struggles than “people of noncolor” (white people) is what’s really bigoted.

    > You denigrate people for speaking honestly about their racial experience on the Blackness at Yale Blog, but your half-baked comments, likely conceived in 10 seconds or less and hidden behind the alias of a username on the Yale Daily News website, are supposed to warrant our attention?

    I don’t denigrate people for speaking. I denigrate people for the self-pitying atmosphere they create.
    As for my comments, they clearly warranted your attention.

    > How about you gather up some nerve, walk your ass over to the AfAm House with your BFF Mr. Nicolas Kemper, put on a nametag, and try saying this?

    I’ve never met Nicolas Kemper, and my friends DO know my attitudes on “race” and the fetishization of “diversity” and “racial experience” at Yale.

    > If people call you out, it’s not because they’re picking on you. It’s because you’re wrong in the worst way.

    *I’m* not the one that thinks people are picking on them. I think you have me confused with the BSAY.

  • River Tam

    > As someone who is NOT fully black (you say yourself you are part black and part many other things), you cannot know what it is to walk around in America as a Black person.

    Sigh. “You just don’t know what it’s like to be me, man” is such a cliched response.

    NO ONE knows what it’s like to be *anyone else*. Get over yourself. You cannot know what it’s like to be a Spizzwink, a Harvard student, a transgender, or a Muslim. So you can’t talk about it.

    > Until you live life as a Black person, you really can’t say anything.

    “Unless you are [fully] black, shut up and sit down.” Got it.

  • River Tam

    Addendum for Lawrence Lim:

    I have met far more “people of color” at Yale who contribute to racial segregation and tension at Yale than those who alleviate it. You seem to fall into the former category. Thankfully, most of my friends do not.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Get over your skin color. As someone who is part black, part asian, part latina, and part everything else, I don’t identify myself as belonging to any race.”

    We will all get over it since the demographers tells us white folk will become a minority in America for the first time in U.S. history by the end of this decade.

  • lprol

    @River Tam — Actually, people of color *do* have very real struggles that are distinct from the nebulous, unclarified subset of “People” to which you’re referring. To suggest that people of color (a phrase I love, by the way) have more struggles or license to *express* discontent with their struggles is accurate and appropriate. Racism, whether you refuse to recognize it or not, has been institutionalized in our nation’s history and disproportionately affects people of color.

    To give you an example, in reference to Ivy’s mention of hyper incarceration, very strong, consistent evidence shows that even back in late 1960s, black men were seven times more likely to have been imprisoned than white men. As of 1995, 1 in 3 black men aged 20 to 29 years of age were in penal custody; if these trends continue, 30 percent of all black males (compared to 4 percent of white males) born today will spend some of their lives in prison. This isn’t a coincidence and it’s not trivial. These patterns are built into the way race has and continues to pervade politics as well as to extend systematic forms of oppression going back to slavery and Jim Crow policies. As any competent person can recognize, a majority white people experience *very little* hardship in comparison. And we’re just talking solely about blacks here, don’t even get me started on hispanics/chicanos and Asian Americans.

    And you do denigrate people for speaking about their experience–to refer to their honest submissions to the blog as “whining” ignores the fact that ignorance is still a very powerful force even on Yale’s campus. You are an exemplary example of this ignorance, even if you are multiracial (which you seem to feel gives you some sort of mysterious privilege to speak on this issue with more authority than others?). The atmosphere can only possibly be seen as self-pitying if you’ve isolated yourself from these communities where their concerns are grounded in constitutive members’ relations with every person on this campus, black, white, Asian, or hispanic. The fact that invitations to engage in these discourses have existed in such abundance and you still know so little speaks volumes about your self-education and introspection on issues of identity.

    The attention you received from me is not the same attention the Blackness Blog at Yale demands and deserves from the rest of campus. The attention warranted by your comments was instigated by your outrageous ignorance and how that was reflected in your blatant disrespect. Every person who has commented on this article has shown that respect, even if they express disagreement. You, however, are the lone exception.

    Last of all, saying that your friends (or, more apt, echo chamber) know your attitudes on race means nothing. You are targeting very specific racial communities with your comments, and it’s obvious you don’t have the courage to engage them directly. Grow a spine. Get some knowledge.

    -LAWRENCE LIM ;)

  • NathanHale

    @River Tam*

    *You’re sounding more like Jayne Cobb?

  • Madas

    @lprol

    Blacks also commit more crimes than whites which are often more violent crimes as well. But of course it must be latent racism and not other factors that contrinute to the skewed incarceration rate. Not saying that black communities don’t face unique challenges, but so do many, many other groups. Did you ever consider the rural poor? They’re often white and face worse social, educational, and health problems than urban poor? It’s obnoxious to always have the black community point the finger at everyone but itself.

    How can you make blanket statements regarding whites and then turn around and decry stereotyping? How dare you ignore the very real struggles that countless white immigrant communities endured to establish themselves here. The Irish, Portuguese, Italians, and the list goes one. Each and every one was once the target of racism. In some areas less than blacks, in other perhaps more. You assume that whites have it easy. You assume that the grass is greener on the other The fact is, you don’t have a clue, but it suits your political agenda to paint a blanket picture of privalege and luxury of your scapegoats. And you have the audacity to accuse others of ignorance? You, sir, are dispicable.

    This is America, home of Americans – not blacks, or whites, or some other color. We cannot join together by drawing lines in the sand, and your outmoded racial thinking reeks of a race-obsession. Kemper’s point is merely that we should not go out of our way to organize around something that is uncontrollable and indeterminate on our ability to lead good, productive lives. To assign superiority, inferiority, or even mere membership to a partcular group on the basis of such a characterisitc only leads to segregation and separation.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Not saying that black communities don’t face unique challenges, but so do many, many other groups’

    No other “group”. had a U.S. Supreme Court decision declare they were not human beings and could be sold like dining-room furniture; no other group was assaulted from Christian pulpits with “proof-texts” from the Old Testament justifying slavery and the racist notion that black skin was God’s punishment for a son looking on Noah’s nakedness

  • NathanHale

    .

  • y09

    I understand that many people want to “forget color” in hopes that will lead to some kind of harmony. But forgetting color isn’t the way to achieve this – pretending we’re color blind won’t make the problem go away. We need to acknowledge color without letting color bring with it a whole slew of unfounded stereotypes. To be “color blind” is to ignore our common history, to ignore the vast amounts of work that still must be done to help POC have equal opportunities.

    Kemper, it seems you wrote this article with the best of intentions. I hope you ignore the wild personal attacks but take away from these comments that you may want to gain more perspective on the situation before prescribing a solution to it.

  • weeva1

    @ River Tam

    I’m actually mixed, just like you. I LOVE that you responded as though I was an angry black person, telling you that you don’t understand “my” struggle. I realize that everyone, of every color, goes through their own struggles in life, some more than others, but African Americans, as a group, have had much harder and more enduring difficulties throughout history than most.

    Also, I could say the same thing about walking around as an Asian American or a first generation immigrant from another country. No one CAN understand anyone else’s experience, but you should NEVER tell ANYONE to get over their color or whatever it is that strongly defines THEIR experience. If you had said the same thing to ANY ethnic group, I would have told you it was wrong. “Get over being poor and disadvantaged” “Get over having a disability” “Get over having your house destroyed by a natural disaster” – Do you see how wrong all of these things sound? Don’t tell people to get over anything that has made their lives significantly more difficult. You’re just being an a**hole.

  • The Anti-Yale

    You don’t “get over” the fact that all of your stateside ancestors were shafted for 150 years because of the color of their skin. Words like “octoroon,” “mulatto,” “miscegenation” do not sit in the dictionary because they had no power.

  • rhiana

    someone get kemper to jonathan holloway’s class. because, frankly, if he has never wondered why nearly all the dining hall workers at his oh-so-informal Sunday dinners are black, and nearly all their managers are white, i don’t have nearly time enough time to school him.

  • SoulsWindows

    I’m actually furious in so many ways right now, and I can’t even think of where to start. I’m not going to talk about what race or races I may or may not be, because it is irrelevant to this discussion.

    I’m not too mad at Kemper, which may surprise, but honestly — while certainly offensive — the overall point of this article — I think — seems to be that he thinks we should be trying to move past this. “This” being the issue of color/race/blackness/etc. Alright, fair enough. He was asked what he thinks of Blackness at Yale, and he pretty much believes we should try to move on from the issue. Again, offensive to compare the issue of Blackness with mullions and so on, but a good thought overall. And maybe, for those of us at Yale, we should move on… in the sense that we all have a unique and wonderful privilege — to receive an excellent education and a diploma from a top university, which will open tons of doors. I love that we have that opportunity. But the issue of Blackness is not that simple. The dismissive attitude that pervades this entire discussion is why I am furious. Let’s get one thing straight first.

    To Kemper and everyone else (whatever race or races you may or may not be):

    There is a clear and obvious definition of Blackness in this country. To pretend anything to the contrary is just silly. To be clear, people were brought from Africa to budding colonies (in what would become America) over 400 years ago. They were sold, bought, branded, bred, beaten, whipped, castrated, raped, lynched, burned, demonized, starved. They could not rest when they wanted to; they could not worship as they wanted to; they could not educate themselves; they could not dance; they could barely foster relationships with whomever they wanted within the slave community; their children were ripped from their mothers and fathers and sold to whatever plantation owner was the highest bidder. Regardless of what the history books may tell you (…or rather completely fail to tell you) these things continued WELL AFTER the Civil War/Reconstruction/Emancipation. The people who suffered those atrocities were Black. They were labelled so by the people who enslaved them. Those people are colloquially known as White people.

    Their “Blackness” is PRECISELY the issue. They did not choose it and yet they were severely and deeply punished for it. Over time, the ways in which they were punished changed, but the ability to legally punish them for their Blackness only ended OFFICIALLY in the 1960s. For goodness sake, anti-miscegenation laws were STILL on the books until the Supreme Court overturned them in 1967.

  • SoulsWindows

    Think about the many, many Black people who tried to pass for white. They did so in order to avoid the issues that being Black would bring up. Think about the many, many issues within the Black community that continue today — extreme poverty, illiteracy, drug abuse, prison rates, crime rates. There is long history of deprivation, oppression, physical/psychological abuse that is behind these issues.

    I am furious with River Tam. I am furious with “ohno.” The greatest issue we face as a nation and on campus is this dismissive (and ultimately divisive) attitude.

    Students like Kemper are asking to be able to move on from Black history. It’s understandably hard for the generations who did not oppress and are not oppressing Black people to keep having to cater to the deeply ingrained issues within and directed toward the Black community. You CANNOT dismiss Kemper as a typical white guy. That casual statement is disrespectful in and of itself. It connotes an undercurrent of racism that is not there. That sort of accusation is a deeply divisive and alienating attitude.

    On the other hand, @River Tam, when a whole community suffered for at least 350 years, you cannot dismiss them as whiny just because you have no personal issues. That is offensive and disrespectful on a whole other level, and I am literally enraged that you think so little of your fellow students as to write off their feelings and experiences as overblown cries for attention. I too have no problem with my mixed racial heritage. Many members of the Black community also have no problem with their heritage. Is it true that sometimes people jump to the conclusion that something didn’t turn out how they wanted because of their sex/race/religion/sexual orientation? Absolutely. But some things are facts. There are racists. There are misogynists. There are homophobes. There is definitely religious intolerance. We are human, we have biases. Period.

    That said, it is also true that other groups have history of persecution in this country, and many groups still face it. Immigrants, LGBTQ groups, and Muslims are currently suffering, these things are not to be condoned or made light of either. But, I’m sorry, their experience and the Black experience are not comparable. Their experiences are not built into the backbone and birth of this country. More importantly, just because many Black Yalies or half-black Yalies or 1/32 Black Yalies have no wrongful arrests or explicit harassments or discriminatory experiences in their past, does not erase the experience of others who have had these things. The reason that the Black community is still “whining” is because no one wants to actually deal with the issues. Everyone wants things to just move on. Everyone wants to just integrate our society. BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

  • SoulsWindows

    Imagine for one moment: for every single day of your freshman through junior years of high school, 70% of your entire grade punched, pantsed, spilled food on, verbally abused, or excluded you and the other 30% of your grade. Every day. Your teachers stood by and watched. Then suddenly, in your senior year, the school gets a new principal who whips the teachers into shape and makes them stop the bullying. Of course, old habits die hard. So for the 1st two months of senior year, these things still happen every week. Next month, every other week. Next month, only twice. Finally, after winter break, some new kids come to the school and the bullying goes away. The new kids want to be your friends and so do the students who used to be terrible to you. They never apologize. They just want you to pretend it never happened, go to their parties, laugh at their inside jokes, listen to their favorite music. You’d probably think, “Are you kidding me? How can I go to your party and pretend we have all these inside jokes and understand each other when you used to torture me every day for no discernible reason?” How would you forge a friendship with those people? You might need therapy. You might need to understand why they tortured you. You probably would never fully trust them. You probably would really need to know “Why YOU?” You might wonder if it could happen again without warning or provocation.

    That is a ridiculously minimized and trivialized version of the Black experience, but perhaps a good enough analogy to make you understand why Blackness isn’t something that’s just going to go away. It needs to be worked through. America may be ashamed; America may have forgotten; America may not want to deal; but you can sure as hell bet that Blacks will not forget and they will not rest until people allow the issues to actually be DISCUSSED, not dismissed.

    Those who consider themselves Black at Yale have respectfully tried to initiate such a discussion. Please try having it.

    With all due respect,
    Lefty

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Whatevah”, “Move on”; “Not my problem”; “Live in the now”.

    Those of us who lived through the ’60’s remember another saying; “Burn baby, Burn!”

  • Qahira

    SoulsWindows, your minimized and trivialized version of the Black experience is ridiculous as it denies us the ability to be individuals separate from our predecessors. So many of these comments evidence some form of radical Burkean conservatism in what sliver of the black community speaks here. Thankfully we don’t live in the antebellum South or the South of the sixties or even America of the eighties, but we do live in a flawed society. The question we should ask ourselves is how do we make it better?

    Many seem to advocate an exploitation of discrimination to make it better, or at least make their lives better. We know that making an ‘us’ and ‘them’ is an effective way of bringing together a community, whether that manifests itself in the highly nationalistic America that immediately followed 911 or trade-protectionism, but it’s also a cheap way. Creating an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ creates an ‘us,’ but also creates other problems. Relevant to this conversation, which is one we should have – so thank you Kemper for starting it, even if your original idealism might be just that, too ideal – radicalizing around the idea of being black creates a strong community but it also creates other problems.

    I’ve seen black friends derided; I’ve seen black friends questioned when they ask a college gate to be held open for them, but the worse racism I’ve seen in our generation has been perpetuated by blacks. I’ve seen white friends spat on. I’ve seen white friends derided by horrendous racial slurs from strangers in public where no one would come to their defense. I know black friends who don’t dare be seen hanging out with a white person lest their other friends look down at them.

    Our generation has seen students at Jena terrorized with racist symbols. Our generation has also seen Christian Prince murdered at Yale because a citizen of our city of New Haven wanted to “stick up a cracker” (see http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/feb/17/20-years-on-prince-murder-still-haunts/). The hate crimes of today are not one sided, and too many come from a culturally embedded perspective of seeing skin color as the opening determinant of their identity.

    Please, for the lives we can make better and for the lives we can save, stop perpetuating racism.

  • ohno

    @SoulsWindows: Sorry, but I don’t think what I said was divisive at all, unless telling a white person that they don’t have the right to tell me how to define MY racial identity is divisive. I think it’s just common sense. Notice that nowhere did I say he doesn’t have the right to comment – the blackness at Yale project obviously has submissions from non-black students. But he does not have the right to instruct.

    Also, @River Tam: “NO ONE knows what it’s like to be anyone else. Get over yourself. You cannot know what it’s like to be a Spizzwink, a Harvard student, a transgender, or a Muslim. So you can’t talk about it.”

    Well…yeah. At least, I certainly can’t talk about it with authority. Again, common sense. If I wrote a paper, as someone who does not go to Harvard, about what I think it means to be a Harvard student, and how I thought Harvard students should construct their sense of self and community, and my reflections on the culture of Harvard and the Harvard experience, in a serious and non-satirical fashion, it would be pretty useless. The most important way to allow discussion on different groups to happen is to, first and foremost, let those groups speak for themselves. And I mean that in the nicest, most non-divisive way possible.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Qahira:
    Do you know the DESPAIR of Dixwell Avenue? Why wouldn’t it be logical in such despair for someone to want to “stick-up a cracker”?
    PK

  • vinayspace

    A question for the author: do you think the Women’s Center should dissolve?

    After all, sex, like skin color is endowed rather than chosen.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Gender, like skin color may be endowed but the U.S. Supreme Court did not declare that WOMEN were not human beings in 1857 (Dred Scott v. Sandford). Christian pulpits were not used to preach that the Old Testament texts justfiied selling WOMEN like furniture.
    It was BLACKNESS and its superstition in Christianity as the color of the garb of the devil, the King of Darkness, which makes racism so insidious, so all-pervasive, so irrational.

  • Qahira

    @The Anti-Yale:’Do you know the DESPAIR of Dixwell Avenue? Why wouldn’t it be logical in such despair for someone to want to “stick-up a cracker”?’

    I didn’t say it wasn’t logical. It must have seemed logical to the perpetrator at the time, in which case we should ask ourselves what we’ve done to create/perpetuate a world in which wanting to ‘stick-up a cracker’ appears to be a logical desire.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Here’s what we have done:

    We have never asked FORGIVENESS for slavery. And we have never offered REPARATIONS .

    And who is “we”? The ruling white class which ran this country for the duration of slavery (even the founders who refused to deal with the problem) and Christianity which allowed its American pulpits to be poisoned with proof-texts from the OT justifying slavery, until Harriet Beecher Stowe, daughter of America’s most famous preacher, held a mirror up to their hypocrisy and forced American pulpits to look at themselves in pain of her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

    The wound has never been cauterized. It festers in a low-grade infection which BURST out in a spasm of pus in the riots after MLK’s assassination.

    It SEEPS out every day in the let’s “stick-up a cracker” ideation.

  • IvyOnyeador

    @ Madas mainly, but for general enlightenment: one, regarding higher rates of crime in black neighborhoods, cops police these neighborhoods more heavily and as you know, if you’re looking for something, you’ll find it. alternatively, if you’re not looking for something, you will not find it. but imagine if police came every weekend to Yale and looked for underage drinkers or people abusing drugs and actually…did something about it. we’d then have a lovely stereotype about how all elite Ivy League students are alcoholics and drug users with no regard for the laws of our country. But since we are lucky enough to have this privilege of being able to break the law with no consequence, Yale students get to go and be the president of the United States, while many black people have had their lives ruined. one example being Kelley Bolar-Williams, who was charged with a felony for sending her kids to a better school district. The judge stated that she wouldn’t be able to become a teacher in the state of Ohio because of her felony conviction. The same way some students don’t think underage drinking or illegal drug use is a big deal and not something that should ruin your future, i don’t think that trying to get your children a better education in a land of educational apartheid is worth a felony conviction.

    and consider this: living space is incredibly important and tremendously changes the way a person experiences life. if you and four of your best friends were crammed into a bathroom and never allowed to leave, you would be angry and frustrated as well. you might even get violent. let’s keep this in mind when we consider the challenges facing the inner city.

  • SoulsWindows

    First things first. I apologize if any of my post was misunderstood or was not clear. It was 6 in the morning, and I was angry.

    That said, I stand by my post. And I will elaborate on it in response to those who challenged me.

    To ohno:
    While you may not think so, it is divisive. When you say “written like a white guy” or that you “don’t think[…]telling a white person that they don’t have the right to tell [you] how to define [YOUR] racial identity is divisive,” you are wrong.

    No one has the right to tell you how to define your racial identity. Period.

    You are also wrong because Kemper was not trying to tell you how to define yourself. In fact, though a flawed, misguided, and sometimes offensively oblivious perspective, Kemper’s article is actually agreeing with you. No one has the right to foist an identity on you. The direct quotation: “When an organization claims as its constituents students not of a particular persuasion, but of a particular color, it makes an assumption. It assumes that people whose skin color is black identify with them, and that people whose skin color is not black have less to do with them.” That is actually a very important sentiment to address.

    It seems to me that Kemper is not saying that you cannot call yourself Black. He was asked what he felt about Blackness at Yale. His opinion is that it should not be the defining characteristic of a group of people. Whether or not he is right about the way in which BSAY conducts itself is a whole other matter. That is something I totally understand being offended by. He essentially told BSAY that they are a institution of segregation; if you create a group based solely on skin color, you may be making misguided and socially harmful assumptions.

    However that sentiment does not warrant you writing him off as a “white guy.” Why? Because that phrase is just as charged as “black person.” It recalls the tension of segregation, when a “white person” not only could and would define who among their fellow beings was a “black person,” but also could and would define what a “black person” could or could not do.

    Kemper’s piece is in no way on the same level. Maybe only in my eyes, but as I see it, the message that is most important to take away from the piece is that PERHAPS by subscribing to and utilizing a label that was given in a negative time, “Black” people may be perpetuating a problem rather than solving it. At least in an arena such as Yale’s campus. So yes, it absolutely creates division.

  • SoulsWindows

    Which brings me to @Qahira. All I have to say is that I 100% agree with you. I think if you read my post again, you would see that we are not in contradictory positions. First, I know that my analogy is ridiculous, but it was not my intention to insinuate that our generation is inextricably tied to old attitudes. I was trying to give a very simple analogy to show why old attitudes are so pervasive in older generations.

    I believe that we, as a new generation, are poised in a unique position to overcome the old attitudes. As you said, “The question we should ask ourselves is how do we make it better?” That is what I meant when I said, “Everyone wants things to just move on. Everyone wants to just integrate our society. BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?” My point being that currently there are no real solutions being offered or discussions being had as to how we proceed in truly integrating a people that was ostracized and excluded and demeaned. It is not as simple as changing OUR attitudes. We have to help them change THEIRS as well. They still come from a place of distrust, resentment, and yes, even horrible, blind revenge — as in the case of Christian Prince’s murder.

    Before anyone jumps all over me, I am NOT saying that we need to divest Black people of their culture or heritage. It is rich and long. I am saying we need to find a way to include that culture fully in our society and work TOGETHER, INCLUSIVELY to heal the wounds that, in The Anti-Yale’s words, “[fester] in a low-grade infection[…]after MLK’s assassination[…and SEEP] every day in the let’s ‘stick-up a cracker’ ideation.”

  • The Anti-Yale

    Slavery is QUALITATIVELY different than the Holocaust. The latter was the result of a MAD-man and a MAD nation. The former was DELIBERATIVE.

    Slavery was the result of a national POLICY ; upheld by a Supreme Court DECISION (1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford) and bolstered by the then de facto national RELIGION, Protestant Christianity, whose MALE divines preached the biblically certified holiness of slavery—so repugnantly so that a WOMAN author courageously called those Christian preachers hypocrites through her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (the first publication to go VIRAL) which many scholars believe was one of the five CAUSES of the Civil War, without which slaves might be serving meals at Silliman this very day 2011.

  • SoulsWindows

    I turn to Sidney Poitier’s monologue to his father from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” to further my point.

    “You listen to me. You say you don’t want to tell me how to live my life. So what do you think you’ve been doing? You tell me what rights I’ve got or haven’t got, and what I owe to you for what you’ve done for me. Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you’re supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another. But you don’t own me! You can’t tell me when or where I’m out of line, or try to get me to live my life according to your rules. You don’t even know what I am, Dad, you don’t know who I am. You don’t know how I feel, what I think. And if I tried to explain it the rest of your life you will never understand. You are 30 years older than I am. You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it’s got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs! You understand, you’ve got to get off my back! Dad… Dad, you’re my father. I’m your son. I love you. I always have and I always will. But you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.”

    Much of the newer generation has grown up free of these binds, but the question is: do we just have to wait for the “dead weight[…to] be off our backs” or can we work together now and help that generation move forward with us?

  • The Anti-Yale

    Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) was a powerful, inspiring film–a courageous film. But that speech of Poitier’s was WISHFUL THINKING written by a WHITE MAN. The very next year the country would explode in racial riots after MLK’s assassination :
    (Wikipedia)
    Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a 1967 American drama film starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn, and featuring Hepburn’s niece Katharine Houghton. The film was groundbreaking for its positive representation of the controversial subject of interracial marriage, which historically had been illegal in most states of the United States, and was still illegal in seventeen southern American states up until June 12 of the year of the film’s release, when it was legalized by the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia. It was produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, and written by William Rose.

  • SoulsWindows

    And now, Anti-Yale you are engaging in divisive speech. It’s not just wishful thinking. That is a very real sentiment that, written by a “white man” or no, influences and shapes a lot of the “new” generation. We long to be so much more than just a Black person, just a White Person, just an Asian person, just a Hispanic person, etc. We are people. We each of us have a complex and unique identity, which is influenced by much more than just the color of our skin.

  • wenzel

    @ The Anti-Yale

    1. Stop posting every other word in all caps. That’s toolish.

    2. I disagree with your assertion of the African American struggle as uniquely worse than those of other minority groups.

    First off, the Bible hates on homosexuals probably more than “blacks”. If taken literally the bible calls for homosexuals to be killed (Leviticus 20:13). Probably worse that being used as a mark of shame. Also, according to a recent poll half of America thinks homosexuality is morally wrong. According to a 2008 poll more than half of the US trusts a man of African American decent to run the whole damn country. But the black experience is uniquely worse right?

    Also, many North American indigenous tribes were completely wiped out. Gone. Those that survived were continually lied to, cheated, or just slaughtered. The current poorest area of the country is on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

    This being said, it’s really pointless to try to quantify and compare the suffering and injustices of different “groups”, but if you do feel the need please be aware that humans can really be awful creatures. Although black history is important to study we must be careful not to minimize the ongoing suffering of other minority groups though presenting the African American struggle as uniquely more important.

    http://www.opposingviews.com/i/poll-half-of-americans-think-homosexuality-morally-wrong
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41562850/ns/us_news-life/

  • The Anti-Yale

    No one is trying to diminish your aspirations to be color blind or have everyone be color blind.
    Just try living a block from Dixwell Avenue as I did for 7 years at Yale—-and keep your eyes and ears open. Observe the aspirations of others.

  • sexxy1

    try finding a black girl a screw date and then tell me that “blackness” doesn’t matter here. btw, did you take american history? at all? were you born under a rock?

  • The Anti-Yale

    “we must be careful not to minimize the ongoing suffering of other minority groups though presenting the African American struggle as uniquely more important.”

    Their struggle is not “uniquely more important” it is uniquely more dangerous and psychologically debilitating.

    NO OTHER ETHNIC GROUP WALKS INTO A ROOM AND IS IMMEDIATELY IDENTIFIABLE BECAUSE OF A PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTE WHICH CANNOT BE HIDDEN: There’s an Irish person; a Jewish person, a Native American, an Iranian. Imagine what that “immediately identifiable” phenomenon does after a few hundred thousand enterings, especially when that identifiability provokes hatred and potential violence.

  • The Anti-Yale

    PS

    In American race relations there are two epochs: BCE (Before Cosby Era) and CE (Cosby Era).

    Those who grew up BCE view the “struggle” as real. Those born CE tend to view the “struggle” as
    ‘history” in the pejorative sense.

  • River Tam

    > NO OTHER ETHNIC GROUP WALKS INTO A ROOM AND IS IMMEDIATELY IDENTIFIABLE BECAUSE OF A PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTE WHICH CANNOT BE HIDDEN: There’s an Irish person; a Jewish person, a Native American, an Iranian

    Translation: Paul Kean can’t tell Irish, Jews, N8vs, and Persians apart.

    Just because you can’t doesn’t mean everyone else can’t. And what about asians? Or turbanned sikhs? Or yarmulke-wearing Jews?

    Do they just blend right in?

    Everyone’s got problems.

  • River Tam

    > A question for the author: do you think the Women’s Center should dissolve?

    This woman votes yes.

  • davynnbrown

    I believe those who commented before me have said it in better words than I ever could have. Mr. Author you made no strides to talk to any Black Person when writing this article. I don’t know how you can critique anything without having experienced it or talked to someone who has experienced it but maybe you have some magical mind reading powers I don’t know about it. Please listen to what those above me have written (with the exception of Rivertam). My most serious problems were with 1)Your comparison of my people/their heritage/and our skin color to ink and fabric accents and 2) Your last statement “But let us try to leave colors out of it”.

    I value myself and my history and at least expect others to respect it. You may have been attempting to come off as creative but you failed and instead came off in a very offensive manner. If I was to say that “technically” white was the absence of color that signified a void and blandness and then attempted to relate this definition to the caucasian race as a whole would you not be slightly upset?!

    As to your last statement… I’m sorry to burst your bubble but IT”S ALL ABOUT COLOR! If it wasn’t for color then there would be no argument. Color and the part that it has played in ALL of our histories is the issue at hand. There’s no sense in trying to tiptoe around the issue. Color is and has always been important. When African Americans were enslaved, beaten, and hung they didn’t “leave color out of it” so I don’t understand why all of a sudden you think we can just dismiss it now??

    Tis All.

  • justayalemom

    In the words of Morgan Freeman, “Just stop talking about racism. You stop calling me a black man and I will stop calling you a white man” in an interview with Mike Wallace about Black History Month for which Morgan Freeman called “Ridiculous, Black History IS American History”!

    Thank you Morgan Freeman for speaking the truth. And to add to his wisdom, I would do away with Spanish History month and any other ethnic history month.

    We are all Americans and we are all part of American History!

  • joliver

    But of course, “Spanish History Month.” what could we gain from something ridiculous like that?

  • Bystander_No3

    I think what people often fail to take into consideration is how left out a lot of whites feel, despite being the majority. I mean think about it–when was the last time you saw a White Student Union? It just doesn’t happen. White people are without a specific, celebrate-able ethnicity. Identifying with a particular religion is about as close as we get to have interesting cultural heritages. We are the “everything else” category–no one will ask you to specify where you’re from if you’re white. And odds are, even if they did, your answer would be vague because you’re 10% of half the countries in Europe.

    On several occasions, I have attended events that were advertised for a general audience and were attended by other whites, and felt completely shut out because of my skin color. I went to an AIDS benefit at which the speaker repeatedly promoted changes in “our black community”, which left a third of the audience wondering why they bothered to show up.

    If you come from an ethnic background that you actually identify with, good for you! You are lucky enough to be able to walk into college and join a student group where you can make friends automatically. Us white kids? We have to figure out where we fit in, because nothing has been made for us. We wander, and we glance over at your bonded groups of proud minorities chatting in laughing in languages we can’t understand–we are jealous, and thus, we become hateful.

    Can you blame us?

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