So I’m walking down Wall Street to Silliman at about six one morning and I realize I don’t have my Yale ID. I notice there are three girls in the window on the first floor to my left and I signal to them to get their attention. The girls scream. I wave my hands again. They scream again.
“I’m Kenny, the black kid with the freckles! You know me! You’ve seen me around! I’ve seen you around!”
I really did recognize the girls. I clearly posed no threat on the other side of the moat and iron-wrought fence.
“Ahhhh!” they respond. Mildly frustrated, I give up and head towards College Street to try my luck again. As I approach the intersection a Yale cop turns the corner. I immediately put the pieces together in my mind — these girls must have called the police on me.
Softly sighing to myself, I give the officers (a second cop was present within minutes) all the information they ask for like my name, social security number and date of birth. After an inexplicable delay of about 20 minutes involving walkie-talkie jargon and ridiculous questioning, I was let into Silliman and told by one of the officers that they were just doing their job.
I later received apologies via e-mail from two of the girls to the effect of “Oh my God, I didn’t know it was you! We were so drunk! We thought it was a homeless person or the Shakespeare Lady! Sorry!” I responded, perhaps a little too sardonically, “Yeah, you guys are stupid.” Later, a third girl not actually involved in the phone call but in the room at the time apologized in person during my shift as Silliman dining hall manager.
I didn’t take the situation too seriously though I’m well aware of its implications, especially poignant within the context of Yale’s continuing racial tensions. I could have responded a lot more rashly by getting really indignant and making a big to-do, but that’s not really my style. I am black and I am proud but I see myself as a colorless spirit first and foremost. To be honest, I was amused and a little annoyed more than anything else, and annoyed at my powerlessness in the situation, not really at the girls or the cops. I obviously don’t have any obligation to anyone to make some sort of issue out of this, and I should never be made to feel that way. In the end, we all know hostility breeds hostility (“But this isn’t hostility, it’s standing up for yourself!” some will protest. I would tell them that those girls would think I didn’t like them now if I had taken this to the Af-Am House or something) and I feel I took the high road by not making a big deal of the incident. In all honesty I wasn’t offended, but that’s just me.
As it is, I’ve never paid too much attention to race. My parents are Nigerian and don’t really identify with the struggle of African Americans, so it wasn’t an issue in my household. Though I knew lots of black people in high school, most of my friends were white. I went on FOOT instead of Cultural Connections; I had never gone camping before and I knew all I was going to know about both white and black people. I don’t know, maybe I’m just too independent (my mother always used to tell me, “Kenny, no man is an island.”) — South Florida was a kind of vacuum in which I could develop my personality outside black and white expectations. Maybe if race had been a bigger issue for me growing up I’d be writing an entirely different article. But my point is that I’ve been allowed to cultivate my own opinion on race outside white and black influences and am therefore inclined to value and admire my own opinion very much.
I don’t think those girls’ reaction says anything for Yalies in general. Theirs was extremely atypical and I expect anyone else would have either recognized me and let me in or at least tried to communicate with me. This, to me, is an isolated incident that could have happened anywhere. If anything, you’d think the dominating atmosphere of political correctness would prevent this sort of thing from happening. Most of the people I know here are open-minded and reasonable, which isn’t to say those girls normally aren’t. I ideally like to form relationships with people who see through all this — race is usually as big an issue as one is willing to let it be.
I don’t preach indifference or turning the other cheek. I only ask for moderation and a little more understanding on all sides of the racial discourse, a little more imagination. People are ignorant of certain things (to some people black folk really do all look alike!) and it’s really not anyone’s fault. To some extent we’re all victims of circumstance and we can’t attempt to rise above that until we acknowledge it. It’s hard, but it helps to look outside yourself. The last thing I’d want is to have white people afraid of interacting with black people because they’re fearful they may say something offensive.
And if anything, those girls probably learned something from all this.
Kenny Dikas is a junior in Silliman College.