It’s that time of the year again, when yet another nasty race issue comes to the Lux. (i.e., the use of blackface and Native American costumes on Halloween and the graffiti found on the wall outside of Pierson College.)
My big question is: Why?
Why do these hurtful and demeaning acts persist year after year, after people of color have, in suite, expressed their intolerance for racist slogans, costumes — you-name-it forms of racism? People just don’t seem to get it.
I was having a conversation about the race issues on campus with a good friend of mine a couple of nights ago over dinner. I was trying to explain to her exactly why blackface and Native American costumes were offensive to people of color and why they shouldn’t be tolerated. After our long talk, she was still having a difficult time understanding why these things would be so offensive. She thought that, maybe, people of color were just too sensitive about these issues. To put things more for her simply, I laid out a scenario.
It’s as if one day I just went up to you and said:
“You know? You’re really ugly.”
To which you might respond with great confusion, silence or a:
“Wait, what? That’s really mean. Don’t say that.”
“Why, it’s the truth … I mean a joke.”
“But that’s really hurtful.”
And I’d casually say:
“Ehh, you’re being oversensitive. Get over it, wuss!”
And then, the conversation would be truncated, nothing would be resolved, your feelings would stay hurt and you’d certainly be angry.
For me, that’s kind of how this “dialogue” on race goes at Yale.
Anytime there is any sort of conference held to discuss the various incidents of racism or bigotry on campus, the only people who show up are the people who were offended or those who feel these acts were a disgrace to the Yale community. The “offenders,” thus, never get to hear from any of the people they hurt. I am not so naive as to believe that a simple dialogue would put all race issues at Yale to bed, but it would be a healthy start to healing some wounds.
So that you further understand what I mean, think about it this way: If a tree falls down in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it really make a sound? The answer, at least for our Yale dialogues, is no.
Students of color and supporters can discuss these racial conflicts all they want among themselves (or with President Levin) and nothing will ever change; it is only when we actually have participants from other perspectives that our message will actually have a chance to be heard and even be received.
Not giving us a chance to discuss these issues of race in a personal forum is more dehumanizing than the actual acts of racism themselves. By standing us up, you are not only insulting us — you are denying us a voice through which you may come to understand our grievances. We don’t want to yell at you, we just want you to listen. But more than anything else, we would like a real dialogue.
Gustavo Gutierrez, the father of liberation theology, gave a talk here this weekend. He said one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard — “Friendship supposes equality.” To become friends, we must first meet and talk. Once you see us as a friend, equal to you in every way, you will treat us as a friend instead of an “other.” That is to say, when you see us as a friend, you will hopefully treat us with the same dignity and respect with which you treat your good friends. Hopefully this friendship and new awareness will allow you to clearly see that those comments you made, though seemingly inoffensive to you, are offensive to me. And hopefully, our friendship — and the respect that comes with friendship — will be reason enough for you to stand in solidarity with me, instead of against me.
With friendship in mind, I invite you to attend the various discussions on race being held all around campus this week.
Emily Polanco-Barahona is a senior in Morse College.