In response to the sentiments expressed in Nicolas Kemper’s column Friday (“Content over color,” Feb. 18), I do not think that the color of one’s skin is a requirement to contribute to the black collective experience, but that the black experience is predicated on the color of one’s skin. I am light-skinned and could easily be mistaken for a variety of different backgrounds, but have had experiences that are exclusively “black” because of a combination of my own cultural heritage and other people’s reactions when they find out that I am black. Skin color in itself does not matter — it is the already present cultural biases that organizations such as the Black Student Alliance at Yale are founded to cope with.
I wish we lived in a color-blind world where any difference, whether it is gender, sexual orientation, class or ethnicity, does not matter. Most days I do not think about the fact that I am half-black, a woman, straight and on financial aid. Most days, I go to class, watch internet TV, and talk to my friends about celebrity gossip. But there are instances in my life at Yale where it becomes apparent that my being an ethnic minority does affect people’s perceptions of me. To ignore the present circumstances and to paint over subconscious prejudices with a thick coat of idealism makes me feel as if my experiences do not matter.
I grew up in Long Beach, Calif., one of the most diverse communities in the nation, and I did not feel at all that my ethnic identity mattered among my peers. Interracial dating was a beautiful daily phenomenon in my high school, and the highest-achieving students came from an array of backgrounds. I realized that discrimination existed, obviously, but I never experienced it from my peers until I came to Yale. During Bulldog Days, I was placed with another pre-frosh young lady who was superficially friendly but a bit distant. Then she met my big, exuberant and entirely fabulous black mother. Her face turned to a grimace and she turned downright cold toward me. Before that moment, I thought my generation lacked a racial consciousness. I am not saying that this particular young lady is racist; I am fairly sure she acted unconsciously and would feel ashamed if such behavior was pointed out to her. But it happened, and it hurt.
Once a freshman, I continued to live my life unconscious of my color. I made wonderful friends and took thought provoking classes, but every once in a while, I would have a social interaction that made me feel uncomfortable and unwanted either because of my multi-cultural upbringing or the color of my skin. Though I am not a member of BSAY, and I am not at all a presence in the “Black community” here, I find it helpful to talk to my black friends who have had similar experiences and have similar problems. When I talk to my non-black girlfriends about how hard dating is for black girls here — I once tried to find a black friend a screw date only to be confronted with the response, “Well, I don’t know any black guys …” — they look more confused and shocked than empathetic.
For a while, I have been trying to articulate what being black means in my life. So when I received the e-mail inviting me and my classmates to talk about what “Blackness” at Yale means, I celebrated the opportunity to share some cultural perspective with the Yale community. I guess I was horribly wrong to do so.
And finally, should we forget America’s history of bigotry? My racist neighbor sprayed me with a water hose when I was three. People set dogs on my mother when she was a little girl walking to school. Obviously, if color didn’t matter these things would never have happened. Because of these experiences, I will never forget that I am different. Fortunately, I now celebrate it. After all, isn’t that what makes America the great melting pot? Why should we marginalize the beautiful differences that make us who we are?
Mila Hursey is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.