Aydin Akyol

Every day I open my mouth to speak. I raise my hand, the professor calls on me, I reply. I respond when my friends ask me questions. When we speak it should be a symbiotic back and forth, a dialectic.

However, this dialectic doesn’t come so easily to me; I know that before I even open my mouth, my words will be tainted, marred by my thick lips and dark skin. I make my voice louder to compete — I scream. I scream about white supremacy, capitalism, ableism and sexuality so that my peers can understand my plight. Every time I scream on this campus people sit there and pretend to sympathize. They tell me they care about ideas and discourse, but after a while they look away. In an email Erika Christakis tells students to look away when they see something offensive, but I can’t. I can’t look away from the racist and sexist tropes that are omnipresent in the media; I can’t avert my eyes when someone calls me a n—.

At Yale it’s always about discourse, but for whom? How are we supposed to talk if no one will listen? In light of debates over the use of the title master, Calhoun College, SAE and Christakis’ email, it’s clear that some voices are louder than others.

In our generation, it seems as if there has been a shift from activism to discourse. President Salovey, for example, encouraged a “community-wide dialogue” about Calhoun in an email sent out to undergraduates. Robert Rosenthal and Louise Brown, professors at Wesleyan, write that much of activism now is focused on discourse and lobbying as opposed to direct protest and confrontation. Even with all of this discussion, Yale still manages to have egregiously high rates of sexual assault (which disproportionately affects women of color), a lack of minority professors and a student income contribution that severely disadvantages low-income students.

We need action.

Lately it seems as if our campus has been moving towards a culture of activism. Recent movements such as Next Yale, Fossil Free Yale and Students Unite Now have made an effort to organize. Last Monday the March of Resilience showed that over 1,000 of us were able to gather in solidarity and organize quickly (although it wasn’t a protest). Additionally, about 160 protests took place across the country over the course of 2014. As Yale students, we have the power to take up the torch of student activism.

Although “rational discourse” is beneficial, it can often prove inadequate: Liberation strategies should be a combination of discourse and activism. Movements combating forms of oppression gain traction through both. Writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, W.E.B. DuBois and Gloria Steinem have been essential for cultivating critical consciousness through writing, but this is only one side of the coin.

In the ’60s and ’70s demonstrations against the Vietnam War and racism in the American South proved necessary for real change. Without sit-ins, peaceful protests and grassroots organizing, it’s hard to see how the 26th Amendment or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 could have passed. Yale has brought activists to campus in the past. In the ’80s, LGBTQ students held protests in response to discrimination. DeRay McKesson, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, also visited Yale. However, the activism on campus today does not approach the level we saw in the 1960s and early ’70s. But in the later 1970s, economic downturns discouraged student activism and caused more students to focus on “safer” preprofessional majors.

This decline in activism, however, doesn’t mean that all of our problems have been solved. Now, there is more wealth inequality than ever. In 2012, the share of income held by the top 1 percent of Americans exceeded 20 percent. Moreover, the average net worth of white Americans is about 13 times greater than that of black Americans and 10 times greater than that of Hispanic-Americans. Police brutality against black and brown bodies persists in many parts of the country. The marginalization that women, people of color, LGBTQ and other communities experience on campus is not without context.

Students will do little to help the world if they stop at discourse. “Rational discussion” is of little use to people who have been denied a voice. Real change requires both discourse and action.

Isis Davis-Marks is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at isis.davis-marks@yale.edu .

  • philosonista

    Discourse starts at not screaming insults at people with reasoned opinions. All your actions will and have been seen in light of that. If you don’t have rational discourse — if people are too self-victimizing at the drop of a hat to handle it — all your actions seems to extend out of that same irrationality.

  • delraydetroit

    Hopefully, this country will one day fill its needs for students and administrators based on ability and not by race.

    • Priviligedyalecollegestudent69

      Yea, its a shame white people have so much privilege.

  • ydnreader

    In the running for the silliest thing I’ve ever read

  • CoryIntheHouse

    Lol at the person who claims they have been “denied a voice” while attending Yale, and who was given space in the student newspaper to express her views. Ohhhhh you poor baby. Clearly life has been so hard for you.

  • NYAttorney

    Nothing will come from action unsupported by rational discourse. And when seeking to oppose another’s view, nothing is advanced by distorting that viewpoint — you need to address the actual argument being posed. In this case, you mischaracterize what the associate master wrote — she said you can look away from something you regard as offensive or you can talk to the offender; the latter is the better course. Her view was not that the offended must look away, but that in student to student interactions, more communication is better than less communication, and the enforcement of standards governing arguably offensive conduct is best done among students, rather than calling on the administration to do what students should.

  • 100wattlightbulb

    Boy did Yale make a mistake admitting you. Get the chip off your shoulder and do something real with your life; like, get an education, get a job, and go make a difference instead of believing you live in the 60’s or 70’s. Here is a quote from a BLACK pastor’s group called StandAmerica:

    “It is very unlikely that with a black President and black Attorney General enforcing civil rights laws, that suddenly racism on campus is rising,” he said.

    The movement to stir up racial tension has other motives, he said.

    The only one likely “marred by your thick lips and dark skin” is you.

    • dzmlsience

      I was thinking the same thing. Affirmative action has real costs. Think of what article might have occupied the space used by this column.

  • Moi

    ” I know that before I even open my mouth, my words will be tainted, marred by my thick lips and dark skin.”

    The above is a rhetorical attempt to preemptively discredit anyone who disagrees with you by implying that if they do so, it is solely because of the color of your skin.

    Your arguments would also be strengthened if they were backed by specific facts. As far as examples of the purported pervasive racism at Yale:

    1) Title of Master used at residential colleges: Are you aware that this comes from the Latin term for an expert in an academic field? Yale did not set up its residential colleges to model slave plantations. Should the title of masters degrees also be renamed?

    2) Title of Calhoun College: The renaming debate has been going on for decades, with the university consistently condemning Calhoun’s involvement with slavery. The college is the epicenter of holding black history month events in recognition of its namesake’s troubled history.

    3) Christakes email: She didn’t just say to “look away,” she also asked that students have civil discussions about what might offend them, so that one student’s potential offense does not have a chilling effect on another student’s freedom of expression. Please though, let anyone who does dress up in something outright racist receive a full condemnation from the student body once he/she does.

    4) SAE party: this account is highly contested, with the original accuser saying she was drunk and doesn’t remember it clearly. Again, if the account turns out to be true, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken.

    5) Lack of minority professors: Yale must hire the best and brightest minds in their fields. Where are the cases of the university evaluating a pool of equally qualified candidates and disregarding candidates of color? It only devalues the education of all students to choose faculty based on the color of their skin simply in hopes of increasing the comfort level of a specific contingency of students. If you can point to pervasive instances of highly qualified faculty of color being ignored, I will agree with you. In any event, the university just announced a $50m effort to recruit a more diverse faculty.

    Anything else? Please provide specific instances of the scourge you claim is affecting the university.

  • Ivy in Colorado

    As I have observed before, based on what I am reading in the Yale Daily, Yale is a truly racist and awful place. It’s good that this is coming to light in the national media, so that people can avoid it.

  • Publius

    You will never succeed with that attitude. When you are 40 and wondering why you can’t hold down a job despite having a Yale degree, remember this: It won’t be because of the color of your skin, and it won’t be because of your gender. It will be because you are unlikeable and a constant headache to your employers. Your attitude might be tolerated in college, but it’s a HUGE burden in the workplace.

  • distmorph

    You lost me with your double quoting of “rational discourse.” Rational discourse is what solves problems in a civilized society. The breach of a society’s rules of conduct to commit acts of civil disobedience (or violence?) is only warranted when society’s basic tenents are threatened. If you do it for less you give activism a bad name.

    Even if a group of students had been denied access to a fraternity party based on their race (which we still don’t know) and even if I were to grant you that Erika Christakis’ email was insensitive (which I do not) and even if Yale were unwelcoming to students of color (which I do not know), even if all these things were true they would not arise to the point where I would be in favor of anything beyond rational dialog and civil protests. If on the other hand you wanted to polarize and push moderates to the other side, confront away and behave like bullies who have not gotten their way.

    Stating that rational discourse is done and threatening action in the face of these incidents is like asking for martial law and the death penalty to combat shoplifting. Comparing today’s situation to the civil rights struggle or the Vietnam war protests is laughable. I hope you will never know real hardship or be faced with life-or-death choices.

  • germ_16

    What I’ve begun doing lately is imagining the things that are said by these activists coming out of the mouth of Martin Luther King:

    “Know that before I even open my mouth, my words will
    be tainted, marred by my thick lips and dark skin. I make my voice
    louder to compete — I scream. I scream about white supremacy,
    capitalism, ableism and sexuality so that my peers can understand my
    plight. I have a dream, I say to you, here in this space that the white man will
    suddenly realize his great privilege over black and brown bodies! Black lives matter!”

    Looks ridiculous, doesn’t it? How was it that Martin Luther King was able to accomplish so much without uttering ridiculous things like the paragraphs above? Maybe he was just an Uncle Tom, kowtowing to white supremacy? I suspect this movement’s fundamental philosophy is broken. They are out to change hearts and believe that is done with screams and accusations of privilege. Yes, you need dialogue my friend. You need someone to tell you that you’re full of it and to pick your philosophy to pieces. You’re likely young, so that’s to be expected. Life is all about learning. We hear you, and I know that you believe we should only be listening and hearing your pain… in real life though, that’s not how change occurs, that’s not how understanding is built.

    Also, I’m curious, what is the fixation with using language like “black and brown bodies”? It’s honestly sounds like you’re objectifying yourself, reducing yourself to mere meat and flesh. That’s what “body” sounds like to me. Is this on purpose? This is a genuine question that I haven’t found an answer to, but I see this type of language used in this movement all the time and it always strikes me as so odd.

    • Ralphiec88

      Some really interesting questions. As is typical, they are unanswered. No doubt some would use the circular reasoning that by asking these questions you identify yourself as racist. But if the goal is discourse, if you want your supposedly unheard voice to be heard, isn’t this your opening? Or is what’s really desired blind acceptance of claims that simply don’t stand up to reality regardless of color?

  • Nat Turner
    • Cutler

      Wake up, you’re already in the room. Start eating.

  • Kerryman

    “…marred by thick lips and dark skin.” Come on people. Is there something in the water down there at Yale? Who is calling this poor kid a n_____? I suspect no one. This is a manufactured claim. I don’t believe it. Who walks around Yale using that term? Nobody. What occurs to me is that this student could profit by some “rational discussion” that might go on in her own brain. Think about it.

    • Sarii

      This piece isn’t just a commentary on Yale, but a commentary of society in general for black Americans, which is why Ms. Davis-Marks provides statistics about income inequality nationwide and information about oppressive actions like police brutality. Obviously police aren’t beating up Yale students of color on campus, but Ms. Davis-Marks is making a connection between how she feels like she isn’t heard on campus and how she feels like she isn’t heard outside of Yale. She’s claiming that Yale is supposed to be better than other racist areas of the U.S., and she’s asserting that while in ways it is (like you said, she probably isn’t being called a n___ on campus, though I could be wrong), in ways it isn’t: Yale still can–still needs–to do better.

  • Ian Alexander Effendi

    “Although “rational discourse” is beneficial, it can often prove inadequate: Liberation strategies should be a combination of discourse and activism. Movements combating forms of oppression gain traction through both. Writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, W.E.B. DuBois and Gloria Steinem have been essential for cultivating critical consciousness through writing, but this is only one side of the coin.”

    For people who are approaching this piece with vitriol and ignorance, the main takeaway should be this: you need both (and human beings are capable of both) rational philosophical discourse and activism.

    Talking is nice and all, but, at the end of the day, nothing changes if all we do is talk about it, pat ourselves on the back, and feel good about ourselves for sympathizing. These things cannot and shouldn’t stop at sympathy alone.

    If we only band together in times of crisis, then we’re bound to fall apart when our differences are once again made apparent. Having a black president isn’t going to remove racism on campuses across America. Having a black teacher, isn’t going to suddenly change the way children are being raised across the country.

    The other comments are criticizing this piece for calling for action without commendable, respectable, and rational discourse. These darts are falling far off from the target – she never said to rid ourselves of our rational discourse. She said it’s inadequate.

    If you’re then saying we should take no action, and instead settle for the limited opportunities we have to speak, you are against change. She has had the chance to write under Yale’s name, and yet, a call for a better life in America is met with ignorance and crass assumptions. It’s a danger to be black in America and none of us are here to argue the validity of that danger. We live it every single day. We see it in the nonverbal cues from members in our community. We hear it under the breath of the many naysayers in opposition to our own. And discourse has been good for us. It’s made it a better place, yes, but do not conflate “better” with “good.”

    We do not live in the 60’s or 70’s. We live in the 21st century, the year 2015. Social media has made it easier than ever to form collectives.

    All talk, no teeth – you need both the teeth and the talk in order to properly speak.

    For now, this comment is being made with no bite, and no teeth. I feel it unnecessary to respond to the critiques that may follow as I have seen follow black commentary time and time again.

    I just wanted to add my voice in support, because, if you haven’t noticed, those in support have been pretty quiet as of late.

    • Moi

      “We see it in the nonverbal cues from members in our community.”

      Please provide specific examples.

    • Ralphiec88

      “I feel it unnecessary to respond to the critiques that may follow” is a complete cop-out.

    • johnsmith363

      You are at YALE – the finest university in the world. Tell us all about how rough your life is, how much opportunity has been denied to you. You remind me of my 3 year old – the more he gets, the more he complains.

  • robert99

    If 1,000 were able to gather in solidarity, that means somewhere around, what, 4,000 undergraduates couldn’t be bothered or had more important tasks to face.

  • ydnreader

    “I know that before I even open my mouth, my words will be tainted, marred by my thick lips and dark skin. I make my voice louder to compete — I scream.”

    What??!!

  • Phil Ostrand

    And again I will ask this because I have not heard one instance of Yale condoning or sanctioning racial intolerance or discrimination. Please we await your examples.

  • Prg234

    Yikes!!

  • Anthony

    I can hardly believe you’re a student at one of the top universities in the world. You have much to learn.

  • ArchieBunker

    Ir’s easy to tell the marginalized Ivy league voices, they are the ones screaming in everybody’s faces, looking for the slightest offense, bullying the students who came to Yale to get a first class education.Making everybody bow to their demands.

  • johnsmith363

    What the author forgets or never learned is that the right to speak is not the same as the right to an audience or to compel others to agree. This requires persuasion, and based on this article I would bet that the author’s frustrations in this have more to do with the shrill nonsense he/she is communicating than “thick lips and dark skin.”

  • catswithwings

    If you want proof that black voices are silenced when the subject of racism comes up, look no further than the comment section of this article. All of the criticisms seem to boil down to “Oh no! A black person said something about racism. Let’s shut them down before people start to listen!” I’ve yet to see a single negative comment that substantively engages with the actual argument in the article.

    Unless I’m seriously misunderstanding this article (which I don’t think I am, because the author does an excellent job defending a very clear thesis), the author seems to be saying that in order to create social change, you need both rational discourse about the problem at hand and activism that helps solve the problem. This claim is both very intuitive (policymakers generally pay more attention to a large protest than an academic paper or opinion article) and empirically true (successful social movements have historically used large non-violent demonstrations as one way of getting the attention of the powers-at-be; the author gives several excellent examples of this), yet all of the negative comments either seem to focus the first two paragraphs where the author discusses her personal experiences with racism or write the article off as a whole (“In the running for the silliest thing I’ve ever read”) without offering any semblance of warrant for why this assertion might be true.

    What if instead, I, as a white man, had written this article from a “race neutral” (read: white) perspective? This hypothetical article wouldn’t have included a discussion of my experiences of being silenced; I don’t have any of those. When I speak I stand up straight and use my deep white man voice and people listen. They might disagree, but they would never dismiss me with nonsense like “Get the chip off your shoulder and do something real with your life; like, get an education, get a job, and go make a difference instead of believing you live in the 60’s or 70’s.” The perspective that speaks without worrying about being silenced or dismissed is a white perspective. Asking the author not to talk about her experiences of being silenced in a discussion about discourse is asking her to do something that more privileged speakers will never have to worry about doing.

    The author says that “I know that before I even open my mouth, my words will be tainted, marred by my thick lips and dark skin”, and y’all did a fantastic job proving her right. You didn’t need to see her black lips to ignore the content of the article; you just had to be told that they existed and suddenly the comment section of an article about activism devolves in a string of ad hominem attacks on the author.

    • germ_16

      Your comment is full of nothing but strawmen and ad-hominem fallacies. You don’t even know what race we are yet you use our assumed whiteness to dismiss our opinions without even addressing the details of what we have said. How’s that work?

      Did you attempt to understand why people had a problem with the opening statement of the article? The paragraph established a narrative that any that would speak against him and his writing would only do so because of his blackness. You fell for it hook, line and sinker, so it’s obviously effective at least some of the time.

      Discussing personal experiences with racism is fine, but honestly, how is it relevant to the discussion about policy change on campus? If a white guy called you a n****r once when you were 10, or gave you a look on campus (whatever that means), what policy changes are going to solve that? Do you think that racists change their minds when black people confront them with shouting and accusations? No, it will make them dig their heels in deeper. What substantive changes need to be made against real incidents or unfair systemic problems? I have yet to see this clearly spelled out. This is the crux of the issue.

      If you had written this article from a race neutral perspective, you would have gotten the exact same response. Try it for yourself if you like, wouldn’t that give you some ammunition in your narrative if true? Might want to go back and check all the other articles that are similarly written where race is never mentioned, though. Again, you are making a huge assumption about the race of all the commenters. I do agree with your sentiment that a lot of the comments are trite and not constructive at all to the conversation, but it seems you focused only on those to construct your comment. Many of us obviously didn’t ignore the content of the article, that’s how we’re able to respond to it in great detail.

      • catswithwings

        I’ll start by saying that I didn’t construct any strawmen – that’s why I quoted some of the more egregious comments I saw. Scroll through the rest of the comments here. You won’t find anyone substantively engaging with the real argument in the article. I couldn’t at the time I wrote my previous response. My criticism of most of the comments that I saw was that they didn’t substantively engage. You aks “how is [discussing personal experiences with racism] relevant to the discussion about policy change on campus?”, and the article very clearly answers this by stating “Although “rational discourse” is beneficial, it can often prove inadequate: Liberation strategies should be a combination of discourse and activism.” The article is dedicated to outlining a specific method of social change. It seems like a lot of people stopped reading past the second paragraph, however.

        Second, I didn’t make any assumptions about the races of anyone. The author states that she is black, and I know that I’m white. You’re the one constructing a strawman here.

        Third, I’m very confused by what you mean when you say “If you had written this article from a race neutral perspective, you would have gotten the exact same response.” If they article had been written from a “race neutral” perspective, it would have read something like “Rational discourse is a useful tool for discussing problems, but alone it isn’t a sufficient mechanism to to solve the aforementioned problems. The most effective method for bringing about social change is a combination of rational discourse and activism. This method has historically been successful; civil rights leaders in the 1960s and LGBTQ activists used a combination of rational discourse and peaceful protests to lobby for tangible policy changes.”

        I can’t imagine anyone reading that and responding with “Yikes!!”, “I can hardly believe you’re a student at one of the top universities in the world. You have much to learn”, or “Boy did Yale make a mistake admitting you.” The only difference between the hypothetical article and the article that was published is that the real article also dedicates (a relatively small amount of) space to acknowledging the fact that sometimes the voices of people of color aren’t taken as seriously as those of their white peers. That’s the only thing the comments seem to have a problem with.

        • germ_16

          I’m going to quote you to more effectively clarify my response.

          “My criticism of most of the comments that I saw was that they didn’t substantively engage.”

          I agreed with that in my previous response. Although, admittedly, this article doesn’t state anything groundbreaking and it stands on the flimsy premise that black people simply aren’t being listened to and that they are being oppressed on campus by the powers that be. If you cannot prove that point, or at least back it with something substantive other than the way you feel, then your entire point falls to pieces. Start there.

          “Second, I didn’t make any assumptions about the races of anyone. The
          author states that she is black, and I know that I’m white. You’re the
          one constructing a strawman here.”

          I’ll just quote you in response:

          “The author says that “I know that before I even open my mouth, my words
          will be tainted, marred by my thick lips and dark skin”, and y’all did a
          fantastic job proving her right. You didn’t need to see her black lips
          to ignore the content of the article; you just had to be told that they
          existed and suddenly the comment section of an article about activism
          devolves in a string of ad hominem attacks on the author.”

          This is you making assumptions about our race. You can dress it up all you want, that’s exactly what you did with this paragraph. It’s also not just assumptions about our race, it’s the assumption that we are racist, and it is a manipulative redressing of truth in order to further the narrative that any that may disagree with this movement are automatically racists. Lets keep going shall we, since you seem hungry for a response with meat.

          “Third, I’m very confused by what you mean when you say “If you had
          written this article from a race neutral perspective, you would have
          gotten the exact same response.”

          I will again, quote what you originally said:

          “What if instead, I, as a white man, had written this article from a
          “race neutral” (read: white) perspective? This hypothetical article
          wouldn’t have included a discussion of my experiences of being silenced;
          I don’t have any of those. When I speak I stand up straight and use my
          deep white man voice and people listen. They might disagree, but they
          would never dismiss me with nonsense like “Get the chip off your
          shoulder and do something real with your life; like, get an education,
          get a job, and go make a difference instead of believing you live in the
          60’s or 70’s.” The perspective that speaks without worrying about being
          silenced or dismissed is a white perspective. Asking the author not to
          talk about her experiences of being silenced in a discussion about
          discourse is asking her to do something that more privileged speakers
          will never have to worry about doing.”

          If you had written the same article minus all the anecdotal and subjective feelings of pain, and accusations of white oppression, you wouldn’t have much left… and that says a lot. Had this article had been written without any language that gives away the race of the author “marred black lips, etc” the response would have been the exact same, that was my point. You make the assumption that because you are white that people wouldn’t say “get the chip off your shoulder.” You’re simply weaving a narrative of white dismissal of black voices with no evidence other than plain comments on an article.

          Rational discourse is also how you discover if there is a problem to begin with, and if the problem can be solved by legislation or systemic changes. This phase seems to have been skipped over by many of these activists. None of their arguments or solutions hold up in a nuanced or rational discussion. If your activism entails silencing opposing voices and disruption, count on making more enemies than friends. I’m all for activism, but spitting on people or shouting down dissenting or questioning voices and forcing innocent people to be fired is not “progress”. This is what this “activism” appears to be endorsing. Why not debate the issues openly? It would gain you much more legitimacy.

          I think that answers all your questions.

  • dzmlsience

    I am Affirmative Action and I support this message.

  • dzmlsience

    Ms. Davis (or is it Ms. Marks?), would you not agree that affirmative action is corrosive of the campus community? As a supposed beneficiary of the policy, do you feel like it actually stigmatizes you instead? Do you feel your peers think you don’t belong there?

  • dzmlsience

    Wow. Just. Wow.

    • dzmlsience

      What happened to the amazing commentary that used to occupy the space of this? It says that the comment was deleted? By whom?

  • bwayjunction

    Oh my poor little princess with her hundred mattresses of
    victimization did it ever occur to you that the reason why no one is listening
    to what you are saying is because you have nothing to say? Gloria Steinem? You’d
    be much better off if you read Camille Paglia as she has a better sense of the
    human condition than that former ‘Playboy Bunny.’ You should invite Camille to Yale to speak. She is a feminist. PS; to save you some time, here is some real data on “Sexual Assault”: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv04.pdf

  • ScaredyCat

    Let’s talk about being silenced. You see, I want to examine the statement that “Yale still manages to have egregiously high rates of sexual assault (which disproportionately affects women of color).” I want to look at the underlying statistics, to see whether that is true, and why. But I am afraid. The DOJ stats are here http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cvus08.pdf

    Someone enamored of intersectionality might look into the alleged disparities (“inequalities”) in sexual assault rates by race on race and then assign blame to various cultures (e.g., “rape” culture) as being more prevalent among some sections, or “segments,” than others.

    I will quote a report on the 2005 data: “In the 36,620 cases in which the victim of rape or sexual assault was black, 100 percent of the offenders were black, and 0.0 percent of the offenders were white. The table explains that 0.0 percent means that there were under 10 incidents nationally.”

    I will note that the 0.0% figure was true in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, the last year for which this type of data was made publicly available.

    • dzmlsience

      You, my friend, are a racist. Prepare to be pilloried.

  • Jeremy Caplin

    Every major college has a shortage of high-ranking professors of color, except those schools known as “traditionally black colleges”. There are over 2,000 colleges in the US, and apparently there aren’t yet enough elite Afro professors to go around. Students from coast to coast are screaming for more of these professors, but where are they supposed to come from?

  • Marsha Mellows

    “I know that before I even open my mouth, my words will be tainted, marred by my thick lips and dark skin. I make my voice louder to compete — I scream. I scream about white supremacy, capitalism, ableism and sexuality so that my peers can understand my plight.”

    The first part of the author’s statement is a textbook example of Freud’s “projection” — a defense mechanism in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, who is then deemed as an external threat. Evidence of this stems from the certainty by which the author senses that their words will be tainted. Note it is not dependent on whether individual audience members are racist or not racist. If this is indeed projection, this suggests that the author feels (consciously or subconsciously) that their own words are marred by their thick lips and dark skin, and assumes others feel the same way.

    Internalized racism may play a role. This is the personal conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society’s racist views, stereotypes and biases of one’s ethnic group. This is not to place blame on the author. Some degree of internalization of society’s attitudes (be it a racism, sexism, or a sense of white privilege) is unavoidable. A related factor perhaps at play is that if one grows up embedded in a disadvantaged environment where persecution (perceived or actual) is prevalent, this can generalize to other new environments.

    The second part of the author’s statement, about screaming to be heard, suggests that part of the movement, the screaming about inequities, is a reflection of (perceived or actual) discrimination on campuses. But it may also reflect inner subconscious processes. On some campuses racism certainly exists, but on many (like Yale’s) it is uncommon, except in rare atypical circumstance or in the form of “microaggressions.” These microagressions are not intentional, but are perceived that way.

    This is not to suggest that there is no validity to the movement about racism on college campuses across the country. It is a reality in many places. If one looks at what is happening at Yale, it is important to look not only at institutional racism, but also to be cognizant of the role that internalized racism and inner conflict may play. Students are assuming negative (racist) intent where it may not really exist. They are asking us to “understand their plight,” but they are going about it the wrong way by blaming “us” for it.