The society we live in is full of boxes: boxes we must select or build ourselves, and boxes that other people fit us into. Though I am black, white and Native American, I’m often forced to choose one of the three, whether it’s during standardized tests or during conversations that ignore the possibilities besides and between white and black. Moreover, people who don’t know my racial identify often try to classify me, and often fail. But they know that I am an “other” of some sort, and I’ve gotten all sorts of guesses from Dominican to Aruban to Egyptian. Non-white, vaguely “exotic,” definitely “ethnic,” unmistakably “other.”
This is disorienting because it sometimes means that I feel disconnected from a community, and because it leads to questions like “where are you from” (America) or “no, where are your parents from” (America) or “what are you?” which make me feel rootless and alone. But I am coming to realize more and more every day that this inability to be immediately classified is in itself a privilege—not one I enjoy or have sought out, but one I was born with and raised with by virtue of both nature and nurture. My blackness is not always visible. This means that my personal experiences with racism may be tinged with objectification, exoticization and fetishization of “the other,” but they are totally different from the experiences of many black women at Yale and in America.
Thus, for me, being multiracial sometimes ends up being a way out: justification for remaining silent. In the discussion of the past weeks I have felt that my voice should not enter the conversation, because my lived experience as a person of color differs so significantly from the lived experiences of those who have so bravely spoken out. I have been listening as much as possible rather than inserting myself into dialogue.
Due to intersectionality and colorism, I know that the discomfort I feel as a woman of color on this campus does not measure up to the pain that many others feel here and elsewhere. But listening has only made it clearer to me that the most important way to generate change is to speak out, to stop being complicit, to turn feeling into action. Silence is not an option. I have cousins who, if they attended Yale, would likely face discrimination that I myself do not. Some of my ancestors were slaves upon whose backs these white institutions were built. What right do I have to bow out of the discussion completely?
I don’t think that breaking the silence makes me somehow a better or more socially aware person. But I think that these issues are complex, that they deserve talking through, and that all of us should commit to engage in the discussion forever—beyond this week, beyond next, beyond our time at Yale–even if we do more listening than we do talking. I am so blown away by all who have spoken out about their experiences, and those who have put their minds and bodies on the line to make Yale a better place for everyone. Thank you to all of you for your bravery.
For those who have questions about what’s been going on at Yale, here are some places to start: