September 30, 2008
YIKES. My high school was like a crayon box. There were tons of different colors that worked together to create beautiful pictures. Our clubs, class committees, student councils, and student bodies always had diverse representation. The gay community was accepted. Racism was not a big issue amongst students, and I never really felt discriminated against because of the skin I was in. However, as I came to college I began to see the cultural differences that I had never really paid attention to. I felt like an “other” not because of what social clique I belonged to but because of my skin color. Throughout high school I actively worked to make the race relations in my community even more cohesive and was awarded Princeton Prize for Race Relations. Freshmen year in college was a culture shock. Stonehill had an extreme lack of diversity, in every sense of the word, compared to my high school.
Get it, Got it, GOOD! Why didn’t people understand me? How come they didn’t just get it? Frequently I asked myself these questions. My roommate assumed that I was here because of my color and that my financial aid was solely based on that indisputable fact. Arguing with people who just did not get it was pointless. After consulting my mentor I realized that educating others and becoming an advocate was the greatest proactive solution I could do as a student. Lately I feel as though when dealing with race there are politics that come along with the issue. Freshmen year I became more interested in race relations then I had ever been.
Expirations or limitations. Junior year is finally here and these two years have flown by. In that time I have been involved in Cultural Committee, Diversity on Campus, and in Residence Life. Being a leader (of color) on such a small campus has its advantages and disadvantages. I have now contemplated the ramifications of being a representative. I do not want to be the token black student. I do not want to be the face of diversity for Stonehill simply because of my color. I want to make a difference by using my experiences.
Lately I find myself being asked to be a part of committees, to speak to groups of people, or to take part in leadership iniatives. I benefit because my name gets out there; yet I can’t help but question the motives people have for asking me to do all this.
Am I being asked because my color helps to fill the diversity seat -- the “brown” seat? Or, am I being asked to participate because of my experience? Sometimes this frustrates me, but I know that, even though I may be asked for superficial reasons, I bring a voice that is often ignored or silenced.
I am thankful for this opprtunity because I am dedicated to change, but I always wonder “are they listening”?
Blayne: The Intern
September 18, 2008
Okay, so this whole conversation — one in which many smart diversity folks find themselves in — has surfaced yet again. Reverse Racism. Does it exist? CAN it exist? By definition, is it as non-sensical as “Jumbo Shrimp” or it based on similar myths of advantaged affirmative action?
As most people even finding their way to this blog know that I have very strong opinions, I think the term “reverse racism” is a bunch of crap ridiculous. Putting it out there, I think that, by definition, it can’t even exist. In the interest of not taking up all of my web space or tying up a server, I do think this whole thing can be summarized in a few points. So, here goes — the cliff notes version of Liza’s take on Reverse Racism:
Define it please?” So, when I ask people (students, classes, friends, etc) to define “reverse racism”, here is what they usually come up with:
- “policies in the United States that give people of color advantages over white people”
- “giving people of color something that white people can’t have”
- “segregating a population based on race, and then giving the people of color opportunities that white people can’t have”
So, aren’t programs and opportunities offered for a particular underrepresented group considered “reverse racism?” No. It’s not. Let’s talk about practice — opportunities given to underrepresented groups, or, better stated, groups with little to no institutional power, are not designed to disempower majority or power groups. Rather, they are really attempting to level a playing field that, for years/decades/centuries has not been level at all. Truthfully, people who are not in power are intentionally and systematically (whether you want to believe that or not) kept disempowered.
Visual person? Here’s a way to picture it…
So, imagine a race, a starting line. Some runners are at the start line, have the best shoes, have had adequate time to stretch, hydrate, and carb-load the night before the race. Some runners are coming to the start line having already run 3 miles, with backpacks, and with people yelling at them. Will the outcome of the race be fair? Will it accurately represent the talent, skill, and fair competition of the runners? Is it disadvantaging the runners at the start line if you give the runners who are exhausted a drink of water? Will the words “Hey! Why do those people get a drink of water? I was here first! I should get a drink of water, too!” make sense? Will you consider that an “unfair advantage”?
A runner at the start line may say, “But, I was here early! I prepared! I stretched!” or “Why do they get water and I don’t? It wasn’t like I was one of the people yelling at them as they ran the race prior to this one? I didn’t do anything wrong to them!” or “It’s not my fault they are tired and thirsty!”
True. You may not have personally disadvantaged the tired person at the finish line. However, you benefitted from not having to run the previous race. You benefitted from being given a sports drink by those who were also at the start line with you. You benefitted, even when you didn’t ask to. So, is it a fair race? Does your win accurately reflect true competition?
Is it “reverse racism” or is it “prejudice?”
I find that what most people like to call “reverse racism” is actually “prejudice”, which is a belief system. In my diversity sessions, I highlight that we are ALL prejudice. We all prejudge - whether it be a biological (fight or flight) reaction, a cognitive reaction, or an emotional response, we all prejudge. (note: the point of awareness exercises is to raise our level of consciousness about reasons why we do this).
So, yes, we can all be prejudice.
But, we cannot all exert “reverse racism.” Racism is a system of power. And, as a member of the numeric minority group, I do not hold the same institutionalized power as the majority group. I may be able to exert power in individual ways, however I still operate within an institutionalized set of rules (laid forth by white people in power).
“Reverse racism” - a way to ignore white privilege
Sorry, can’t credit where I heard this, but I admit to it not being my own…
One of the best “holla!” things I had heard someone say about “reverse racism” was that it was a way for white people to ignore the privilege they have as white people. By saying that people of color are exerting “reverse racism”, they are using the term to give themselves an out, an excuse, and a way to not take responsiblity for the larger system of racism from which they benefit.
So, that’s my brief, brief, brief version of something that could be written about in 100+ pages. There is so much more to it than what I’ve written here, but it’s a start for those who are just trying to wrap their brains around it for the first time.
September 16, 2008
“Valarie Kaur was a 20-year-old college student when she set out across America in the aftermath of 9/11, camera in hand, to document hate violence against her community. From the still-shocked streets of Ground Zero to the desert towns of the American west, her epic journey confronts the forces unleashed in a time of national crisis – racism and religion, fear and forgiveness – until she finds the heart of America… halfway around the world.”
90 Minutes. In 90 minutes, the way that I viewed September 11th and prejudice was completely changed. In this program we watched a documentary titled, Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath (http://www.dwf-film.com/about/about.html) . The fact is that history is one sided, told from one common perspective. Often we do not hear from the “other side”. One must wonder “if history is to help us avoid repeating mistakes, what happens when history is not recorded in a way that shows many sides?”
“Turban Equals Terrorist”. During the documentary, there was a white female who discussed her process after she had been on a train where a Sikh American had been criminalized because he fit a stereotype that people had painted of a terrorist. Her comments were blunt, but they hit like a sharp knife. As I listened to her say that she was nervous after she saw the two men who had turbans around their heads, I flashed back to experiences where I grew nervous due to the same reason. Like that woman, to me, “turban equaled terrorist”. The image was engrained into my thoughts from mass media images of so called “terrorists” who happened to wear turbans. An easy cop out would be that the media is solely to blame for my prejudice thoughts. However, as an individual I should try to educate myself. Profiling and stereotyping in any form, for any reason is WRONG! I was guilty of the same behavior, and there was no excuse besides pure ignorance.
I am Prejudice…Really? This particular program had caught my attention because there are many stories that are not recorded in history. I wanted to hear the history from a different side. The movie was truly powerful…I was thinking all day about what I heard. As I ate dinner, pieces of the documentary flooded my thoughts. Especially this one particular question: Was I guilty of discriminating against Sikhs or individuals who wore turbans? This is a hard question to answer. Ideally, I would like my answer to be “no.” How could I stereotype and discriminate a group of people when I have been a victim of the same behavior? After many struggles with this question my answer was shamefully, YES.
Bystander, Victim, or Perpetrator. As I watched the documentary, I was able to see the pain that had affected so many Americans – a painful story that was never told. When planes were flown into the two towers by Al Qaeda terrorists (which was not known at the time of the attack), Americans were terrorizing other Americans based on their own perceptions of fear. I am haunted by the question, “Why have I not heard this story before today?” and “Why did I never pay attention to them?” My ignorance allowed me to idly watch as people were brutalized for being who they are – Sikh Americans.
The movie reminded of my own prejudices. It forced me to think about who I viewed as “American”, who I pictured when I heard the word “terrorist”, and challenged me to want to learn about the different sides of a story.
The movie also forced me to ask a more difficult, personal question:
How many times have I done this before?
September 9, 2008
The ABS Leaders are awesome! Because this program, in this form, is new, allow me to actually be the one to explain an acronym. ABS stands for the ALANA Brothers and Sisters. You may have seen them around campus with ABS door tags and cool shirts that read, “This is What Diversity Looks Like” (which they worked hard to earn). They are sophomores, juniors, and seniors of all shapes, colors [yes, white is a color], and sizes that applied to be a part of the ABS Leadership Program. Through an involved application and interview process, they were hired in the spring. Beginning in the spring semester and continuing in the fall, these students have been involved in intense conversations about identity development, power, and privilege. These conversations have made the ABS Leaders more socially aware and have shaped them as leaders. The skills they learned will not only help them lead the Stonehill community, but also help them in any professional situations beyond college. Picture them like the Captain Planet heroes with many tools in their “toolkits.” Their rings help them combat ignorance, apathy, and injustice.
After spending only a couple of days with them, I saw that they were more than ready to welcome the incoming students that signed up for the Intercultural Experience Program. This program was offered to ALL incoming students that wanted to meet fellow students that shared similar interests in diversity issues. All the participants of the program are just as cool as the ABS leaders. After only a 24-hour period for this pre-orientation, special bonds and long lasting friendships were created.
All this in my first week! I can honestly say, because of my interactions with the students participating in the ABS Leadership Program and the Intercultural Experience program, as well as Liza (my boss; editor's note: I'm her CO-WORKER.. not her boss....), and my new co-workers in Student Affairs, I had a wonderful introduction into Stonehill!
September 4, 2008
It’s a new school year, and the Intercultural Affairs Office has a new intern: ME! My name is Blayne Lopes, and I am a junior psychology and sociology major. I’ve decided to spend the next few months of my life doing a very difficult task – actually thinking, writing, and exploring issues of race and racism in my own personal life. Not easy. Not for everyone. But, for me, I know this is how I will grow as an advocate for diversity and social justice.
Not easy. Not for everyone. Let me explain. I grew up in a predominantly Cape Verdean community. Though technically a biracial kid (dad: Panamanian; Mom: Capverdean), I was raised mostly with Capverdean influence and culture. It is in my blood, many of my neighbors and classmates are Capverdean, and there has always been a personal connection for me. I love the conche shell and rhumbas of CV music. I can never turn down Kuskus, jagacida, cachupa, Galina gizado, or the pasteles (all traditional Capverdean Cuisine). Capverdean is who I am. It is how I identify, and this was as real to me as peanut butter is to jelly.
Until, I came to college.
One day, I was conversing with some friends over dinner about our ethnic backgrounds. We represented all different shades of “brown” – Puerto Rican, Honduran, Bajan, and Capverdean. When I told my friends that I was Capverdean, I was immediately asked if I could speak Kriole -- the national language of Cape Verde. When I told them I could not, questions of my “authenticity” were brought up.
“You’re not a REAL Capverdean; you cannot even speak the language!”
I did not know how to respond. I was shocked! I began to think: What do they mean I’m not Capverdean? Who do they think they are?
I grew defensive and started trying to prove I was Capverdean by rambling off facts that I knew, but I only became increasingly more hurt. Do I have the right to identify myself as Capverdean? What does that even mean?
After that incident, I was often scared to tell people that I was Capverdean. Almost a year has gone by since that conversation, and I still reflect on my reactions and feelings. How do I define myself? Who gets to define me?
“Being Black is who I am; it’s not what I am trying to be!” –Carlton “Fresh Prince of BelAir” As I heard those words the anger, the hurt, and the confusion I felt that day was released instantaneously like a popped balloon. Simple words but yet they are so powerful. I point to that day as the day where I started to critically think about my identity. As much as Carlton reflected on being Black, I know that “Being Capverdean is who I AM; it’s not what I am trying to be!”
I look forward to the exploring issues of race and identity development this semester!
What is the moment you point to when you started to think about identity?