Look at Me, Not through Me

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Look at Me, Not through Me

By Guest Contributor

From across Ross dining hall you spot a girl. It’s the same brown face you often see in passing around the campus. Long black braids swinging past her shoulders in the mid-lunchtime frenzy, you smile at her and she smiles back. You’ve never spoken to her, or maybe you have? You shake the idea from your head, dismiss it, assume that she is who you think she is. Because she has braids. Because she wears glasses. Because it’s Tuesday. Because of any arbitrary reasoning you can assign. Because who else could she be? So in your mind she fades into the background.

Paint the Middlebury portrait and find that hues in brown account for fewer than a quarter of the entire portrait. With so little color in a college crayon box, wouldn’t it be theoretically easy to separate the Chestnut from the Alloy Orange? The Sepia from the Burnt Siena?

It’s easy. Or rather it should be. If one paid a little more attention to detail, to subtle variations between each stroke, to the nuance in every iris, then maybe things would be different.

For me, the problem is that I am NOT every other brown girl on campus. “We” are not all the same. It is a truth universally acknowledged, yet this truth is so little fixed in the minds of the average Middlebury student that I begin to worry.

I’ve had my name, and therefore my identity, stripped from me more times than I can count, tossed aside because “Delia” was not as distinct or as memorable as “Diku” or “Debanjan.” While five letters may not seem like a lot, they encapsulate me. Everything that I am. My experiences, my thoughts, my likes, my dislikes, and even my Facebook typing habits. Who I am is in those five letters, the neatly wrapped ribbon and bow on this 5’4 package. I should be treated as such — a unique individual, more than the sum of my parts.

To some, it might sound like a generalization to say that everyone mixes me up with other brown girls on campus. But one must understand that after two years of experiencing the same confusion, it’s time to speak out.

We often call Middlebury a bubble, because perched atop a violet mountain, the college seems separate from the rest of the world. But I see Middlebury as more of a box, a space that someone else has made for us, a mindset where our self-image is dictated by what or who others say or think we are.

Once I was complimented on a great Verbal Onslaught poem that I never performed. When I, eyebrows raised and polite smile set, replied that I wasn’t at all involved in Verbal Onslaught, the acquaintance apologized, and claimed that he’d seen my boots that day that were similar to that of the poet . . .

In another instance, I’d received an email from a person who’d lived in the same building as me last year. She’d had a conversation with someone who she thought was me, but was actually another brown girl. Instead of stopping to ask that girl to mention her name again during their conversation, she took a chance, and sent me the email. She got the wrong girl.

Once during lunch, I greeted a boy that I’d met at the Grille one weekend. I’d called him by his name, and he tried to guess mine. When he got it confused with that of my friend, he instantly got nervous. Apparently I intimidate people. He started rambling furiously, saying the last thing that anyone wants to hear “Oh, I’m sorry. I have a lot of black friends at home. I’m sorry, I don’t have white privilege like that!” I did as I always do in such situations. Told him it was okay, smiled weakly, and continued to eat.

What all these examples tell me is that people have looked through me instead of at me. Conversation is moot because it doesn’t matter what they get to know about me through talking. It seems that people have relied and will continue to rely on trivial aspects like my hairstyle or my boots to distinguish who I am. No effort has otherwise been taken to get to know me as a human being. I just wonder if it would be too hard to take the time to look a person in the face before deciding that you’ve got them pegged.

Living away from home for the first time is difficult enough without constantly having to defend my identity. There’s something about anonymity that condones exclusivity. I can’t shake the feeling that for the rest of my time here, I will remain a stranger, a color in the box that was never appreciated. I can try hard to make a good first impression, to come off as genuine and warm, only to have that impression washed away at the first rainfall of the month. I’ve built up a wall of my bitterness that will only end up hurting those around me. The cycle starts. Will I fold people into that box as well and decide that they are whatever I make them out to be?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my struggle for identity, it’s that we must all do better, or at least try — to put time into relationships we hope to foster. This is something I must remember. This includes never treating these relationships, both acquaintances and otherwise, lightly. Because honestly I’d hate to think of this campus as a web of faceless interactions. We’re here for four years — why not make it personal? Let’s try this again.

Hi, my name is Delia Taylor. If you see me, introduce yourself. Don’t be shy.

DELIA TAYLOR ’16 is from Brooklyn, NY

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