Each week, the Campus’ editorial board gets together to talk about that week’s editorial; each member gives input and provides insight. Two weeks ago, that topic was supposed to be about Middlebury’s diversity and demographics.
We very quickly realized that we didn’t know what the word “diversity” meant to us. Did it just mean race and sexuality? Did it include ability and socioeconomic class? How were we going to write this is in a way that didn’t upset anyone? We couldn’t think of one — we thought it best to table the topic.
Well, it’s been two weeks and I’ve decided that isn’t good enough. I understand that this topic might not be something that we, as a board, can agree on. As a Latina on this campus, I cannot sit idly and watch yet another opportunity to talk meaningfully about race pass by. In all honesty, writing this scares me, and it’s bound to upset someone. That being said, I’d like to change the way people at Middlebury talk and think about racial issues and this may be my one shot.
Race is not an acceptable topic at Middlebury, at least not an acceptable topic of deep, honest discussion. Talks about race aren’t necessarily rare at Middlebury; they happen in JustTalks and with various guest lecturers. However, people waste these and other opportunities and end up only having surface level conversations. Discussions start with everyone sharing stories and parroting facts, and end with some moderator going “everyone has their own truth.” The white guys usually sit quietly to the side, too scared to say anything because they might seem “racist.” That isn’t meaningful conversation, progress is not made that way.
Talking about race shouldn’t be easy. In fact, it should be deeply unsettling. The political atmosphere we find ourselves in should be enough to prove that. Just because talking about race is uncomfortable does not make doing so bad. In the age of “trigger warnings,” that is something we so often forget. Comfort is the enemy of progress, and now, more than ever, conversations about race need to change.
This is a call to have these rough conversations about race, despite the fear and discomfort that so often accompany them. It is only by having these conversations that POCs, like myself, can be seen as human and not just another shade of brown. From the moment we enter this world we are put into one group or another; whether we are black, white, brown, Republican, Democrat; we are told that the opposing party is in some way fundamentally bad. The opposing party need not necessarily be seen as the opposition — it can simply be another group living in the same world. Republicans are told that Democrats want to take their money and their freedom. Democrats are told that republicans are racist, sexist bigots who prey on the weakness of others. White people are taught to fear those who failed to be born with porcelain skin, they’re told that being dark is bad, that it’s dangerous. Black people learn from a very early age that their words do not compare to that of a white person’s — that the fight for legitimacy is a fight, indeed. If you’re Latino, you’re told you’re lazy, stupid, and that you belong elsewhere. If you’re not white you learn from a very early age that this world is not made for you and that every day in one way or another, you will suffer because you dared to be born a shade darker than paper.
It is painfully easy to see the problems with America today. Obviously, being black, white, brown, purple, chartreuse, says nothing at all about your mental acuity or the content of your character; all it says about you is the amount of melanin in your skin. Despite this, we clump together based on nothing more than the color of our skin. While that may bring comfort, this practice is very dangerous.
When I was a Preview Days host, my prospie, like myself, was Latina. The first thing she asked me about was POC groups on campus, specifically PALANA — my heart sank. PALANA is not inherently bad, but it can serve as an excuse for POCs to not interact with the rest of the school. I know some POCs see PALANA as a place of refuge from a white populus that at times seems unwilling to interact with the POCs on campus, but I was horrified that she was so willing to hide herself away before even giving them a chance. People put so much stock in the color of their skin, POCs try to make “‘being brown”’ a character trait, they forget that they are so much more than that. I am so much more than that. By grouping together on the basis of skin color they starve the world of their stories.
I know that as a Latina on this campus I’m not supposed to say that, but I cannot condone separating one’s self solely on the basis of race. Talking behind closed doors is not the way to put an end to the injustices POCs face on a daily basis. And I understand how scary and disheartening it is to be judged poorly because I made the mistake of not being white, I know what it’s like to share my story and have it fall on deaf ears, but that does not mean I should not try. The comfort we get from being around people who look like us is not worth ignorance that it fosters in others. Not sharing our story at all is worse than having it falling on deaf ears.
Middlebury is not a diverse campus by any means. However, we do have people who are black, brown, white, gay, straight, trans, male, female, neither; we have people who need time and a half on exams; people who can’t walk a mile in their own shoes. We just don’t have them in equal numbers. And for that reason, we cannot stay in our circles that are made of little more than mirrors of ourselves. Talk. Talk to everyone. Talk to the people who are so different from you it’s terrifying. By not talking, by keeping our doors closed and our walls up, we do ourselves a great disservice. We continue the narrative that promotes fear and misunderstanding when we are too afraid to speak.