For identity, go beyond anger

By

In the past month, I have learned something extremely profound about my place in this country–I’m white. I knew it before, but it did not mean what it does now. Swedish-born, I traveled with my diplomatic family around the world throughout my life, then came to Macalester with the hope that it would further the vision I was taught in international schools. The most memorable image of the classroom comes back to me now–a poster with children of all colors holding hands around the globe. It made sense to me, and so I believed it. Yet in a recent conversation with a Latino friend of mine, I was told that my “color-blindness” as he calls it is bad news. So I took it in stride, seeing his need for recognition, for awareness of his experience in the U.S., where he is from, and what it means to be Latino in America. As I indulged in books and talked to others about their experience, I started to understand the situation. My “color-blindness” persisted though. To know about social injustice and historical discriminations against racial groups is essential, and I think we all owe it to each other to learn about these. But to believe in it? To deny any social progress history has shown?

Why is the U.S. so obsessed with classifying individuals as this, that or the other? In America, I am a white, female, feminist, vegetarian, socialist, pacifist, pre-medical academic. When did introductions get so complex? I simply want to say my name! Then let people figure out who I am.

So why do all the black kids sit together in the cafeteria? I now understand the concept. But why is it that I have heard countless stories lately of racial clashes in Caf Mac, in which a person of a different race is turned down from sitting with a group mainly of color X, Y or Z? Why is it that my white American friend was turned down from joining ­Adelante!, PIPE (the organization for indigenous students), and BLAC (the African American student organization) when he came to Macalester? Because the organizations’ simple responses consisted of these remarks: You are not Latino, you’re not Native, and you sure as hell don’t look black!

Tell me this–what are we doing at Macalester? Are we so wrapped up in asserting and protecting our own identities that we forget about the responsibility we have in combating social injustice? I may be white, but if I ask to join you in Caf Mac, as the only white person at the table, please think before you turn me down. Mac may be a microcosm of the world but let’s lead by example and make it an inclusive place. If my friend wants to join ­Adelante!, teach him about Latino heritage, culture, and identity. Embrace his curiosity. And if I sit down to listen, don’t block me out. That is your racism and you may just have extinguished a few more flames in students who want to combat it.

Contact Maria Patrocollo ’07 at [email protected]