Why I am a Student of Color

By Clara Younge

Just before we skipped out for spring break last week, Maya Suzuki-Daniels dropped a post-race bomb on Macalester. Her article created a stir around campus of both agreement and disapproval, and either way it got people thinking. I appreciated Maya’s article. I found her words brave and her story important, particularly in this moment. Now, in telling my own story, I wish to emphasize, as she says, that she does not and should not be asked to speak for or represent all people of color. With this article, I do not seek to invalidate or reject the experiences of those who choose not to identify as people of color. I aim only to provide another perspective to the mix. In many ways, my opinions differ from Maya’s, and in many others my experiences mirror hers. We both identify as mixed. We both grew up in organically multicultural communities and went to diverse (however segregated) public high schools. We both have been told by strangers that we are not what we claim to be (I tend to have a hard time convincing people that I’m Black, and am often mistaken for Latina). We both come from relatively privileged backgrounds, have experienced success within the education system and live outside the status quo of ‘authentically’ uneducated and underserved black and brown people. However, the difference is clear in how each of these circumstances have played out in our lives. When I came to Macalester as a first-year, I was struck (surprised, shocked, upended) by the pervasiveness of whiteness. By which I mean, there are a whole lot of white people here. Coming from a diverse small-town public high school, I had no idea that there could be so many white people and so few of anyone else. I had no idea that I would be joining a basketball team with one other black person and no other people of color. I had no idea that I might ever be the ‘blackest’ person in a room. Macalester was the first time in my life that other people recognized me as black, simply because I said I was. I was welcomed into the Black Liberation Affairs Committee regardless of the color of my mother. For me, the news that anyone should be rejected from a Macalester student organization because of their mixed heritage or perceived race, is appalling. Macalester needs to be better than this. However, for those who have felt that rejection, I know how it can be hard to define yourself when your whole life others have insisted on doing it for you. Perhaps this acceptance made just the difference between my communal identities and others’ individualistic stance. But my newfound validation rode in on the heels of a loneliness I had never expected. I felt isolated. I saw few remnants of my home friend group (primarily working-class Latinos), no traces of the “ghetto” black kids that I played ball with. There was all of one butch lesbian on the entire campus, and even the skaters were imported from the local middle school. The dearth of people of color was compounded by the social divide between domestic and international students and by the fact that many choose not to identify with a racial or ethnic-based community. Perhaps because of a fear of rejection, they chose not to seek out other black and brown students, and forged relationships based in athletics or residence halls. In this way, I feel my blackness much more at Macalester than I did before. But it is the contrasting whiteness that makes it so, not any efforts by the college. It is because of this isolation that I appreciate the services offered to me and other students of color by the DML, the cultural orgs, and identity collectives. Without these systems of support, I probably would have transferred. Based on personal conversations with other students, I think there would be a much higher rate of transfer out of Macalester, and however morbid this may sound, out of life, without these programs. In the late 1970s Macalester took on a program, similar to the POSSE program in operation at Carleton and other comparable schools, which specifically recruited underserved, underprivileged students from inner-city public schools. These students came from cities as far as LA, New York and Atlanta, from communities with few white people, to a vast-majority-white Macalester and Minnesota. After the second year of the program, Macalester cut funding. Campus resources were dropped, and the students stranded. In protest, outraged Black and Brown students occupied the administrative building, locking themselves in for three days until the college met their demands for academic and non-academic support in their transition to small-private-liberal-artslandia. These students not only found it difficult to move to such a white space, but were also victims of direct, overt racism on Macalester’s campus – as are many students of color today. Let us not forget the experiences of those who are not comfortable in all-white spaces – or those who have race thrust upon them daily by the words and actions of others. I alluded earlier to the increasingly popular trend towards “post-raciality,” the belief that race no longer matters in America (be it because we elected a black president, because Affirmative Action worked, or because soon everyone will just be a tan-ish color anyway) and we are all individuals, special and unique each in our own ways. While this argument has validity in recognizing the arbitrary nature of racial constructions, it is idealistic. Those of us with the privilege of white skin, class, or education can afford such idealism. Others cannot. Many people are made painfully aware of their race every day of their lives. Don’t believe me? Try downtown Minneapolis any Friday or Saturday night. Try Trayvon Martin. Try students who have been locked out of the dorms because they looked ‘suspicious’ (read, ‘black’). Try any one of the people who have been called racial epithets by fellow Macalester students since we started the school year. The phrase People of Color emerged from 1970s political movements by various collectives of Asian Americans, Black Americans, Native Americans and [email protected] Americans. It was conceptualized not as a racial or biological designation, nor as a lumping of diverse non-white identities. For those who coined it, it was statement of solidarity, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed people. By using this term to identify myself, I stand in solidarity with those who cannot afford to believe post-racial ideology. I, like everyone, do have other personal identities that mark me as an individual. And like everyone, the labels that we give to these identities (biracial – black and white, more or less bisexual and femme, an athlete, a sister, etc.) do not begin to describe the specificity of my experience. But my communal identities as a Queer Woman of Color bind me to a larger group of people and a larger movement: one not willing to sit by and let racism go unnoticed; one fighting for freedom for all of us, not just equality for a few individuals. And it may not always be easy, but it is one that I am proud to join. refresh –>