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No, there isn’t a color-coded right to speak

Photo Courtesy of Bradley Davison (CC ’17)

I’ve seen a lot of uproar on Facebook the past few days in response to an article recently published in the Columbia Daily Spectator. The intent of the article, as it seems to me, is to cast a light on the many different points of view held by our peers that feel “privileged, and therefore ineligible to speak” on issues surrounding race relations. Furthermore, the author posits that we, the Columbia community, have failed to realize the “colorblind society envisioned by Dr. King.” I believe the Martin Luther King Jr.  quotes have been discussed thoroughly. I want to dig at a more personal issue.

The grand “zenith” of this failure for MLK’s Dream is an exchange about attractiveness on a Facebook page. Let’s just start with that. [A: Is he cute? B: No, he’s white]

Consider this: “You’re really cute for a black girl.”

This is something that I have heard over and over again in the course of my life. In almost all of my classrooms before starting college, I was the only student with my hair in an unruly puff on the back of my head – the only one that was brown. As I grew older, was placed in advanced classes, achieved great success, I would remain the only one.

Having little exposure to people of color beyond those of my own family, I began to focus on how I could be similar to the white people around me and distance myself from the non-erudite image of “being black”. You know – the “black as a state of mind” thing – dress “like you’re black” – talk “like you’re black”. I observed that my academic pursuits aligned with the career paths of the white side of my family. My appearance, however, would never be similar. I spent hours each day making sure my hair was pin-straight, I spent hours wishing my thighs would be smaller so I wouldn’t look “ghetto”. I did anything and everything I could think of to shake that qualifier: “for a black girl.”

So, here’s the take-away: that anonymous person who made a remark about an unidentifiable white man’s attractiveness should not affect him personally – because the white man has not been made to believe his whole life that he is a sub-class of something better. Moreover, these qualified appraisals of beauty are most often obliviously meant as compliments!

Yet….

“I don’t know why he’d want to see a black girl. She’s not a pretty blonde girl like me.”

This comment has stuck with me for three years and is a reminder that these insecurities that I’d struggled with weren’t merely of my mind’s own creation.

I whole-heartedly agree with the article’s position that a transparent picture of the ugliness in this country and prejudices within ourselves is the only way to actually change anything. I disagree with her assertion that there is a color-coded right to speak.

Open discourse is essential for progress! WHEN A POC* RESPONDS TO SOMETHING YOU SAID, JUST LISTEN AND DON’T BE SO DEFENSIVE. This isn’t about taking away anybody’s right to speak; it’s about giving some other marginalized voices a chance to JOIN THE CONVERSATION.

I can’t speak for other people that look like me any more than I can speak for any other human, but I think we all just want to be happy and show who we are – the “content of our character” – rather than having our lives reduced to proving to the world what we’re not (pushing back against the judgment based on skin color).

* Person of color

Jacie Goudy is a third year student in Columbia College (2018) double majoring in History and Political Science. She is especially interested in the comparative study of social factors on the political economy between Eastern and Western societies.

 The Lion is the only campus publication with an open-submissions policy. To respond to this op-ed or to submit one of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com
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