In the infamous video clip above Yale student Jerelyn Luther is recorded screaming at Nicholas Christakis, Master of Silliman College and a professor of sociology at Yale, about why he didn’t do more to protect students of color living in Silliman after his wife Erika Christakis, associate Master of the college, shot out an email contesting the University’s position on offensive Halloween costumes.
The video is powerful.
You could watch it and see a person of color screaming unnecessarily at a professor — at her “master” actually — telling him to “Be quiet!” and saying “Who the fuck are you!” But the only thing I see when I put this video on, and the only thing there is to see, really, are receipts. The receipts of pain and exhaustion of being black, and especially being a black woman, in America.
What comes out of Ms. Luther, as with the rest of the students of color and their allies who are protesting on campuses around the country, is the sense of exhaustion of forever having to defend your place and your personhood, and the pain felt when your experiences of racism and of daily racist microaggressions are belittled and you are told to “look away,” that you’re “not seeing the full picture” or that you’re “blowing it out of proportion.”
What started off as anger over an email has erupted into a nation-wide call for diversity on our college campuses. As The Guardian pointed out today these protests are about systemic racism that has never disappeared since the first black students set foot on campus.
I am a black queer gender non-conforming male and throughout my educational life I have dealt with subtle racist microaggressions. People have questioned my intelligence, told me that I only got the fellowship because I was black, hinted that I wasn’t qualified to be where I am in the first place, suggested that I took someone else’s “spot,” asked me why I always made everything into a race issue, asked “But what about white people?,” asked why am I so angry.
But I’m not angry. I’m tired. I’m tired of explaining every year why blackface is not OK. I’m tired of writing about sexual racism. I’m tired of wondering why there are so few models of color on fashion catwalks, despite the fact that everyone talks about this every season. I’m tired hearing people say that there is only one race but the human race. I’m tired of explaining why racism is much more subtle than blatant bigotry. I’m tired of students telling me they’ve never had a black professor before. I’m tired of reading negative comments on articles dealing with race. I’m tired of seeing alarming posts on Facebook from people I thought understood intersectional politics.
The problem is that most people don’t have the adequate language for thinking and talking about race. We’re taught that race is something that’s hush hush, not to be talked about when we should actually be talking about it all the time. The fact that racism is always perceived as a negative topic is why so many people are unable to see how it is systemic, historical, and reverberates through media, culture and in our institutions.
How many black professors did you have in college? How many were Asian or Latin@? And of those, how many were women?
And how does anyone not see this as a big issue?