WeSpeak Responses

WeSpeak is a Quaker-style open forum for students of color at Haverford to express their thoughts and experiences in a context that prioritizes their voices. This online platform is for those students who weren’t able to attend, didn’t get a chance to share, or didn’t want to share in front of a room full of people. Only students of color may submit. Some submissions were published anonymously upon request. If you have questions, please email Sabea Evans at skevans@haverford.edu.

I’ve established up to this point that I have light-skin privilege within the Latinx community. I’ve had people at Haverford lump me with other white people, when I am not white, I am Mexican-American. I’ve had people tell me “I couldn’t tell you were Mexican!” On the other hand, I’ve also had people tell me “Oh yeah, I could tell you were Mexican.” And I wonder: how can you know this by just looking at me? The stereotypes of what a Mexican should look like are highlighted in the experiences I’ve had. Honestly, I’m not even sure what the stereotype is, because I don’t dehumanize my people like that or any other communities of color, I don’t lump them together like that (or at least I try to be conscious of the internalized stereotypes that I have). I know that people vary in appearance within communities. You can’t assume anything. Even people who consider themselves activists and people interested in social justice have made comments to me like this, and I think that just shows how people need to be more conscious of the stereotypes white people & non-Mexican POC have of the Mexican community. I think this can also be applied to not just the Mexican community either, because so many POC come from backgrounds like Mexico where there are indigenous people as well as people who are mestizxs because of colonization. I also figured that people had matured in college. But this year, I still had a Haverford male pull on my arm hair and tell me, “I’m sure there will be someone who likes arm hair” in reference to people being attracted to me. I find that absolutely appalling. It’s hard enough to be proud of my dark features, for my self and my self-esteem, when beauty is portrayed as so Eurocentric. To have someone say that to me really hit me. I have struggled to be proud of my hairiness, to not spend an excess amount of money on hair removal so I look more like the white people around me and so I can push the fact that people used to call me “he/she” out of my head. I’m fed up. I’m not here for other people’s consumption. I don’t need for someone to be “okay” with my hairiness. I feel like that probably feeds into a realm of fetishization that I can’t get into right now. But y’all should do better. Hair is normal. Y’all should stop fetishizing hairlessness. Next time you look at someone’s hair and feel repulsed, ask yourself why you feel so strongly about hairlessness. Y’all should also start adjusting your feminism so you take into account the women who also can’t choose to be hairy. White feminists are praised for their hairy pits when women of color like me literally can’t shave one day without having hair peek out the next. Haverford is known to be a campus full of trust, concern and respect but I find that seems to be overlooked in the case of POC. I don’t feel respected when someone puts down my appearance by telling me that someday someone will not be repulsed by my hairiness. I don’t feel like there is concern when people perpetuate stereotypes about my culture in normal, casual conversation. I don’t feel like I can trust most of my peers in this predominately white institution when their social justice and their concern for POC is apathetic at best. I also have been told to respect the majority’s opinions, to acknowledge that people come from different (possibly more conservative backgrounds) and to be considerate of that when they make comments or have opinions I don’t agree with. However, so many people have opinions that have racist, classist, sexist, islamophobic, ableist, and homophobic undertones to them and I honestly cannot be considerate of their conservative backgrounds when their opinions have no consideration for the things that people have REAL LIFE experiences with. People are so distant from issues that they spew bullshit opinions that they say are backed with evidence and they will fight me on it when I’m the only queer, disabled, WOC in the room. When you’re spewing your bullshit opinions that you think are so intellectually backed on issues like immigration or cultural appropriation or anything really that you have ZERO real life experience with, because you’ve never had to struggle with it, I’m NOT sorry, and I’m not going to accept your opinion and I really don’t want to deal with it anymore. Everyone says you’re entitled to your own opinions, that’s your right, but that doesn’t mean I should respect them. I pity you because you’ll never know how to behave like a compassionate, decent member of society because you are so rooted in your views and having your own opinion and not having someone step on your toes that you don’t stop and rethink the views that are actually hurting people. I don’t want to hear you talk about how you think that protests aren’t addressing the problem and are creating more problems when you’ve never been in a community where you literally didn’t know what else to do to enact change in this fucked up, xenophobic, white supremacist institution (in reference to this country not Haverford lmao). *disclaimer: this isn’t for everyone, I’m not trying to generalize (although throughout this it may have seemed like I was), but with my experience I have found that everyone has internalized racism (not just white people) and it has shown itself in a particular way on haverford’s campus with reference to white people w/ particular backgrounds and attitudes.

–Ashley Guzman ‘19

 

I almost, almost got the courage to speak today. As usual, I didn’t. Part of the reason is that I’m kind of a gullible, naive person, and I’ve heard “you’re not black enough” many, many times. I’m mixed: half Belizian (look it up), and half white. And I haven’t had experiences as bad or as numerous as the other people who spoke, which is the rest of why I didn’t say anything. I am privileged in being light-skinned, but I think the brunt of the reason why I rarely suffer even from microaggressions is that I have avoided so many dangerous environments like the plague. I have never gotten involved in the alcohol, sex, or sports cultures at this school. I was a hermit freshman year, which saved me from the white freshmen in my Customs group (my Customs team was AMAZING, and I got along with them way better than I did with the freshmen.) I have few friends, but they’re all good people who are either people of color, or white people that have a pretty good track record (more importantly, I’m more comfortable calling them out on their shit). It’s hard for me to talk about my mixedness on its own, without mentioning other parts of my identity. I think I wouldn’t have been told I wasn’t black enough if I wasn’t so nerdy, and if I wasn’t aromantic asexual (look it up). These things have made me feel more different from everyone around me than just being mixed ever could. I can guarantee that I am the only half-Belizian, half-white aro ace nerd introverted kind-of girl who can do art and writes stories and loves plants and big dogs. And I finally learned to love how unique I am, which is great. It took me until well into freshman year of college to love my hair. I only started wearing it out then. It took me until high school to love my black half at all. This took a great toll on my mother, the Belizian (yeah, har har, my white half’s name is White), and that’s why she bought me one of those expensive American Girl dolls, so I could have a toy that looked like me. We even tried to curl the straight plastic hair. When I came to this school, my first reaction was “ugh, why are there so many white people here?” I’m from the DC area, Montgomery County. It has some of the very best public schools in the country, so that’s where I went. Putting aside the fact that I learned the hard way that public school students are woefully unprepared to deal with the classes here, my school was predominantly black and Latin@. So coming here and seeing all that straight, light hair and those pasty faces was kind of shocking. Luckily, there were two whole other black/white mixed kids in my Customs group, plus some other people of color. But here’s where the nerdiness comes in: I couldn’t communicate with them. Not at all. We had no common interests. So I went to Nerd House. My freshman year, Nerd House was, as far as I can tell, all-white. My sophomore year, there were five people of color out of the thirteen, including me. We’ve kept these numbers up, but after next year, who knows what they’ll be like. Even better, four of the five pocs here are women! It’s great! I think that’s one of the reasons I haven’t had nearly as many problems here as many other people have. Classes here have been kind of a different story. So many entitled white boys dominating discussions. So many. Even some that I know. So many of them have that stupid intellectual pedancy thing going on, that I find completely useless and my ADD (ADHD but I’m not really hyperactive) makes it impossible to focus on. It’s so pretentious, and is what all the academia here is like. It’s so hard for me to understand because I can’t concentrate on it, and that makes me feel stupid, which I know must be wrong, since before I came here, I was doing way better than everyone else at my schools, and my parents have always been telling me how smart I am. So it must not be me! Yet, because I’m gullible and naive, I assume no one will lie to me, and I remember little tidbits of everything I hear. But when I try to use those tidbits in conversations, I’m always shot down, alwasy told I’m wrong, and I know how superficial, simple, STUPID I sound next to all that academic waffle. I don’t even want to talk about how many white people I’ve had to interrupt to let people of color, especially people of color speak. When I’ve told the white people I’m not afraid of about this, they don’t even acknowledge how much they talk! There have been STUDIES about white men hijacking conversations. It’s ridiculous. Back to being mixed, here are some of my favorite microaggressions, experienced both here and elsewhere: touching my hair (DON’T DO IT. JUST DON’T. YOU’RE ALMOST DEFINITELY TANGLING IT OR MESSING UP THE SHAPE. JUST STOP. I DON’T WANT YOUR GROSS HANDS ON MY PERSON.), asking me what I am (NO, I’M NOT DOMINICAN, NOT BRAZILIAN, AND NO, PLEASE DON’T TRY TO TALK TO ME IN SPANISH. I TOOK THREE YEARS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL SO I CAN’T SPEAK A WORD.), and, last but not least, thinking I’m related to any other mixed people around (people have asked on numerous occassions if I’m related to Alex Snow. No. Our non-white parts aren’t even from the same place? We don’t look alike? We hang out because we’re friends and watch anime? Stop this. In my senior year of high school, people asked if a mixed freshman I was friends with was my sister, despite her obviously being the sister of a mixed guy in our grade. WE LOOKED NOTHING ALIKE. I’ve also recently had a lot of people ask me if my sixteen-year-old sister is my twin. The only things we have alike are our build and skin tone. Our hair texture and facial structures are super different! Yes, I know fraternal twins are a thing, but people only ask that if they think you’re identical.) Being half Carribean makes me way more different than white people than I bet they think. Their grandmas knit and bake cookies or whatever old white ladies do (my white grandma died a long time ago, and was mostly just in a nursing home, so I have no clue), but my grandma teaches me how to make empanadas and used to do my hair and pull too tight, speaks creole, and has all sorts of werid superstitions (the best one is that I’m going to marry an alcoholic if I have water on my shirt). She was an illegal immigrant, and had to move around to keep from getting deported until my uncle turned eighteen. She didn’t go to college and only writes in capitals. My mother sends her money all the time. I understand more than just the black narrative, but some of the Latino and the lower socioeconomic class narrative, despite being a half-white middle-class sheltered suburban kid. And yeah, I’ve seen the other side, too. My dad, the white one, works in food aid, and I always cringe when he brings back a patterened dress or bag or some kind of gift for my family when he goes on business trips to Tanzania or Kenya or Senagal, because I know he’s one of those painful white businessmen in a country that has suffered so much because of them, and can’t help but exoticize them a bit. Back to intersectionality stuff, being a nerd of color is kind of nice right now. We’re strarting to have some really great media with people of color in it (think Star Wars: the Force Awakens, Steven Universe, Ms Marvel, Miles Morales), but it’s still not good enough. That’s one of the reasons I want to be a writer. I’m going to write for teenagers, and I’m going to write a fuckign half-white, half-Caribbean girl with all the strength and vociferousness I never had. I have encountered a grand total of one story with a b/w mixed lead, and they STILL didn’t look like me. And I have read a LOT of books. That’s frankly ridiculous. The only movie I’ve seen with one is Dear White People, which is kind of funny and has a good message besides having an unremarkable plot. I am exited for classed next year, since I’ll be taking Caribbean Literature with Asali Solomon, who is absolutely wonderful in every way (EVERYONE TAKE HER CLASSES), but I’m kind of worried about how many white people will be there, and how they’ll treat things. I’m an English major, and in this year-long junior seminar, there have been TWO writers of color we’ve read (we spent a week or two total on both of them. Claudia Rankine and Derek Walcott). What’s worse, the professor I had, a white lady, seemed so PLEASED with herself because of the representation. What the fuck??? One of the only (seemingly) b/w mixed people I know is in that class, too, but I have no idea how she feels about these things. The most ironic thing is when people can’t pronounce my name. I get it, it’s long, you don’t want to put in the effort of sounding out a phonetic name, all that. I have been called Carmela, Carmeela, Kamala (whith an awful nasally first a like in cat), all that jaz. It’s not like all the elements aren’t in other words you know and use, and putting them together is hard. Kamala is a name from India, that my parents picked out of the book Siddhartha. She was intelligent and kind, and it took me until I was a teenager to stop hating the name. So please stop mispronouncing it. What’s worse is when you mess up my last name. My BRITISH last name. Codrington, the name of white slaveowners that was adopted by the ancestors of my mom’s stepdad. They always get the White, though. How ironic. The only people I have patience for when they mispronounce my name are people who don’t have English as a foreign language. I was completely fine with how long it took my Japanese professors to get my last name right, and urged them to just use the first name instead. But they, whose language didn’t have some of the sounds my name had at ALL, got it right. So Americans with English as their first language have NO EXCUSE. Speaking of which, anyone who looks down on anyone for having bad english, an accent, anything like that, needs to check themselves. The English language is really fucking hard to learn. IT MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE. THE RULES HAVE SO MANY ECCEPTIONS, AND THE SPELLING ISN’T PHONETIC, AND PRONUNCIATION IS RANDOM. DON’T EXPECT PEOPLE TO BE ABLE TO SPEAK IT PERFECTLY. HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO LEARN IT? FUCKING CONGRATULATE THEM FOR LEARNING SO FAST AND SO WELL. BUY THEM A FUCKING ICE CREAM, BECAUSE THEY’RE TRYING WAY HARDER THAN YOU PROBABLY ARE. I’ve taken French, Spanish, and Japanese, and they’re all easier to speak than English. So lay off. I really want to go teach English in Japan after college, to get a new scene and take a break from all this dumb academia and schoolwork. I was looking at some documentaries about living in Japan and there was one theme: while people there didn’t always treat black people correctly, it was usually out of well-meaning ignorance. The black people in Japan all said one thing: THEY NEVER HAD TO WORRY ABOUT BEING MURDERED IN WHAT IS SAID TO BE THE MOST XENOPHOBIC FIRST WORLD COUNTRIES OUT THERE. WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU ABOUT AMERICA??? They said their blackness was CELEBRATED by a country that has no antidiscrimination laws. A country that has the occasional store with signs that say “No Ainu” (look it up) in the windows. If they, who barely have any black people in their cartoons, can treat the rare black person better than this country can treat millions of us, there’s something wrong. This is also a disorganized jumble of things I wanted to say during We Speak and couldn’t, so they aren’t in a good flow order or anything. I’m honestly glad I didn’t go on any tangents. My life’s been pretty sweet, and I haven’t had to deal with a ton of awful stuff, but I remember every game people made of trying to stick things in my hair without me noticing, every “you’re not black enough for x,” every time I see the fellow b/w mixed person, rarer than an eclipse. Thanks for reading all this!

–Kamala Codrington-White ‘17

 

Even when I cried and felt drained after WeSpeak, I’ve always gone, but so many things besides normal Haverford stress happened this year that I just can’t. I’ll talk with people about it some who can go, but I’ve felt incredibly messed up recently. I have less sympathy for folks who don’t go because they’re tired, because that’s a byproduct of the Haverford environment, but disability and personal stressors need to be considered for leeway. I feel weird when I ask for support with other Haverford students, since I’ll often go to other women of color first, and I feel like I’m draining them. But then again, sometimes I feel like those are the people who will just listen the best and give me real sympathy. So I try to just stick to friends where I know that I’ve listened to them about something similar, so it’s more even.

–Anonymous ‘17

 

Shout out to the men on the crew team who think it’s okay to buy a “south of the border” sticker and put it on their water bottles; who think it’s okay to say something like “LOL did you do that because you have censorship in your blood?” after a Chinese student accidentally muted the TV during dinner; who think it’s okay to buy 4 trump hats in order to make a card that says, “take a picture wearing trump hats” during a game of WildCard (truth or dare without the truth); who don’t see the microaggression in simply saying that Chinese international students score higher on math grad school entrance exams (don’t you ever tell me that I “extrapolated too much from his statement” or that “clearly that’s not what he meant”). Shout out to all the people on this spring break trip who noticed/heard me voice my discomfort during the censorship comment and the trump hats wild card and didn’t say anything to back me up or, instead, justified/dismissed their actions as “just jokes, they don’t really mean it.” Shout out to the self-entitled white males I always had (past tense because I don’t put up with that anymore) to make room for/dodge when walking along the same path or while trying to go inside a building. Shout out to the white student trying to tell me what a racial microagression is during a class discussion (I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this incident because I literally think about it on the daily…but haven’t worked up the courage to do it, sorry I’m doing it this way). Shout out to the lacrosse players who walk into the DC (04/28, ~7:30 pm), with some sort of strut/wannabe swagger/air of privilege, entitlement, and arrogance, throwing open the doors, acting as if they own the fucking place and shouting things like, “HIDE YO KIDS!!!” (wtf does that even mean/why) and “SUUUUH DUDE” (no. what the fuck is up with YOU) I carry around a small notebook with me at all times for the moments in which I am too overwhelmed, angry, frustrated or emotional to talk or interact with anyone. In other words, I low-key write in it when I’m about to go off on someone (but probably shouldn’t) or about to burst out in tears (but am not in the right place to do so). I went through a 30 page notebook this past month. But I’ve reached the point where angrily scribbling into my notebook just doesn’t work for me anymore, so I’m no longer trying to hide my anger or discomfort out of fear of being called “just another angry student/person of color” and not being taken seriously. Whoever has ever used that term: Fuck you.

–Tania Ortega ‘19

There are many reasons why I respond to acts of racism against me with a smile or a laugh, though I know what has happened is unacceptable. Often, I am too paralyzed by the situation to know what to do in the moment. I also feel that I have been conditioned to try to make people feel as comfortable as possible in social situations, which has unfortunately extended to how I deal with microaggressions. I’ll laugh because it somehow feels polite. I’ll smile and hope the conversation moves on quickly. And I hate that I do that. Sometimes I do snap, though. Earlier this year I embarrassedly fought back tears as I tried to explain to a white student, who expressed her impatience for the complaints of students of color at Yale, how damaging her words were to me. I don’t think she deserved to witness the vulnerability I showed her but her assertions that there were more important things to focus on than cultural appropriation and that microaggressions were “called MICRO-aggressions for a reason” were extremely hurtful to me and it was the way I knew how to respond in that moment. One would think that such an emotional response would cause someone to finally understand the impact of their words, but so often it does not. Often the emotion of people of color is dismissed as irrational anger, another reason that I regularly avoid responding in this way. It is painful for me to realize that my exchange with that student resulted not in a mutual understanding but in her discomfort to further discuss the topic; it seems like a great emotional cost to me that resulted in very little progress There exists fine line in these situation that people of color must tread. We are constantly trying to figure out how to respond in ways that will tastefully exhibit our emotions in a way that will not deter the recipient of our words. We must be polite and level-headed enough in our response so that people will listen to us but stern enough that we are taken seriously. It is exhausting and sometimes we cannot achieve that perfect balance of emotion and evenness in our responses, which sometimes causes a big misunderstanding. That is why I so often let slide the racism committed against me. As a person of color, there is so much at stake if I choose to address it and I cannot do so effectively. That is why it is so important for white people to talk to other white people about racism. For the reasons I’ve mentioned, the task of confronting racism committed against me is very difficult, and the support of white allies is very important to me. I also want to talk about the responsibility that comes with accidentally committing a microaggression. I’m sure we’ve all said or done problematic things and have been called out for it, and I’m guessing not all of these encounters were the most comfortable of situations. I think that Haverford is a school that promotes being politically correct and using language that makes everyone feel safe which I appreciate a lot, but in our quest to promote this ideal, I think that we sometimes misplace our priorities. It almost seems like the worst thing a person could do on this campus is to say or do the wrong thing. I don’t believe that making that kind of mistake is the greatest enemy, however. The fault lies instead in one’s unwillingness to understand the consequences of their actions or in their reluctance to heal the hurt they may have caused someone else. Committing a microaggression does not make you a bad person. Microaggressions are hurtful, but there is usually a path to restoration if you’re willing to look for it. So my hopes for white people at Haverford (and everywhere) are these: I hope that you all can understand that my occasional emotional response to your microaggression comes not from a place of hate towards you, but from a place of exhaustion from forever walking a fine line, and I hope that it does not deter you from trying to understand me. I hope that you can understand that your character is not defined by the mistakes that you make but by whether or not you choose to try to right them. I also hope that you can speak up when you see acts of racism being committed so that we can promote a culture of camaraderie against racism, sexism, and all other “isms” at Haverford. It’s going to take all of us to make Haverford a better place for everyone, and I have faith that we can make significant strides in the right direction

–Hanae Togami ‘19

 

Let’s take a little trip down to memory lane: December 1st, 2014, that was the day I learned I was coming to Haverford through a binding scholarship with Questbridge. I was terrified but excited, “I’ll be going to the East Coast. It’s a quakerly school, I’m sure they’re all nice folk,” I thought. That was the day that my mom said “Se ve que ya vas a volar mariposa. Vas a volar bien lejos de mí, mi niña.” My mom is my best friend. As soon as I left, I wanted to go right back home. I missed hearing Spanish, I missed eating my mom’s cooking, I missed the vibrant colors of my city. But regardless of how I miss being in California with my family, I am here in a predominantly white institution. Everyday, I feel like I don’t belong. I feel like I’m performing to prove that I belong here. And damnit, I do. I belong here just as much as anybody else here. I am not here to make the school appear racially diverse. I am here because I worked my ass off for my family. I am here because of my parents. I am here for them and because of them. I am here as a daughter of immigrants and I am damn proud of being their daughter. But now, here’s the thing. Do you know how fucking painful it is to see Trump 2016 written around campus during Haverfest now that you know I’m a daughter of immigrants? Can you imagine the pain that clenched my heart as I realized there are people here on campus that tolerate, if not support, his ideas and what he stands for. I would love to say that Trump’s comments of the Latinx community made me stronger and empowered as a Latina woman. But it didn’t, not at first anyways. It broke me. It broke my heart to see how narrow-minded people can be, to see how full of ignorance a mind can be, or how full of hate a heart can be. I don’t have the time to hear the bullshit he spews, and I don’t have the heart to hear how you support his ideas because he’s speaking what he feels. I’m tired, I have never been so tired. And Haverford has done this to me. White people have done this to me. Racism, sexism, xenophobia has done this to me. But I’m going to stop fighting? No, of course not. I can’t, I just can’t because I am xicana y xingona. Endpoint: take care of yourself, embrace self-love, and I hope you all find your community that loves you, appreciates you, and takes care of you, as well as find your allies, especially here.

–Vanessa Morales ‘19

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