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Bringing to Light the Context of Conversation

Note: on 12/11/17, the author’s name was anonymized by Editor’s decision for the author’s protection. 

After reading Nora’s article and the response that followed, I cannot think of a better time to come out with a perspective held by countless students of color, as well as allies, on this campus. I am being as tame as possible when I express this viewpoint: people of whiteness have historically been incapable of hearing people of color and have delegitimized their perspectives by trying to explain their own good intentions. When people of color point out how certain moments may trigger feelings of racialization, people of whiteness feel compelled to provide context, justify their intentions, make sure that a person of color’s perspective does not hold the absolute weight that it demands. When we do not budge on our demands, the response can often be aggressive.

For example, Nora’s article communicated the impression that the College was not accommodating the needs of its faculty of color, based on both telling statistics, as well as first-hand accounts. As a student of color, going to a college where white culture finds itself choking on my day to day, it is important to have allies in the administration and faculty, those with institutional experience to help us through our unique pressure. When reading Nora’s article, it is a scary thought to consider who we students of color can go to when our few allies are overburdened and considering other more welcoming spaces.

As mentioned earlier, I do not expect people of whiteness to understand this fear. That is why the response article to Nora’s piece, along with its comments section, was no surprise. The response came from a graduate, with connections to the Corporation, the College’s Presidency, and, most importantly, to his race, choosing to belittle and speak condescendingly to the perspective of students of color. His response affirms what Nora’s original article pointed out. Certain people of whiteness, who act as administrators, staff, and even professors will not see the need for diversity as a priority but instead condescendingly scoff or contextualize the issue away.

What would it mean to push harder on this issue, and where is the security for faculty, students and staff speaking out? It is absolutely important to point out the actions of white people in this letter, not only because these are the terms that students of color use when discussing these issues, but also by calling these actions out as undertaken by white people, we begin to see how their apathy and aggressive reaction can be placed in the context of historical trends. If we do not articulate how race very much plays a part in our abilities to empathize or react, then professors, administrators, and students of whiteness will continue to be “color-blind”, failing to consider how their action or inaction will affect community members of color. An important first step is to give space for people of color to bring to light their sense of racialization, instead of blindly falling back into the power dynamics historically abused by white people.


  1. clellman April 28, 2014

    I am curious about the term “people of whiteness.” Could you explain why you use it?

  2. Uvedale April 28, 2014

    I respect your concerns and regret that the anonymous commenter’s unproductive goading, better suited to the Huffington Post than the Clerk, caused me to deal rather too harshly with the counter examples he/she raised. However, one should not rush to dismiss the additional information and contexts I offered because of the color of my skin. The trouble is in part that I was responding to an incomplete piece of journalism while you have responded primarily to lived experience so we haven’t really been talking to each other. I am deeply conscious of my privilege, have learned well the lessons that Haverford teaches, and am not at all the adversary you have presumed on whom to build your tidy pattern. On the contrary, I’m dedicating my life to addressing the systemic inequalities in liberal arts colleges and felt compelled to share data and knowledge that the reporter didn’t have, not to diminish but to deepen her account. For example, the salary data that is one way of measuring the seriousness of efforts to support and retain faculty of color testifies that the wages are surprisingly competitive amongst our peer institutions and that the causes of dissatisfaction may lie elsewhere for future articles to engage with in greater detail. -Will Coleman ’07

  3. Publius April 28, 2014

    Are you speaking as a POC or a POW?

  4. nsk April 29, 2014

    What do you mean by “white people,” what do you mean by “white culture,” and are you the representative of “students of color,” or are you appropriating disparate voices with statements like: “these are the terms students of color use when speaking about these issues.” Also, what issue exactly are you talking about here?

    • Annam Choudhry April 30, 2014

      Hi nsk,
      You seem to have a lot of questions. Let me help you understand.

      Here are two very recent articles I came across that *might* solve your problem and a third list of common micro-aggressions that people of color face on a regular basis:




      • nsk April 30, 2014

        Thanks for the links, but my questions are directed at this article and its author. I’m asking the author to clarify what he means to say in this article. What does he see as “white culture” on this campus, and how does that culture “choke” him. Is he talking about facing micro-agressions, or is he talking about structural racial exclusion? I feel the author has failed to consider the degree to which we are all participating in the recreation of “whiteness” and its power simply by attending a liberal arts college that educates us in the means of acquiring power through forming and controlling discourse. I also think the author has reduced “whiteness,” “color” and “race” to mean the color of someone’s skin, and has distracted the conversation about race from a critical analysis of the cultural cache that creates race. If the author is going to claim to represent “people of color,” it is his responsibility to those peoples to move the discussion on race forward and to avoid using race as a prop that enables him to blame others and precludes him from criticism. I think the first two paragraphs are useful, and the author’s demand that the college do more to provide a support network for students of color is important, but his discussion of “race” and his fixation on “white people” and their misdeeds is just derailing an important discussion.

        I am a person of South Asian origin. Given the privileges I’ve been accorded throughout my life and the access I have to institutions of “legitimate” power (i.e. I don’t face heightened scrutiny when I try to take out loans, I have been able to get high-paying jobs in corporate firms, Law, Medicine and Business have always been presented to me as normal and achievable career paths, etc.), I don’t know if I would consider myself a “person of color.” I think that calling myself a person of color would be spurious and would discredit the claims of those who do genuinely suffer from structural racism. Regardless of what I identify as, I definitely would not claim to speak for all people of color, either in the world or at Haverford.

        I’ll conclude by reminding that many of the “people of color” from the Middle East, South, and East Asia were deemed “white” by the United States Supreme Court due either to their wealth, religion, or cultural education prior to the early 1920s. “Whiteness” is not skin deep. We should consider critically how race is created before we unthinkingly participate in it and reify its power by dividing ourselves by skin color and hurling insults and reprimands at each other.

        • Annam Choudhry April 30, 2014

          The color of someone’s skin in not something one can change and, affluence/opportunities afforded or not, always has an impact on how one is treated or one’s own perception of treatment by others. The very fact that you are questioning the author’s very real feelings of “being choked” by the culture of whiteness on campus IS a symptom of that culture. Not every minority in this country passively submits to the unpalatable emotional ignorance of the privileged white towards the non-white. Race is not a prop when it is the reason for social tension. Race is not a prop when it is the reason for psychological/emotional trauma at work or school. Once cannot simply “move forward” if the parties responsible for creating that culture cannot even acknowledge that a problem exists. And using the excuse of conversation and academic discourse to guilt trip someone for their very real feelings and experiences is pretty slimy.

          • nsk April 30, 2014

            Annam, I think we are entering the conversation on race at Haverford from different starting points, even though we have a similar end in mind. I do not intend to discredit the feelings of being choked by white culture. I am asking Taha to be more specific in describing what he means and what he is talking about in this article, though, because if he were to articulate what he sees as the problem on this campus, we could start to imagine solutions.

            My comment was also informed by other conversations I have had with Taha outside of this forum, so my comment lacks context and its intention is undoubtedly lost in this forum. I should not have posted it here and I should have taken it up with Taha personally. I intend to do so soon (yo Taha, this is Neilay btw). I’m sorry that I’ve offended you in the process. I agree with you that race has a power over our lives that is beyond our control, and I agree that every individual’s experiences are real experiences and need to be treated with equal seriousness.

          • nsk May 4, 2014

            Hey Taha,

            This might be a somewhat inappropriate venue for a personal apology, but seeing as I made the comments above in this venue, I think it’s only fair that I apologize to you in this same comment thread: I would like to apologize for my comments above. I spoke from a place of ignorance of your personal experience with race and from a place of personal frustration with the way race is sometimes co-opted, misrepresented and thereby silenced in the media at-large. I should not have directed those frustrations at you and your article. I appreciate your courage and persistence in voicing your frustrations with the way race is silenced and ignored on campus.

            I believe there are a lot of frustrations being silenced and pushed to the margins on this campus (and, of course, in the world at large). Your article above is a very important and bold voicing of those frustrations that this campus could do well to pay more attention to. Considering how easily the Board walked back the no-loan policy, and considering how little protest their was from the student body at large after the Board’s decision despite F4A’s diligent and persistent efforts, I think the campus needs to hear more from the voices that don’t fit comfortably into and don’t find easy expression within the “Haverford Community.”

            I agree with you and Annam that, through instinctively reacting to your perspective by questioning it and combating it, I’ve participated in the way the public at large rationalizes away the way racial difference affects peoples’ lives. I thank both of you for calling me out on that. My original questions were intended to push your perspective to more clarity so that it could resist peoples’ attempts to marginalize it, but I also got carried away and fell into the trap myself of marginalizing. I have a different way of thinking about, talking about, and acting on
            the way race has power over individuals’ lives, but I respect your courage in making your perspective publicly heard. I apologize for my comments. Race and power are complex forces and I hope we can talk more about them together, privately and publicly, so that we may better understand how to remake them in the world at large.


  5. disqus_ynMSKVSldn April 30, 2014

    “Twenty years since the [writers] workshop and what I’m left with now is not bitterness or anger but an abiding sense of loss. Lost time, lost opportunities, lost people. When I think on it now what’s most clear to me is how easily ours could have been a dope workshop. What might have been if we’d had one sympathetic faculty in our fiction program. If we Calibans hadn’t all retreated into our separate bolt holes. If we’d actually been there for each other. What might have been if the other writers of color in the workshop—the ones who were like I don’t want to write about race—had at least been open to discussing why that might be the case. I wonder what work might have been produced had we writers of colors been able to talk across our connections and divides, if we’d all felt safe and accounted for in the workshop, if we’d all been each other’s witnesses. What might have been…

    Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of color—in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem. (At least the students are diverse, they told us.) Too white as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc). In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that “race discussions” were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having…

    To fast-foward: in the end I became a published writer and one of the first things I did with that privilege was join some comrades to help found a workshop for writers of color. The Voices of Our Nation Workshop. A kind of Cave Canum, but for all genres and all people of color. Something right out of my wildest MFA dreams, where writers of colors could gather to develop our art in a safe supportive environment. Where our ideas, critiques, concerns, our craft and, above all, our experiences would be privileged rather than marginalized; encouraged rather than ignored; discussed intelligently rather than trivialized. Where our contributions were not an adjunct to Literature but its core.”

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