Learning about faultlines the same way Daniella Pineda did, I understand exactly what she was talking about and I want to echo her sentiment with a message to all Mills women with my own personal insight as to how some white folks may feel about race discussions on campus.
Some folks like me come from a standpoint that’s on the defensive. Why? Let me explain. I was born in the South (Virginia, to be specific) and grew up with what I would come to understand as extremely bigoted people in my own family. The knowledge and understanding of race was introduced to me in jarring ways. When I bought a black baby doll with the money my grandmother back in North Carolina gave me for my birthday, I was told to keep it a secret. When I told my other grandmother where I wanted to eat for my birthday, when I finally got to choose, and I picked a shiny aluminium diner I saw on the bus ride to middle school every day, my grandma replied, “We’re not going there! That’s where all them n****rs hang out!”
To contrast my family’s history and outlook, my mother made me watch films like Mississippi Burning and X when I was young. Dealing with homophobia constantly from peers and the fear of my family being outed when I was young, I related in many ways to these movies. Not that I believed we were identical in our struggles at all, but it made me feel like, in a silly way, the obstacles of hate that I face were something I could surpass. I tried my best efforts to juxtapose myself against my family and what I considered their backwards ways. There were many successes, much progress made. But there were also horrendous failures and ignorance when I look back on my life, and feel like throwing a foot in my mouth for them.
When it was suggested I was “racist” the first time at Mills, I didn’t understand what that meant. To me “racist” meant what my family was. And to be called that, to be compared to those people hurt. Only now do I realise that racism comes in many forms. Sometimes in the form of my family and sometimes in the ignorant words that I’ve said without knowing or meaning any harm. I know there are white folks out there who are just like me. Maybe not from racist families, but those who still conjure up severe images in their mind when they hear the word “racist.” I want to say, for how much you hurt when a woman at Mills says that imagine how much something you have said has hurt that Mills woman.
It’s like stepping on someone’s toe. If they say, “Ow! You stepped on my toe!,” you say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” The person who tells you that you stepped on their toe isn’t accusing you of being a toe stepper all your life or even doing it on purpose. White folks have to stop focusing so much on how the word “racist” makes us feel, and realise how some of the things we say that we don’t even think about make folks of color feel.
Everyone has ignorant moments. Like Daniella said, we all have blind spots. There’s always a time when you have said or even will say something that’s ignorant and hurtful without meaning to. White folks and folks of color have and will all have this experience about a wide variety of issues.
I know it’s hard not to conjure up images of white hoods. And if you’re like me, you’ve been trying and trying to juxtapose yourself against this image your whole life. It’s hard not to be hurt. I think we chose Mills for a reason. Because all Mills women believe in equality and social justice. And because we’re Mills women, we know our hearts are usually in the right place.
So the next time someone says something in class about something you said that makes you want to cry with frustration and scream, “THAT’S NOT ME!,” remember this. Shift your paradigm. Realize that you have hurt a fellow member of your community with your words, even if you didn’t mean it. Apologize for the miscommunication. Open your minds and learn why what you said hurt someone. Instead of being embarrassed by history and engrossed in how it has affected you, learn from it and how it affects others.
If we go to Mills, we’re all sisters. And we should spend less time arguing and more time understanding.