I vividly remember my experiences as a student of color at Boston College, before I transferred to UChicago. During a group discussion in an English literature class, a white man made a point to say hello to every single person by name within our group except for me. We were a group of six, and everyone else was white and American. In contrast, I was an Asian international student, and I looked like it too. Throughout the class, he excluded me from the discussion they were having, pointedly ignoring my insights and even angling his body away from me. Nobody spoke up for me, and all the other white people were perfectly content in their own bubble of conversation and inclusion.
Afterwards, I asked my friend in that group what had just happened. She told me that she had no idea, and that she had “never spoken to him before either.” I knew then that he was singling me out purely because I wasn’t white.
I didn't feel oppressed by this incident, but it made me realize two things. First, that microaggressions can occur in the subtlest forms. Second, that these microaggressions can be easily ignored by those they are not targeted towards. I don't believe the other white people realized what he was doing and what they were also inadvertently partaking in. But I realized, and I remember. I remember the frustration and isolation that I felt. I remember the strange desperation I experienced as I struggled to be seen and acknowledged. I had never, ever had to fight for that before. It was when I first realized that no matter what I did, I didn’t fit into this white community. Because of my slanted eyes and the yellow-ish hue to my light skin, I will always be considered an ‘other’. I will never have an in, no matter how much I immerse myself in American culture. This guy was just a reminder of that fact.
In that situation, I likely could not have done anything to make him stop treating me that way. If I had advocated for myself, people would have thought that I was making a big deal out of nothing, evident in my peers’ lack of response. I would have been blowing the situation way out of proportion, which would have laid the foundation for further exclusion from that group. It might have even encouraged future harassment. So, I stayed silent.
My peers either did not notice what was happening, or they did not care enough to correct it. Perhaps they considered me an ‘other’ too. But looking back, a year later, I realize that I needed at least one of my white peers to have advocated for me. In a white man’s world, the only person who will get through to him is the one who resembles him most.
Derek Black put it perfectly in his interview with Trevor Noah, when he says that “It’s a white person in the room who has the strongest voice to counteract a racist thought.” Black, who was once a very prominent white supremacist figure, was raised by white nationalists. Derek’s father is Don Black, founder of Stormfront, a far-right white nationalist site, while his godfather was a KKK Grand Wizard.Black knows the inner workings of white supremacy, and he knows that within a predominantly white institution led by white leaders and policed by white law enforcement, the only person who can stop a white racist is another white person. “It stops the room,” he said. “That’s the thing that people can do. That’s the thing that people at college did.”It is what my white friends should have done for me. At Boston College, I had no voice. No matter how many strongly-worded emails I sent to the administration, I was never heard. BC is a white institution through and through, and they do not care about me, or people like me; I am not their target audience. They can lose my support, but they cannot lose the favor of the white students. They prefer tiptoeing around issues of race and racism and making empty promises to students of color. Boston College maintains the status quo, where racism is still acceptable.
Like Black mentions in the interview, it is easier to be a white nationalist in America than it is to be an anti-racist. “Being an anti-racist means you’re saying we have to change the status quo, being a white nationalist is saying that things are fine as they are,” he says. The administration of Boston College maintains the latter ideology.
Boston College needs to do better. The administration needs to change course, not just because of one experience I felt in my Literature class, but because a racial harassment incident against POC has occurred on campus three out of the past four years. These incidents are rarely called what they are: racist hate crimes.
How many unrelated attacks have to happen against POC students for the administration to notice a trend? How could two white students enter the dormitory building of POC women, vandalize property, and sing about “colored girls”?Before enrolling into BC, I asked my friend who was a year ahead of me if she had ever experienced racism on campus. She is Indonesian, like me, and though she said she had felt ostracized, it wasn’t bad for her personally. Perhaps I should have caught onto the word “personally.”
My friend failed to mention that in the year she was a freshman, a dormitory building (which, had I not transferred, would have become mine) was vandalized by a white man who painted “FUCK N*****S” and “N*****S are the plague” on the walls and tables of a common room.
By the time I arrived on campus and moved into my dorm, the walls were painted pristine white once more. Hard ‘R’s covered up, like most ‘incidents’ on campus were.
So here is my message for white people: as a white person in America, and especially in a private predominantly white institution, you have privilege and a voice. Being silent is a choice. Cycles of racism cannot be broken down without your activism. You have a role in race-related conversations. Not as its leader, but as its amplifier. As its legitimator. Perhaps it is time to find your voice, and use it.
This image is licensed for distribution under the public domain. No changes were made to the original image, which can be found here.