Tensions at MCTC have been mounting throughout the semester. Faculty vs. administration, black vs. white, students vs. everybody. As this tension has grown, the conversation across dividing lines has grown angrier, and more like shouting.
Within the editorial board, we talk about everything that you’ve said to us. We’re students too. We’re black, white, Latino, and everything in between. We try to reach each other from across the same gulfs that we see widening in the rest of the community.
In discussing the topic of this editorial, the communication broke down. It wasn’t until we walked away that we began to understand what had just happened.
Today, we write to you as human beings.
All I can think about as the white noise and the anger pervades every interview I do, every letter I read, and every student and faculty I talk to, is feeling exhausted. Throwing my hands up at the sky and asking myself why it is that we still see each other as enemies from behind our own trenches.
As I talked to Fernando, the force of his words winded me. I felt tired. The divisive words of so many other people that sounded so alike rang through my head, and for a moment, I stopped hearing him.
The problem of social divides is one he experiences so acutely, to a degree I can’t imagine myself dealing with on a day-to-day basis. If my head was buried in the sand, his was encircled by the noise so much that it’s hard for him to hear past it.
And it must be deafeningly loud. It must be hideously offensive to his basic humanity. The noise standing at the line called “racial minority.” But, from this side of my own dividing line, I live my life as though I can’t hear the noise that pervades even my own life.
My own dividing line, “woman,” is something that gets little constructive press these days, and yet it is something that has shaped me in the most fundamental and irreducible of ways. It is the dividing line that draws the shape of my worst experiences, which are painted in nothing less than the deepest shade of black, and yet forces me to gaze upon its image because it is something I cannot change. The fight for equality and humane treatment is not over for women – not even in the US of A.
I get tired of knowing that. Of embodying it. My existence represents a struggle. Walking down the street is open defiance – a dare for someone to stop me on the sidewalk and try to dehumanize me.
Zack asked Fernando if he would choose to be white, and he asked me if I would choose to be a man. Fernando said yes. I said no.
I said it without thinking about it. I didn’t want to think about it. Now that I have, I think I understand why I did. I said no because I refuse to harbor so much self-hate as to wish that I was someone other than myself. And I refuse to believe things won’t change.
I refused to look at the line drawing the shape of my reality, and face it head-on. Because doing so is exhausting, and sad, and enraging.
When Fernando and I sat down once again a few days later, and had this conversation all over again, something was different.
We wanted to write this, so we tried this again. Take a look at our front page if you want to know why. This is the conversation everyone is having, but they’re all having it like Fernando and I did that first day – from across a sea of so many hurt emotions that it’s impossible to navigate at all.
We spoke slowly, carefully. We tried to talk in terms of humanity. Not, “this is what happens to people whose dividing line looks like mine.” But rather, “this is what being locked behind a line does to my humanity.”
And we came to understand that we had argued for an hour over nothing. That, fundamentally, we agree with each other on most of these issues.
What we had been doing was what we have seen all across MCTC all semester. We’d been bleeding all over each other, trying to figure out how to live with everything unjust in the world, and in the process we missed the point.
This discussion of dividing lines is a discussion about our humanity. All of us. And in doing what we do – trying our best to cover what matters to you as faithfully as we can – we take on the problems that we see in the world around us and live them as we navigate the world.
I did not grow up in the U.S., but I’m not a stranger to prejudice. My father immigrated to Argentina from Paraguay when he was one year old due to political persecution, and immigrants in Argentina are like immigrants everywhere else: they are not wanted there. I grew up hearing people saying horrible things about Paraguayan immigrants, and that leaves its mark on a young boy. Sometimes I felt shame about my father’s origin, but most of the time I could go about my daily life without thinking about it; most people still looked like me in Argentina. A few years ago I decided to pursue an education here in the States at this school. I didn’t know I would relive my father’s experiences.
It’s hard for me to explain my experience with race and prejudice, because I never experienced it to the extent and intensity seen in this place. Back home, prejudice is this very thin mist you feel in some places. It’s a feeble buzz in some people’s voices. It’s so subtle that you can’t even call people out on it.
But when I first got here it felt like ice cold water pouring on me: there’s no way to ignore that. It can be a loud as a thunder too. I was called a terrorist just a few weeks in by some lady in some very confusing circumstances, and someone else said some time later that it was a pity that my white girlfriend and all these white girls were dating dark guys.
Words like that left me hurt and disgusted, shaking with anger and indignation. I swore that nobody would talk like that and get away with it in my presence.
That’s why when we were discussing ideas for the editorial of this issue I was up in arms. While Cassie and Katie were summarizing their angle, my chest started swelling with a cold rage with every word. I think I heard something about “just forgetting” about race. That was my breaking point. That naive notion reveals the privilege of not having to think it about it. It’s just not possible to forget it.
When Zack asked me if I would choose to be a white man, I said yes. It would be interesting to see the world from there, and hear what people say to each other when they are comfortable. Maybe Affirmative Action is wrong, and there’s a parallel universe where minorities have filled the seats in top universities, where Hispanics and blacks took over the corporations.
I mocked Cassie when she talked about her struggle with prejudice, and from then on the debate was doomed. At the end, we had failed. I left that day with the fear that I had hurt my friends with my words, a sad feeling indeed.
When Cassie and me had the chance to talk about it again, I realized that Cassie and Katie had never meant what I heard in their words. All I heard where things they didn’t actually say. My anger had gotten the best of me. On that second chance I realized that we were talking about the equivalents on each side, the “war criminals” that dug the trenches, the vocal few that distort the message of everybody else’s word.
I still have no answer. All I can tell you right now is that I won’t forget or get over my origins, but next time I will listen only to who’s talking, and nobody else. After all, that is how prejudice works: we stack people on top of one another.
From all of us here at City College News,
Thank you all for bringing us to have this conversation. You, the denizens of MCTC, teach us, challenge us, and improve us as people and as journalists every day. It is an honor to hear your perspectives, and a continual challenge to do them justice. We’ll see you in the fall.
– City College News