by Alejandra Padín-Dujon
There are too many problems in Erika Christakis’ Halloween email for me to name, so I will not try. Instead, I want to draw your attention to one glaring problem that has been sadly, criminally overlooked.
THIS IS NOT AN ISSUE OF FEELINGS.
To avoid any confusion, let me qualify this statement. Under no circumstances do I mean to invalidate the emotional responses of POC students on this campus, and in particular of women of color.
Nor do I mean to support the bullshit tone policing of patriarchal and white supremacist voices on campus that demand students of color dress their pain, anger, and frustration up in nice academic phrases, preferably name-dropping Foucault and other reputable dead white people. It is NOT the job of students of color to make this conversation easy for you, especially since even just initiating conversation—whether through demonstrations on Cross Campus, or by offering to educate—demands that students of color put the sacred truth that is their identity and personal experience up for general debate.
No, that’s not what I mean.
What I mean is that even for you assholes who, like me, believe that intellect and emotion can be separate—even for those among you (myself not included) who discount the emotional responses of POC students as excessive or self-indulgent, or who believe that offense is a natural part of productive academic discourse… Even you must recognize that cultural appropriation is wrong.
Let me illustrate by way of analogy.
I once had a good White friend who believed he could use the word nigger as long as his audience was completely white. He didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
But does this sound right?
Intuitively, we know it fucking doesn’t, which suggests that White usage of the n-word must be terribly and invariably wrong. Bingo. It’s never okay because it invokes histories of slavery and oppression, and plays directly into systems of White hegemony that endure to this day.
Similarly, even when no one ethnic is around to see some lame-ass headdress or “Mexican” costume, or to cry angry tears at blackface and tell half-assed geishas to go to hell, the costume-wearer is still identifying with centuries of imperialists, fetishists, and exterminators—and laughing at the effects. That’s fucked up.
And so while the feelings of people of color always deserve respect, there is another issue here: perpetuating the systems of oppression that POC students experience daily when they whiten themselves to survive, or are turned away from shitty frats, or learn whitewashed history, or grapple with sky-high rates of sexual assault is ALWAYS wrong.
Inherently. Impartially. Objectively.
The reason that there is a difference between the reactions to Halloween Indians and the “offense taken by religiously conservative folks to skin-revealing costumes,” Ms. Christakis, is that religious people have never experienced systematic oppression indexed by aggressive onslaughts of immodesty. They do not shoulder institutionalized social disregard for their identity, or their intelligence, or their right to life itself.
When you say, “Decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt or offense,” you are dead wrong, because the IAC didn’t try to protect delicate feelings. It took a universally binding moral stand.
Erika Christakis is not a categorically bad woman, but she invalidates the experiences of vast segments of the Yale community because her White privilege has convinced her that oppression is simple instances of one-on-one offense and insult. She is used to being treated as an individual. She is used to being uniquely heard.
But we are not. We cannot be. Every day when we are treated as ugly monoliths, we have to learn to rely on each other and forge bonds through our communal pain. When society oppresses African-Americans, Caribbean-Americans, first-generation American Africans, and even students from the African continent indiscriminately, we create a network called Black people. When this campus ignores the daily struggles of the NACC, the AACC, La Casa, and the House, militant POC unity is born.
We are not emotional reverse-racists; we are survivors. Fuck this, y’all. I’m out.