Reclaiming Our Space

by Joyce Guo

I’ll be honest–I wasn’t panicked when I saw the results of the election. I was shocked, confused, but perhaps because of denial or because of my own privilege I naively felt fine. The powers of the president are limited, I reminded myself. Congress is not going to approve a wall, Trump probably doesn’t even know how to pass a bill, and we all remember Bush’s campaign in ‘88 that promised no new taxes but which, once he was elected, actually did nothing to stop tax creation. Campaigns and presidencies are different and besides, it’s just one man on the far right of the political spectrum. And then I saw it– testaments all over social media of young Muslim girls on the day after the election scared to wear their hijabs. And I knew that it didn’t matter if Trump never accomplished anything during his four years in office–he had already done irreparable damage. He had created a national climate of fear that the “other” is taking up too much space in America.

As a second generation Asian American woman, I have learned the behaviors that make me more palatable to society. Growing up I packed lunchables for the cafeteria rather than any Asian foods my mother made me so as not to mark myself as “other.” At Yale, I worked as a Chinese-language tour guide for the visitors center, but I only ever gave tours during the summer months– I refused to do them during the school year because I didn’t want any of my friends or professors to confuse me with the “awkward” tourists that don’t belong clustered in our gothic architecture. These are the small things. There are much scarier learned behaviors–my friends who are Black learn to keep their receipts when they are shopping because their skin color marks them as guilty until proven otherwise. My friends who are brown learn to wear Yale gear when going through airport security because their race marks them as a potential terrorist threat. It takes years, too much energy, and a lot of woke communities and friends for us to unlearn the psychological harms of these behaviors. For us to realize that we don’t have to do anything to “fit” into this country, this school. We are here and we belong.

Yet here it is happening again–a whole new generation of young women of color learning to make themselves small because their mere existence is a threat to society. A whole new generation of young girls who will think twice about their every action, who will try to hide any aspect of their being that might mark them as “other.” I wonder how many of them will spend hours grooming themselves in the morning so they can appear less ethnic and more “cultured”. I wonder how many of them will sit at the seminar table and mentally tally the times they have spoken so as not to take up too much space. I wonder how many of them will apologize before every statement to make themselves less threatening. I wonder how many future women of color leaders we have lost because of this election. I wonder when young girls of color will no longer have to carry this unique burden of fear that can’t be named out loud (“you’re being paranoid and dramatic, Trump won’t deport Muslim students”) but can only sit at the back of your throat choking your words, making you silent.

I have friends who after this election told me that the left has to become more centered. According to one friend, we lost because we called too many people racists and misogynists and “yelled” too much. I disagree. There are reasons Clinton lost that need to be reevaluated, strategies that need to be revisited, demographics that need to be better understood–but it’s not because we were too loud. Trump won the election and we have to figure out how to move on from here, suggestions for how to prevent this from happening in 2020 are a good thing. But to everyone out there who is claiming that the “far-left” lost this election for Clinton because we called too many people racists—you’re wrong. Please don’t tell people they need to be less vocal about their experiences as minorities in this country so that they might become more “palatable” for the center of the political spectrum. We don’t need to yell less–we need to yell more, scream even. I am tired of making myself small so other people can have more space–all across the country young women of color are diminishing themselves just so they can exist another day. For every one girl who silently accepts her oppression, we need to scream and yell ten times louder. We need to break this cycle. We need to reclaim our space.