“I feel like I can’t relate or critique this piece because I’m not a gay black man. Like I feel pushed out.”
Why is it when someone of color writes about their experiences, a white person feels the need to; 1.) disregard every amount of emotional vulnerability exuding in the piece because the writer happens to be of color—but is not talking about their culture specifically, but is simply addressing how an experience has damaged them. For example, when a white student told me this about my poem—a poem in which I never used the words “gay” or “black,” but had only had cues to gayness in regards of masculinity and father-son relationships within black families—I was left dumbfounded. You’re telling me you can’t relate to the feeling of identity confusion? You’re telling me parental problems aren’t universal? No. What she seen was a gay black male talking about “gay black things”; and, 2.) completely ignore the abuse and emotional sufferings we have poured into our piece—only seeing how the piece “challenges” or confronts the systematic thumb POC are placed under.
In the past week, the writers—Sung Yim, Jessica “Jade” Paul, Rai Mckinley, and Vanessa Borjon—of Dear Columbia have faced utter and complete disrespect from Columbia students, alumni, and otherwise. They have been called ignorant, self-absorbed, childish, ill-mannered, disrespectful, naïve, bad writers, and much more. These comments, though hilarious and ignorant in themselves—as I expressed to the writers, further illustrates the community Columbia has built. None of these critics gave these writers comfort or solidarity in their experiences, but defended the system they obviously benefit from. It is obvious in these comments, that Columbia has fostered a culture in which speaking out against systematic elimination, racism, and assimilation, is wrong and inappropriate. These comments just prove the bullshit these writers are talking about. They don’t care about the mental, emotional, and spiritual attacks the writers (and [Q]POC) are facing. They only care about the system and the way the writer has chosen to express their relationship with said systems. They critiqued the way they wrote, how they wrote, and why they wrote. They questioned their authenticity, their psyche, and their being. They simply didn’t care about the writer as a human being experiencing traumatic events. The fact of the matter is, Columbia these are your people who you’ve let in your classrooms. In your events. In your graduation ceremonies. These are the people you have raised.
Honestly, it’s hilarious.
Two of the writers, Jade and Rai, received emails from The Chronicle, Columbia’s student run newspaper, about interviewing them on their experiences. When they told me about this email, I told them to reply with the following:
Hi (I am leaving the person’s name out here due to respectability and privacy),
Thank you for reaching out. While I do believe it is important for the Columbia community to understand experiences of queer people of color at Columbia, Luther has advised us to decline the interview. This project, Dear Columbia, was not created to badger, condemn, or challenge Columbia and its administration. By creating a “story” with the intent of questioning administration for “their” side, you are diminishing and belittling our experiences. Furthermore, it is bluntly stating that our experiences are up for debate. They are not. We want to make it clear that Dear Columbia was created as a response to all the systematic abuse and hostility we as well as others have faced during our time at Columbia. It was not a call-to-action. As of right now, Columbia students and alumni are commenting on our pieces, shaming our experiences, calling us elitist and self-absorbed, and claiming we are too ignorant and young to understand our own feelings. This further illuminates the system we have all been abused by; moreover, proves how Columbia does little to cultivate change socially and culturally. If anything comes from this, we hope it is to teach this message: as artists, human beings, it is not our job to disrupt, maintain, and/or recreate systems. It is our job to author, cultivate, and record the stories, experiences, and voices of said system that has been affected so the next generation is equipped with the knowledge to succeed in a capitalistic society. Again, thank you for your concerns and efforts in understanding. Luther has recommended you publish this statement instead of creating a full spread story.
If you do have any questions, please email Luther directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I expressed to the writers my concern with the handling and the overall message behind this project. Furthermore, I was worried about the writers. This is to say, I was being overprotective of their experiences; in that, their experiences are not up for debate or study. The next day, the Editor-in-Chief reached out to me explaining their reasoning for emailing Jade and Rai—that they didn’t mean any disrespect and wanted to give as much support to us as possible. Although, there was some hidden offense (or maybe defense) in the email, I thanked them for understanding. Because truly, I was thankful for their understanding as to why I wanted them to decline the interview. Besides, the writers agreed anyways.
I want to get back to the experiences we, QPOC, have faced, are facing, at Columbia College Chicago. I want to go back to that day in class when my classmate felt as though she couldn’t relate. I want to look the teacher in the eye, who just sat there and nodded in agreement as if saying: “yeah, I see what you mean.” As if she agreed that I should whitewash my work for her. For them. I want to go back the night in my class when a white girl brought an extremely racist piece of writing to class and the only person who called her/it out was me. I want to know why the teacher said, “Yeah, I was thinking about that too,” and ask him why didn’t he speak up. What if I wasn’t there that night to call racism? What would he have done?
Well, I want to. But I don’t think I can.
The more I think about the people who have belittled these experiences (and others) the madder I become. Quite frankly, I’m pissed off. Quite frankly, I’m fed up with white supremacy, privilege, and normativity. Quite frankly, fuck anybody who has anything to say against anybody of a queer brown body. Fuck anybody who calls us too aggressive or too political or too ignorant in our writings. Fuck anybody who tells us to normalize our writings to fit their needs. Their whiteness. Fuck any student, alumni, faculty/staff, or administration that reads this and thinks we’re just a bunch of kids complaining about something out of our control. I don’t care for your feelings. I’m not here for you. I’m here for us. For our voices. For our experiences. And I will fight until the day I perish for the life, the respectability, the voice, the experience, the body, and the art of a QPOC.
As Dear Columbia comes to an end I ask myself what have I learned from all this. And I learned a few things. One, I learned that people will only support you until they feel like their power is threatened in some way or another. Two, I learned that true support comes in the form of putting what is best for the community that needs it and opposed to gaining any type of benefit for themselves. And three, it always takes a project like this for Columbia administration and staff to realize the bullshit QPOC go through on a day-to-day basis.
I want to take the time to thank the people who have shown their support. For sharing these experiences. For standing in solidarity with us. For offering us your kind words. I want to thank the faculty, staff, and administration that has fostered growth, empowerment, and education to those around them and above them in what it truly means to author a community built within the a system that caters to white people. Lastly and most importantly, I want to take the time to thank each of the writers: Sung Yim, Jessica “Jade” Paul, Rai Mckinley, and Vanessa Borjon for their bravery. For their willingness to share. To be vulnerable.
In closing, there is no closing. In closing, this work is never done. After we leave this world, our experiences will still be truth. Our experiences will not lessen in value, but will remain on the lips of others.
Dear Columbia, I’m a gay black male. I’m not a victim, I’m a target. I’m not a statistic, I’m an educator. I’m not the voice, I’m the platform.