Posted on February 18, 2011

What Is ‘Black’ to You?

Albert McWilliams, Yale Daily News (New Haven), February 18, 2011

This year, the Black Student Alliance at Yale is working on a project intended to collect thoughts about “Blackness” at Yale University on the following blog:

The purpose of the “Yale Blackness” project is to give Yale students a medium to offer their thoughts on race and culture at Yale University. Like many organizations on campus, the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY) recognizes the potential for “new media” to begin a dialogue on racial dynamics on college campuses. Anonymity is a powerful tool, and when used appropriately and respectfully, it can provoke students to offer powerful insight. Ultimately, BSAY hopes to use this raised awareness to incite action to dispel negative myths, improve race relations within Yale’s student population and take advantage of Yale’s diverse population.

In order to compile these thoughts and comments, BSAY asked Yale students to take two or three minutes, and answer the following question in an anonymous post of 50 words or less: What are your feelings about “Blackness” at Yale University? This question is intentionally broad, and has produced responses ranging from issues such as dynamics in Black organizations to interracial dating at Yale. Over 150 responses have been collected, and seven to 10 responses will be posted each day between now and the first week of March. Below you will find some of the 150 responses we have received:

“I feel left out when I see black kids only hanging out with other black kids. Like I’m not allowed to approach. Is that racist?”

“Blackness is not united here; it is clear that a lot of black people chose their one black group and that’s it or they choose to not participate in any black groups–not because they’re not ‘black’ but rather they probably enjoy the activities that they choose to do more.”

“Yale is far more integrated than my high school, and I’m extremely grateful for that. I’ve met some awesome black kids here, which is great. I’m sometimes jealous of black freshmen who get black upperclassmen watching out for them. That’s not a bad thing, but I wish someone would watch out for me.”

“I think the Af-Am center does good outreach, but I feel like the black students tend to only hang out with each other, much like some other groups on campus. I know I unfairly judge black students because of bad experiences I had in high school.”

“I feel that we as a society, and as a Yale community, spend too much time defining diversity by race and skin color. Racial groups–including much of the Black community–become closed circles of friends and sometimes can be seen as a group quite separate from the community as a whole. As an entire community we should recognize diversity more broadly–diversity of thought, diversity of background, diversity of passions–so perhaps with a new outlook on similarities and differences, and a conscious effort to mix races, we can achieve a more cohesive, diverse student body.”

“Why do black students need an ‘alliance’ at Yale? And if they’re allied, WHO are the enemies? The insularity of a recognizable portion of (but not all) black students at Yale that is not really interested in hanging out with anyone who is not black is annoying.”

“As a white writer, my sense is that race at Yale is in a healthy spot. While some friend groups are racially homogenous, most are diverse. Segregation doesn’t seem to be more serious for African-Americans at Yale than any other ethnic group. What worries me is my relationship to race in New Haven. I find that I have become more prejudiced since moving to New Haven. I don’t mean racist. I mean prejudiced. I find myself noticing blackness more.”

“Race relations on the surface may seem healthy at Yale, but based on my experience and the experiences of others, I feel like the dating preferences of white students in particular are all too often exclusive against individuals of color. I find it hard to believe such a phenomenon among this particular racial enclave at Yale is just too pervasive to be dismissed as coincidence. Some students would benefit from taking a hard look at the underlying reasons for why they choose not to date outside their own race.”

“I don’t know how I feel about blackness at Yale. I’m biracial and it’s hard to fit in with the Af-Am house, or so it feels. People at Yale don’t believe I’m black, but that doesn’t erase history. People at Yale ignore America’s problems, but they still lurk beneath the surface.”

“I’m going to become the Huey Newton of the 21st century by the time I leave Yale for two reasons. Firstly, a lot of white people I interact with are clueless and I’m losing patience. Secondly, my professors (and friends) have intense white guilt and an empowering love for black culture beyond trite exoticization.”

“Blackness is both community and isolation. It is respect, but condescension. It is being accepted in word, and ignored in deed. Being Black at Yale is still being Black.”