By Jessica Meza
We Deserve To Be Heard: Thoughts On Being Brown In Largely White Spaces
I can’t say I’m in the Multicultural Engagement Center often, but when I am there is a certain warmth and comfort to being there. It’s a space that celebrates the fights the oppressed have fought to this point in history, it acknowledges a few of the struggles going forward, it embodies a small voice of activism. I like to think back to discussions I’ve had with my mother, she always encourages my activism. While I find it far too kind of her to say, she says that women like us would never have been able to occupy the spaces we do now have it not been for those of us who went against the system in the first place. As much as I would love to imagine a world where I didn’t have the color of my skin bear on my mind on the daily, it doesn’t exist. Things like racism, prejudice, and systematic oppression have shaped my life and worldview, so much so that I’ve internalized them. For women of color, the bar of success is set so much higher. Many of us lack a privileged background, are first-generation students, and feel an immense pressure to succeed for both ourselves and our family. With all of this, we have to succeed on a campus that both tokenizes and profits off the backs of students of color while staying silent or giving minuscule responses to acts of hate on campus.
Being politically active on campus, I’ve often found myself in activist spaces where I was the only woman of color in a room of 20. While I’ll never speak ill of the amazing activists I’ve worked with, it’s hard not to feel a little tokenized in such situations. More importantly, I’ve found myself as one of two or three women of color in a classroom of 30. When viewing an example presentation for my Professional Communication course, the presentation mentioned something incredibly degrading to Native Americans. When it came time for discussion my hand shot up to call it out, while a majority of the classroom didn’t seem to mind it, the other woman of color thanked me for calling it out came her time to speak. While I don’t think my professor meant for the example to be offensive, it still was, whether he knew it or not.
For people of color, these conversations can be daunting as if there’s a reactionary voice in the back of our heads demeaning us and telling us these are not *real* problems. But they absolutely are, be it ignorance or arrogance in places that majority white breeds stereotypes and prejudices against people of color. People of color shouldn’t just have to be content we’re no longer enslaved or put in camps, systematic racism has decimated Black and Latinx communities, the prison industrial complex profits off the imprisonment of communities of color, the failed war on drugs, the school to prison pipeline, environmental racism, the list goes on. People of color should not be silenced for their criticisms of a system that has allowed these injustices to occur. People of color should not be silenced if they feel uncomfortable in overwhelmingly white spaces. People of color should not be silenced if they show solidarity for the causes of other oppressed groups. People of color should not be silenced.