My Tufts Daily column (4/11): Seeing through the optics of whiteness, a love letter to Black Tufts, and the erasure in “incidents”

#BooksMyJobGaveMe Podcast, Journalism, Respect Your Elders, Tufts Daily

My Tufts Daily column, about Black people at Tufts, the white gaze, and the erasure in  “incidents”, complete with honesty (how refreshing!) Check back tonight about the process of writing this column, and more candid musings on the difficult miracle of, well, being. 

Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

A truly purpose-driven love letter

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013

I have been truthful from the beginning about my not quite knowing what I am doing with this column, but I have not been completely honest with you for a while. I think with the first column I had an intent to be the “true Brionna,” but I wanted to welcome you (but not all of you, not every voyeuristic eye that’s consuming me as a Tufts black woman for my “story”) on the journey as I explored myself and this (ex?) plantation we call the Medford/Somerville campus (look up that Tufts history, the Royall House and Ten Hills Farm, and sit with it).

In the beginning, I wanted to feature and connect with the often institutionally neglected black population here, because I wanted to speak to you publically, in one place at one time and on the record. I wanted this column to be far-reaching, but it can’t be at once universal in its message and critical. Every week when I started to write with intent and purpose — to talk to you about greatest triumphs and the disturbing underbelly of the college experience and the difficult miracle of existing at Tufts — I could feel the sincerity draining from my words.

I became preoccupied with how I’d be perceived by the white oppositional gaze of Tufts and the high schoolers visiting the school, clutching the Daily and their visitor brochures as they shuffle around campus while someone walks backwards and spouts about pre-major advising and meal plans. I am having that “Simba, you have forgotten me” moment, and now I am in the middle of the part where Simba has all kinds of epiphanies.

Even though I do a lot with this oppressive language (English), I fear I haven’t been doing enough, because I haven’t been honest, and even now I can’t be, but I need this on the record.

I love you, black people at Tufts, even (especially!) strangers, and I smile and say “hi” because I know that some days we feel like we are disposable at Tufts, like we are numbers, counting and learning tools on which our administrators and classmates work out their personal and academic development. So I smile at you, so you know I see you, and the least I can do is acknowledge your presence, because being present here isn’t always easy or healthy.

I do not think that survival can be understated in this moment, on this Thursday, when I still live in Sunday night, when my friends and I were dispersed around campus and, collectively, our worlds stopped with an email that announced the white supremacist “graffiti” on campus in Bello Field. The email read as coolly as an announcement about parking closures due to snow. What followed — a plea that members of “our” community  “reach out to friends and colleagues in the Tufts community as sources of support and comfort” — said to me, “If your feelings are hurt, if you’re not safe leaving your house, if you’re having violent, real flashbacks and recalls of what this is, try to feel better even though there’s no black counselor at the Counseling and Mental Health Services to turn to, even if you needed to.” The “graffiti” on Tufts’ property is not an “incident.” An incident exists as a singular moment. This is just the most recent (or publicized) manifestation of a symptom of the disease of what exists.

With these 600 words, I wanted to make this space in this Daily, so you could see and know that you are here, lovingly made and remembered by me, on the “record.” But I have acted, at times, under a constant optic of whiteness and fear, and my friends and fellow survivors deserve better. So over the next couple of weeks, I am giving you — not all of you — my best, as much as I can.

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