Commentary: The Middle Ground

am not an argumentative person. In discussions about race, gender, and identity, I often find myself defending the middle ground, even when I feel strongly pulled to one side. I look for common territory that I can share with my peers and classmates – even on the issues that most divide us. I believe in conversations that depend on a vigorous exchange of perspectives rather than ad-hominem attacks or cheap debate tactics. My goals are equity and reparation. I strive to be open-minded and calm.

But simply being a student of color at Andover makes me feel as though I must constantly defend my place here, that I must prove I am “good” enough to be part of this community in which the standard has long been one of whiteness and elitism. I am exhausted. The desire to prove my intelligence to other students is draining. I am tired of my peers ignoring the conversations about identity that surround them, pushing them aside or declaring them irrelevant. And I am mostly exhausted by students who use political views as a thin veil to hide bigoted beliefs.

Despite this, I stay calm in public and wait until I am with trusted friends to further express frustrations about the actions or language of classmates who are quietly or explicitly biased. I self-police my tone for the sake of the social movements I advocate for, so that the movements’ criticizers on campus do not simply focus on how “angry” or “argumentative” I may sound.

Suppressing my opinions, though, takes an emotional toll on me. To recover and recharge, I admit that I condone, and sometimes even tell, jokes that do not necessarily concur with my advocacy for progress. Laughing at white friends when they get hiccups after eating something spicy? Fair game. Comments about white people resembling vampires in the winter? Hysterical. Calling racists a surplus of hilarious insults? Great. Participating in these conversations, I do not see myself degrading or hurting anyone. I do not wish to harm white people nor do I believe that my jokes do. My jokes, no matter how uncomfortable they make my white friends, do not affect my friends’ chances of employment, of being killed by the police, or being treated like an equal, valid member of society. Through my comments, I am trying to uplift myself and all others who do not have the luxury of experiencing white privilege.

Jokes about white people not being able to stomach “ethnic” food remind me that there is nothing weird or bad about my mother’s cooking. Jokes about pale white people encourage me to celebrate my tan skin. Jokes about white people who spread toxicity and racism defend my importance and self-identity in a place where parts of my identity are frequently the target of damaging ideologies.

In an era when people of color are constantly mocked and insulted by politicians and citizens alike, I find it difficult to not become defensive. I try my hardest to remain calm in discussions, but that eats away a little part of me each time. I need to privately and comfortably share my frustrations. It is the only way I can heal myself in a life surrounded by bigotry and casual racism. And if this involves making some cheap jokes here and there to brighten my mood, so be it.