Berkeley is So White
by Asri Alhamdaputra
I’m sick and tired of being the token queer person of color in every space I go to. Here’s an insight to my experience living as a femme non-binary person of color: every time I walk into a room, in an academic setting or otherwise, I feel the need to prove my worth. Namely, there’s always an urge for me to make a statement to the people I share space with that just because “I look like this” does not mean I am incompetent. I feel a constant need to ensure everyone in the room likes me in order to set an example for folks about what it means for a multifaceted complex individual to identify as non-binary. I fear for my safety walking down the street when I am femme-presenting. These are just the tip of the iceberg. Intentional or not, every day I experience some form of discrimination or micro-aggression. But taking that into consideration, my plight as a person of color identifying as non-binary femme is nothing compared to the racism and transphobia faced by Black trans women, to the discrimination and exclusion faced by Black students attending Berkeley, to the racism and sexism faced by Black women.
Last week, I was in the midst of lecture in my film class when a discussion about racism come up. My professor brought up some very interesting points that led to a very engaging discussion with my classmates. Of course, through listening to what people in my class had to say I felt like I learned a lot about the material and how it relates to racial dynamics. However, throughout the whole process I felt two things that are in opposition with each other: 1) I felt compelled to say something to prove my worth to the rest of the class, and 2) I felt uncomfortable and discouraged to participate in the discussion. This oxymoron of emotions came after I took a second amidst lecture to look around; I see that over 90% of the class is made up of white and Asian students. Not a single Black student in my class and I was the only femme presenting queer. Something about that demographic disturbs me to my core. Specifically, how can a group of middle to upper-middle class white and Asian students discuss racism? None of these students have ever experience discrimination in the same way Black people do, nor have most of them ever experience what it means to be the token POC in a room.
Thus, faced in a situation where I’m discussing racism in a room full of people who would not understand my experience as a minority, I would feel equally uncomfortable and compelled to educate. The situation I faced in my class is inherently hypocritical because what we are discussing in class does not reflect the condition of the class itself. What use is it to talk about racism if we are excluding Black and Brown students’ access to education? What use is it to talk about racism if it’s not specifically geared toward dismantling and acknowledging your white privileges to a room of white students? How much knowledge of racism can a white professor teach, knowing that they would never experience real-life racial discrimination and prejudice?
3%, that’s how many Black people make up Berkeley’s student body. That’s not at all reflective of how many times racism is discussed in our classes. For me and other Black and Brown folks, the thing about race is: race is not something that is only talked about within the confines of a class discussion. We don’t only think about race when a professor prompts us to discuss it. Race is our reality and we think about it every single day for the rest of our lives.
What does this have to do with art? For the people reading this, I want you to know that the curators of BAMPFA are predominantly white. I want you to know that POC’s are doing extra emotional labor in our classes every time the subject of race is discussed. Please understand that Berkeley’s demographic does not reflect the communities it displaces. If you are white, understand that BAMPFA is a white space made for white people to preach about diversity in the art world. The next time you are in a class discussion, look around you, be cognizant of the space you are in. Ask yourself: am I taking up too much space? Understand that students of color interact with the space differently than you do. And lastly, don’t forget to support artists of color, especially those who gave up a lot to be an artist, whose skin color or gender identity or sexual orientation or ethnicity and nationality put them in a disposition where being an artist is improbable, yet against all odds they remain a creative being that makes the world a little less boring.
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