Nobody Wins When the Family Feuds: Brown and Black Voices at Predominantly White Institutions

As a person of color moving within predominantly white institutions (PWIs), I’ve always stuck out like a sore thumb. My middle and high schools were majority white and taught me that I would not always be well-received, especially as an artist. Over the years I’ve encountered other students of color who felt the same discrimination in creative spaces. At times, their artistic works did not receive much-deserved critical regard, and at other times, they were shunned from creative spaces all together. As a result, I have always seen a need for creative spaces centered on or exclusively designed for people of color. On March 31st, I found such a space at the Race Monologues performance.

While Bard remains a PWI with many issues to address (some of which were discussed at Race Monologues), I was excited to see a new type of space for POC on campus. The event was a simple yet beautiful one, and I felt relieved to hear my peers discuss shared challenges and tribulations. In doing so they demonstrated something powerful about the experiences of people of color: simply existing as a POC is a radical act, and the weight of this reality needs more and more acknowledgment. Even at a liberal arts institutions, there are complicated racial dynamics at play, and the performers at Race Monologues brought an amazing care, artistry, and talent to this conversation.

On February 14 of this year, the 100 Days Initiative’s Editor Funto Omojola penned a wonderful article titled A Reflection on Activism: Why I did not Attend the Women’s March and Why I no Longer feel Guilty About it. She comes to this same conclusion on existing as a radical and states, “Equating activism simply with acts of grandiose that hinge on public showing of ‘being on the right side of history’ does the work of erasing and not accounting for the daily activism of black and brown bodies, who’s mere existence necessarily equates to activism.” I see the student performances as a masterful and multi-layered presentation of this reality. They achieved this while  discussing the ways some white women carry themselves through racialized spaces, the growing idea that some white folks need to fit themselves into narratives of oppression, reflections on how America’s current race relations came to be, and so many other complex topics.

While I was honored to be the designated photographer at the event, I did not take to the stage myself. Therefore, I reached out to senior Aaliyah Barnes to hear more about her perspectives and experiences at the event. On stage, she discussed the ideas of “the negro as enemy” and how black people are criticized for not fitting into white Eurocentric ideologies. She wrote back with her thoughts on the event and why it’s significant in the cultural landscape of Bard:

“The Race Monologues is probably one of the most therapeutic and freeing spaces for a lot of Black and Brown POCs on Bard’s campus. I can attest to this because I’ve participated in it twice! Sharing space with other POC’s who empty what’s in their hearts and on their minds about the process of adjusting to Bard’s socially isolating environment, even after three and four years of existing in this space and still feeling othered, is incredibly important. Building communities is hard, speaking your truth when it feels like nobody else is listening or even wants to hear you is frustrating, and holding all of that inside can kill your soul; but the reason why I continue to want to participate in the Race Monologues for as long as I’ve been here—even if it hasn’t been that long—is because it truly becomes a space where POCs on campus get to vent their frustrations to a world that we so often feel shut out from; but also a space in which we can lovingly debate with one another, healthily challenge each other’s ideas and provide perspectives that help us understand where others are coming from, or where we stand together.

“While participating in the 2018 Race Monologues I realized that we were not only in conversation with those who may have frustrated us or contribute to our erasure on this campus and in the world, but we were also in conversation with each other; many of our monologues appealing to all, and many appealing to a niche, but overall creating a space for productive and healthy conversation that exists long after the Monologues have ended, following us to our dorms, or the campus center, or kline, and coming to terms with the internal issues in our community and hashing them out. In the words of Jay-Z, ‘Nobody wins when the family feuds,’ and The 2018 Race Monologues especially opened up a few conversations around where we need to step up and put our egos to the side to make sure that our community stays strong. This is why I always choose to be in the Race Monologues, because each year is a challenge for us as a community, as a POC community, and as a larger Bard community to do better; speak up, listen up, and learn to understand even if it’s a little messy in the process of getting there.”

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