cw: body image, fat shaming, weight gain
Chicken Legs, string bean, stick. Growing up I was skinny. And I don’t just mean I was thin or average weight, but I could wear the same sizes as my friends 3 or 4 inches shorter than me who were considered average. As a girl there was no dearth of things about my appearance to be insecure about, but my weight or size for the most part wasn’t one of them. Sure I didn’t like the added attention, the nicknames, the insistence that I eat more or could down whatever I wanted, but let’s be honest,beyond hoping to one day fill out my tops, I never wished to not be skinny.
When I started college, gaining the freshman 15 was not a concern of mine. I was eating healthy and sure I made multiple trips through the buffet line, but I had no reason to believe my slight changes in lifestyle at college would change my weight. Well the first time I got on the scale in college–maybe November or December–I was 10 pounds heavier than when I last measured myself.
I was not in the habit of weighing myself so to be fair it may have been 6 months since I last weighed myself, but for someone who only gained about 12 pounds from 9th grade to 12th grade, gaining 10 pounds in less than a year was overwhelming to me. My wish came true–I began filling out my shirts–but a little more than I had hoped. I became insecure for the first time at people seeing me and felt the tightness of my clothes clutching at my body. I can say that since I turned eighteen years old I have not been called skinny minne or bean, but for the most part I was still an average healthy weight and accepted that I would take the few extra pounds if it meant that I finally looked like less of a child and more like a woman.
After I graduated college and started working I experienced another round of weight gain, but this time I found it harder to accept. My torso, hips and legs have never been in perfect proportion, but weight gain in specific parts of my body made me feel like…like shit honestly. I had to go up another pant size but felt like everything I wore siphoned circulation in my thighs, but when I would go up another size my pants would slide off me. Tops were tight on my chest and tight on my stomach only to be loose and baggy around my waist. It was if anything that fit made me feel like I was spilling out of my clothes and anything larger made my body disappear into an amorphous outline of who I was–literally and figuratively.
Until I actually was “fat”–hitting the overweight category on the BMI scale, even though I am still smaller than the average U.S. woman (fucked up, right?)–I didn’t really know what it meant to be fatphobic. I supported women and men at every size and didn’t buy into the myth that people are fat because they eat too much or don’t care about themselves. But putting on the weight myself was not something I could accept. In fact, it’s still hard to see myself at this weight as a part of my identity. One of my vices has now become to look at how much smaller I used to be in old pictures–something I never thought about or at least never admired about myself. The size I was when I was 17 would not be healthy or even attractive at 24, but I can’t help but be envious of my former self.
Privilege is integral to every conversation about identity and I still recognize I have immense privilege at my size. I can always find something in my size if I try hard enough and I know that the clothes will be flattering. I don’t pay extra for my clothes. People don’t assume I am a slob or lazy because of my size because for the most part I am still “average”. As far as dating, my size doesn’t seem to be an issue to most folks. Still, I have this looming fear or getting any bigger, afraid I will slip into a size where I am objectively fat, where the world become much harder for me. And that fear is what reminds me that our society is still so largely against fat and obese people.
I wrote this because I am still figuring out what it means to be my size and what it means to not want to be this size. I should note that my lifestyle did change some when I graduated (I walked less, I sat at a desk more), but I did not change. I did not suddenly let myself go, I didn’t form an unhealthy relationship with food. I was never an athlete or particularly very active, something I would often joke about without fear of judgment. I always ate moderately healthy. Who I knew myself to be did not change, but when my body did, my entire perception of my worthiness fluctuated with the scale needle.
I am processing my internalized fatphobia one day at a time. Because I know until I can learn to see the value in myself at this size I cannot honestly engage with others who are also overweight. I can’t say I support size equality while I pick and prod away at my changing body. Processing this is certainly more emotional than I expected, but something I presume most women will go through in their lifetime and because most of us will go through it is so so important we rally behind fat folks. It’s so important how you’re treated is not based on a snap judgment. And it’s more important that we internalize those changing judgments towards ourselves.
In lieu of the blog’s recent name change (and subsequent changes to come) I decided to kick off the new blog with a post about the most recent change in my life: college student to college grad! A little over 5 weeks ago I walked across that stage (well atrium) and got my diploma! Well, it’s been mostly downhill since… I was robbed of switching my tassel from one side to the other because my school decided not to take any position on the matter (is it left to right, or right to left?!), going through my meal plan a month early left me without a post-graduation road trip fund, and oh yeah–as far as I knew I was living at home for the next 8 weeks while I waited for my job to start back in Durham. The whole time I’d be at home I’d be without a summer income, without a car, and with a savings account that was as empty as I was after leaving Duke. Needless to say it was a hard time for me.
Things started looking up though. After 5 hours of packing up my apartment and failing to get my brothers to lift a single thing, I found out my friend Amy* had a spot open at her house and I could stay with her for the summer–not without cashing out some money for rent and utilities first! Between paying for somewhere to sleep for the next 6 weeks and paying for storage it hit me real hard that from now on I’d have to make my own way (sorta, kinda. My parents still pay for my phone bill and let’s be honest they won’t leave me…I hope). Luckily though, I got to keep my campus gig hitting up alumni for donations to the school. So with $70 spent on groceries and new bed sheets I was on my way to “making it”…at least for the summer.
And I can’t complain. I’ve gotten really good at making spaghetti and getting quotes for things without getting my actual credit checked. I even signed a lease for an apartment! Unfortunately, due to a complicated game of role the digital dice I lost out on the bigger room to my roommate, but I don’t mind because I get the full bathroom! I’ve already started Pinteresting for apartment inspiration even though I really have no idea how to Pinterest. Still and yet, it’s both so exciting and anxiety-inducing to know I just signed a legal contract agreeing to do all these things for another 13 months. What if I lose my job, or there is a hurricane or me and my roommate just have different taste on what our apartment should look like? These are the real questions folks.
Honestly though, never before have I felt so up in the air about what I want or how I am actually going to make what I want happen for me. When I was 13, I took my unused James Madison University notebook that I had bought during a stay there at orchestra camp #nerd and I wrote down my goals for high school. I wanted to be involved with 2 clubs all four years, I wanted at least a 3.7 GPA, I wanted to try and be on a sports team, and I wanted to get into a good college. I did all those things and more! College wasn’t so black and white and I messed up way too many times to count, but what I wanted most–to form relationships that would last and meet new people–all happened for me. I was a part of multiple organizations for over four years, I met everyone in my dorm in the first two weeks, I wrote for my school newspaper when I needed to share my voice and I started a blog when I realized the paper wasn’t the platform to do that. Most of all, I made friends that would last a lifetime and I fell in and out of love all whilst convincing myself I wanted to study math at one of the hardest schools in the country. But here I am now, and when I put pen to paper, my plans are vague at best, non-existent at worst.
I mean, I’m 21 and I’ve never even had a credit card. My signature dish is Spaghetti, Prego and Sriracha sauce (with mushrooms, it’s great!). And somehow the universe decided that during the biggest transition of my life, literally everyone in my life that I rely on for support is going through a transition themselves.
I work on campus and so I take the bus from my house to the main campus, riding past the apartments I spent 2 years in. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel like the end of an era. An era that included being 50 feet from my best friends, down the street from the place we’d go after a night out, and on the wildest sleeping schedule ever that included talks until 2,3 or 4 a.m. with my roommate. Riding past those apartments felt like saying goodbye to all that comfort and hello to a place that felt scary, tricky and devoid of the people who had got me through the last four years.
Still, I’m trying to stay positive. 30 years ago when you said bye to people, that was it. Letters in the mail or a phone call kept in your address book kept you connected, but occasional phone calls don’t make up for the community college offers you. From best friends, to people who are a part of your clubs–there’s way too much that can’t be conveyed in a phone call. So I just want to thank you SnapChat, Facebook and Instagram! It’s silly and maybe I’m some baby millenial who is making a fuss about her life being over and too scary to deal with, but I love knowing that the girl I had a deep chat with in the stairwell is seeing Beyonce tonight. And people are getting married (let’s be real, that’s still scary) or going to Europe or Hong Kong or Texas! People that I didn’t know well are sharing their life with me and it doesn’t feel so alone. It’s like when it’s 1:30 a.m and you are walking back home and someone’s in the courtyard chatting, the people across the quad are having a theatre post-production party and your roommate is skyping with her boyfriend. You and your friends order pizza and agree (but fail to) go to the library the next day or get dinner that next Tuesday and it’s nice and comfortable and it feels like home. I’m not ready to let that go yet. And even though this next chapter of my life is not going to be easy, it feels reassuring to know we are all going through it at the same time. We’re signing leases and buying cars and eating leftovers for the fourth time in a row, only to say f*ck it two days later when your friends are in town and you just want to hang out. We’re growing up, but best of all, we’re growing together.
Content warning: sexual assault/harassment, sexism, incest, references to homophobia
The pain that comes with being a woman sometimes is so distracting I can’t bear to live in this world. I can’t look at my male friends, my father and my professors because all that runs through my head is the question whether he has hurt a woman like countless number of others of his same gender have? Could he be so vile, cruel, entitled to make a woman feel small? The answer is probably yes, at varying levels. I feel very comfortable in believing that to be true because I have yet to exist in a space where my womanhood is both celebrated and paired with full humanity. That is except in the very intentional spaces where we’re all women, celebrating women and not wasting time with men’s bullshit or the patriarchal world that tells us men’s needs trump ours every.single.time.
Seriously, on the simplest level why don’t we convict rapists? Why don’t we believe that men could be so despicable, so ignorant, so entitled when those are the very values we push on them from the time they are children? We say don’t cry, emotions are bad, weak–just like women. Don’t listen. Be heard. If you listen, if you’re considerate you’re a ‘nice guy’ not just a decent human being. And you know what, nice guys finish last so don’t listen to her when she says no and definitely don’t listen when she doesn’t say yes because you deserve it, deserve her, because you’re ‘nice’. We give men high fives, pats on the back when they finally pay attention in class or learn how to be a feminist (read: see women as people) we say ‘boys will be boys’ when they’re rowdy, disruptive, disrespectful, destructive. Is that what boys will do when they’re being boys? Is it okay that he taunts the girls with growing breasts, that he throws chairs when he’s upset, that he berates and degrades women when he thinks another man can see him? We tell men to be leaders to take charge, but we don’t tell them to take care of each other. That’s ‘gay’. And God forbid a man show affection towards another man. That burden of ‘love’ is reserved for women who deserve the touchy, can’t hear no, made up yes, just this one time, ‘don’t be a prude’, ‘you slept with him so why not me’, ‘no one will believe you’, ‘no one will want you’, ‘you’re lucky I even looked at you’ affections of a man. No, God fucking forbid that a man could cry, could sob, could empathize with pain and not punch or weight lift it out of the small woman inside him that makes him weak. Father’s protect their daughters from men like them then tell their sons it’s okay if it’s another girl. Father’s protect their daughters from men like them, but not their daughter’s mother who is such a saint for dealing with him.
And as much as I know it’s true I can’t confront the real reality that my brothers and my best friends operate in and accept a reality where they are given second, third, and fourth chances when it comes to their word over mine. I can’t confront the reality that people that love me and men I’ve cared for resent me for asking for what I need too loudly, with too much confidence, too passionately, too unapologetically. I don’t want to confront the fact that no one has had to tell me explicitly that ladies don’t spit, don’t make a fuss, don’t not forgive the family members that violated them and yet I know all these things to be true…so I’m sure you do too.
It makes me really sad. Like at first hella angry and then it sinks in that the people I love are taking apart the people I love. And they’re sorry and all that, but whatever. They still benefit. They don’t unfriend people they know are rapists. They don’t use the aggression they’re permitted to express on people that have hurt women. They don’t sit their sons down and tell them how to treat women that don’t fit into their idea of a “respectable woman”. They don’t stand up for the 20 year old virgins or the male feminists whose main priority isn’t serving other men. They don’t include women in their movements until after the fact. They still talk over me, us, all of us. They still don’t tell their friends it’s not okay to wait until a woman is too drunk to say no. They laugh at Family Guy, they don’t put in any effort into making #notallmen a true statement. They write stupid ass articles saying this is not what a rapist looks like. They believe Cosby. They forgive Clinton. We all do, but myself and my sisters and the girls I resent and the girls I love, the women who shine and stomp and are resilient in the face of all these put downs all seem to get the shitty end of the stick when it comes to your misogynistic banter and rapist apologies. So yeah, I’m sad. I’m really “can’t say fucking cause I’m a lady” sad.
I think about how as a child honesty was taught as the best policy. When we get older though, we know that’s just not case. Because people don’t like to hear the truth and there are some things you just shouldn’t share about yourself because you should carry around a little bit of shame over your misgivings.
Every time I come out of an interview, I question if my honesty is refreshing or distasteful. Will they like me because I was blunt and challenged their idea? Or did I basically verbally flick them off by not thinking their company is like the best thing ever. But like I swear I totally align with your values, I backtrack. I always think that when you are trying to entertain or schmooze or impress, you should err on the side of apologetic. Apologize for the mess, apologize for the lack of sleep and how it is making you take longer to think, apologize for not agreeing with everything they say. “I’m not really sure if I agree with that. But that might just be me.” However, once I start talking I think, honesty is something people value and I am good at it, so just be yourself! If they don’t like it, they’re not a good fit…but they will like it, don’t worry.
I start to wonder if my confidence is going to catch up with me. Because that’s what honesty is when you need something from someone–confidence. It’s bold to share your deepest thoughts, your incompetence, your disapproval when the person you are going against has the keys to the future you want. Honesty in an interview feels like being ungrateful, feels like a lack of humility because you believe you deserve this job as is.
How dare you present yourself as you truly are? You must think you’re hot shit.
I mean, I don’t know…maybe.
OK, so like I am gonna be that girl now that I am that’s honest and gets me into trouble. I think I’m…I’m like the shit. Now why do I feel bad for saying that? Is it a girl thing? I think it’s a girl thing. Let’s explore that. There’s this Amy Schumer sketch where all these women are complimenting and refusing to take compliments from one another. If one woman complimented her hair, she really thought she didn’t look that good. If someone was complimented on a dress, she mentioned it was two dollars and made her look like a whore, then there’s one woman who just says thank you. Everyone exploded. Literally. Watch the sketch; it’s hilarious.
So maybe it’s just a woman thing. It’s no surprise that internalized sexism runs deep and because of that every woman is apologizing for any success she has. Can someone say impostor syndrome? Let me clear up one thing—I don’t think I am better than anyone. I just think that my thoughts are valid; that I have worthwhile opinions and that I am capable of doing at least some job. And well, so can you.
One thing that I have never liked about being compulsively honest is that it stops me from being the classic good best friend. I cannot tell another girl in an outfit that she looks good if she doesn’t. I manage sometimes to work around it and say “That looks okay” instead of what I really want to say, which is “No. You can find something better”. This has been an issue a time or two, but we always get past it. I am horrible with crappy boyfriends because I will either honestly tell you he is awful, therefore putting you in a tough situation, or do the worst (but kinda best) best friend thing and call you out on your hypocrisy, because maybe you’re not being such a good girlfriend.
My honesty does have its ways of sustaining my friendship though, because it works in either direction. My compliments are bomb—eccentric—but they’re bomb. Your face is radiating today. Your teeth are great. The sound of your voice sounds like the good feelings of my life when I was 4 years old. Straight from the heart, Brianna certified, these compliments are like none other. I will praise you when you deserve praise and I will tell you that you are a special moon pie when, dammit, you are being a special moon pie.
Now that I think about it this is why I don’t have a boyfriend. Honesty is really fragile to the man and even in saying that I know I am upsetting some of them right now. This is fun for me, exciting and a bit of a game and only the strong ones get to pass go; very few get to pass go. Boys don’t like honesty, and by boys I mean cisgender heterosexual boys in the context of romantic relationships (and business, and cars, and directions, and measuring things, and doing traditionally woman things that they have now decided they can do because their masculinity isn’t as fragile as all the other boys). These boys don’t like honesty from a woman, or at least I don’t think they do, the same way employers don’t want me to tell them that I only agree with some of their mission…but like I totally want to work there.
It’s a tricky balance being honest with a boy because you risk him thinking that you’re not buying into his amazing charm. Then comes the reeling back in where you say you’re sorry and that you totally understand where he’s coming from, even though you think he’s kinda dumb incorrect. For my game—the game that I play with boys, which really isn’t a game since I am being completely honest—to work, the boy has to buy in, just like the interviewer has to buy in to the notion that my honesty shows risk and confidence, and an attitude of ‘take me or leave me’ which will give itself up to being intriguing and admirable. Perhaps this has worked for my interviews; this rarely works for my love life.
See the thing about business is that they like the grind. A little bit of tension, accompanied with hard work of course, is what stirs things up, leads to innovation and makes a company grow. ‘Real leadership potential’, they’ll say. ‘Have a promotion’, they’ll shout! The letters CEO will be chanted across cubicles because I had the nerve to say this company needs me, not the other way around!
I wake up from this dream. Yes, I’m honest. That’s intriguing, even sexy, gets me a promotion or at least a mug with my name on it, but what am I supposed to do with this elusive tugging that say good girls don’t question things. No one likes a woman who doesn’t know when to stop talking.
Whoa…Did I just write that? I think that voice inside me, and maybe in all women, just came out and took over. I think she (yes, my voice is a she. Oh the irony) put it best with “No one likes a woman who doesn’t know when to stop talking”. They may respect her and be scared of her, she says, but they’ll still call her a bitch and take a little satisfaction when someone knocks her down a notch. Because we all know women only get to be in power when they do it on everyone else’s term and then apologize for being the one accidentally in power, with a voice, because you know, like they don’t have any real opinions of their own.
So this fear, this ehh-ness after an interview, or when I talk to a boy, or when I tell my friends that they aren’t good at something, is basically me trying to avoid being a bitch. It’s me trying to avoid being…mean, because just like honesty was taught as the best policy, being mean was frowned upon too. And it’s really unfair that my honesty (as a woman?) is perceived as mean or driving me towards a position of power that will then have me be perceived as mean or bitchy. Is this a feminist thing? I don’t know. I don’t want to be reduced down to a ‘feminist thing’ because like I am not asking for more money or even demanding that men stop taking up so much damn space with their legs and their mouth and their overwhelming sums of money, I’m just like trying to be myself and share my opinion without apologizing. I know it’s rude to call people ugly and I don’t do that because that’s like actually mean. And when I pick on men it’s fun, but only when you pick on the parts that they don’t why they’re defensive about. I know why they’re defensive… Because I’m fucking being honesty and that’s not normal. It’s different and maybe attractive, but past a point just off-putting, and so my honesty can only get me to be the gf or the CEO if I don’t say too much, or criticize too much, or challenge too much and maybe this is a feminist things because terms like ‘glass ceiling’ are starting to pop into my head.
I’m not a bitch. I’m not mean. A bit awkward? Yes. Mostly because no one taught me how to be comfortable in this skin where you can’t help sharing how you feel. I’m honest. And that’s not always the best thing. I am terrible at feigning excitement when a friend asks me to go to a show with her and I really just don’t want to go. I share and then sometimes overshare. I hurt my mother’s feelings because I criticize the way she talks and those are all things that I should and will apologize for when it comes to my honesty. I don’t want to apologize for not being a good woman. Part of me wants you to think this rejection of this idea will be intriguing, show a ‘take me or leave me’ attitude, or even be sexy. But the other part, she’s just afraid you’ll think I’m a bitch for even thinking this is worth reading at all.
You must think you’re hot shit!
I mean, I don’t know…maybe?
I am a part of a selective living group at Duke called Ubuntu. It’s more than just a living group to me though, it’s a community. It’s a family. Ubuntu means “I am because We are”. To me it’s having your humanity tied up within one another. For me though–someone who often puts other’s needs before her own–it’s difficult finding my humanity when I am so lost in the well being of others. For the past four months I was in Italy, but before I left I went back to Ubuntu for two weeks. When I left Duke I was so afraid for so many reasons. How could I say goodbye (albeit temporary) to everyone I had started caring about so much? Would I ever find a balance between taking care of myself and others? Would I be forgotten…? Well now I am back from Italy and I am so glad I went because I let myself matter for the first time in a long while. And I think Ubuntu would’ve wanted that.
Here’s a poem I wrote back in February that sums up my fears and aspirations perfectly. I think it’s Ubuntu.
I Am, Because We Are
and all that I do is tied up in you.
I am so consumed by all of your humanities
I find my own
and lose it again.
Is this love
because I’d let you break me
just to know you’re okay
and maybe that’s not love
so I step back
let go of the reigns
because I need to overcome my fear
that you’re better off without me–
or possibly worse–
that you don’t notice I’m gone at all…
because I notice everything about you
sometimes in a distracted
“let me be anywhere but here”
and you are “here” way
sometimes in the restless
“please let me fix it,
mother knows best” way
but I’ll step back long enough
and become the person
who isn’t obsessed with taking care of everyone
and being in control
rather, I’ll be the person taking care of Us
and it can’t be more than that
It has to be Us,
It has to be you
because if I love you the only
way I know how to love
I will rip my heart out and give it to you,
but I am because We are
and we are not heartbroken
We Are Loved.
I think I chose the right major, because no one ever reads a math textbook during vacation. Taking math classes lets me study something I would otherwise not pursue on my own. My first day of college, I was a math major. I took a math class every semester even when I was unsure if I might switch. During those awkward and cumbersome introductions during O-week I could without hesitation tell others what I was going to study for the next four years. It didn’t take much time for me to realize I had no idea what I was talking about.
Math is really hard. And for me it’s not because math is just really hard, but because of everything that comes with studying something extremely difficult–doubt, insecurity, isolation, an occasional existential crisis, and a lot of “why am I doing this?” Still, for some reason (which I often forget), I stuck with it. Now I am a second semester junior with three more classes to go and so there’s really no turning back.
I find myself stuck in a major that makes me feel inadequate, revered, and inspired all at the same time. When I really give myself the time and energy to really engage in what I am learning, I am having some of the most fun I’ve ever had (I’m a nerd, I know). Being challenged and thinking outside of the small boxes is what excites me, it’s what wakes me up in the middle night and what makes all that shame I carry around go away because why should I feel small, when the world is a place for big thoughts, big ideas, and imagination?
At least, that’s what I tell myself. Math at Duke has been a real struggle and I often don’t find myself engaged in my classes. I want to hop between identities: cool girl who doesn’t try hard and doesn’t fret and passionate scholar who engages with materials outside of the class. Mostly, I am neither. I start off chill, panic and cram, fall in love with the subject material, get mediocre grades and say I’ll do better next time. Repeat. It doesn’t help that my major offers me such a large ego boost. Without fail, everytime I tell someone my major they applaud me or give me kudos. It kinda makes the whole self-motivation thing hard to do when you have a whole population of people thinking you are some bad ass simply because you decided to take 10-12 classes in one subject, pass them, and have the knowledge (or advisor) to know what topic is next in the sequence. Guys, stop it! I’m not that special!!! Not because I’m a math major at least.
In spite of all this, I am still thankful that I decided to be a math major and there is one resounding reason why I come back to it. It keeps me thirsty. I would often tell this joke last semester about my feelings for my major: “I like to learn math, not do it”. Okay so I just sound lazy, but that joke has taught me a lot about myself. Exploration of thoughts and ideas are what motivate me. I am realistic and I know you can’t simply spew out ideas without any execution or testing. Still and yet, I find the way I consume math parelleling the way I consume the world–taking in bits of information and arranging, re-arranging and trying to make sense of it all.
When I chose my major I was 17 and I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but now I am 20 years old and the sky is the limit. (So does the limit not exist…) Math wasn’t the right major for me because I am good at math or I want to be the next Alan Turing, but because it gave me the space to learn how to question my world. Math challenges me to ask questions and be critical of assumptions. And I think that’s one of the greatest gifts.
Thank you Duke Math for giving me hell and keeping me on my toes. I couldn’t uncover the world without the world that math first gave me.
In light of recent incidents at my school, Duke University, and the “apology letter” that came out in the Chronicle, I decided to not accept the apology of the student who hung a noose on my campus and instead give an example of the letter I would’ve accepted.
My name is [Actual non-anonymous name] and I am the student that hung the noose on the BC plaza on April 1st. When I did it I was with friends, and without thought of the hurtful connotations of a noose to other communities on campus, I hung it, took a picture and texted my friends to come “hang out with us.” I irresponsibly left the noose hanging from the tree before I left. I now regret this decision and more clearly understand how hurtful this noose was to my peers. I apologize for any hurt I’ve caused, any pain I’ve dredged up, and for not understanding at the time the racial implications of a noose.
While my actions and carelessness are not excusable, I am taking steps towards educating myself about what the noose represents to the black community. A book I am currently reading called [Book Title] has allowed me to more clearly understand the weight of my negligence. I know though I will never fully comprehend what my actions meant to those who were more personally affected by this incident.
Again I apologize and take full responsibility for my actions and the pain I have caused. I hope I can learn and grow from this and that Duke can as well. And I hope that we can see that although our actions may not have bad intentions, they have real consequences. Unfortunately, the consequence of my actions was hurting students at my school who did not deserve to be reminded of all the wrongdoings inflicted upon them, their families, and those that make up their history.
With the sincerest of hearts,
[Actual non-anonymous name here]
When you give an apology, you don’t talk about yourself, you don’t talk about how your life has been affected because that choice was yours the moment you chose to do whatever you did to warrant an apology. You don’t use your intentions as an excuse and you don’t use your ignorance as an excuse. You DO take responsibility for your actions. You DO express regret. And you DO make a commitment to change and grow. Doing these things is not admitting you had malicious intent, but it is doing the mature thing and not placing your comfort in front of the people’s you hurt. Making this sort of apology isn’t labeling yourself as a bad person, but merely someone who will be accountable for the pain they have caused.
As far as the guy who did this, I don’t hate him. He probably didn’t understand what he did…but that doesn’t excuse his actions. Whether you want to call it racist or not, it’s not okay. Every time we excuse actions that aren’t “really racist” or that “didn’t mean to offend”, we are glossing over someone’s real lived experiences. We are glossing over someone’s hurt. I’m sure it wasn’t meant to offend when someone said a joke straight to my face about black kids not growing up with fathers. I’m sure it isn’t meant to offend when 80% of the images I see of black people on TV are silly goons and sidekicks ,unbelievably strong black women, or thugs and gangsters.
Malicious racism is over. Let that notion go. You can’t say “black people are lazy” or “all Chinese people are smart” without getting called out by someone. And you certainly can’t call someone a racial slur and not be shunned by society. I honestly don’t even care if you call it racism because racism is so prevalent in our society that it’s literally just how we live. It’s the way we ignore that blacks were discriminated against when it came to housing and that most families wealth comes from real estate. It’s in the way that when we think genocide, we think holocaust before we ever question what we did to the Native Americans. It’s in the way that a white man can go to jail three times and still be more likely to get a job than a black man with three degrees. No one is going through those resumes and saying “sounds like a black guy, nope”. So get out of your head that racism is malicious and intentional. This kid’s actions may not have been malicious or intentional, but I still don’t fucking care.
Beyond this student owing an apology, our administration owes us an apology. Firstly, because they let this student publish that letter. Second, because of the poor handling, especially at the hands of our President, to respond to the issues black students have faced this year in a timely and sensitive manner. Thirdly, the fact that the university has feigned empathy and concern only to then let student grievances silently drift away when there is no more pressure.
We don’t pay Duke, break our backs for Duke, and give credit to Duke so that we can teach them! When it’s us, versus a university that won’t support us, our non-black peers are left questioning who to believe. The black kids screaming “racism” and “oppression” like it’s a game, or the administration we trusted to guide us towards a critical frame of thinking and empathy? We can’t win. Noose kid doesn’t owe me an apology as much as the administration. I don’t give him a pass for his actions, but you can’t know what you don’t know. Well Duke should know, Duke should know better. While I’ve been trying to stay out of all this while abroad, it truly became evident to me that Duke really didn’t give a damn about what that noose meant when they let that student release that letter. Shame on them for letting him take all the blame for this incident. Shame on them for making students feel yet again unheard, and unworthy of any insightful consideration of our experience.
I started talking about the apology I would accept from this student, but really the apology I need is from Duke. Please… please do better.