BY RIMA FADLALLAH
Published October 29, 2013
If I were a chameleon, many people may think that I have horrible survival techniques due to my inability to blend in with my surroundings. But they’re wrong. What they misunderstand is that chameleons don’t actually change color to remain inconspicuous — they change color to communicate.
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What many misunderstand about me is that I, too, am not trying to hide from anything or anyone.
All my life, the identities that I consider most salient are the same ones that make me different from everyone around me. I am a Lebanese-American woman who, despite being a dual citizen, has never really felt that I teetered toward one end of the hyphen. So I sit here, like the surprisingly effective chameleon that I am, and change colors depending on where I am and who is around me. I change colors to communicate, to be seen, and to be heard for who I am.
I change colors because I can. I change colors because I get to determine what it means to be me.
After three years of being defined by others at this University, I’ve learned to claim ownership of my identities — both marginalized and privileged. In Lebanon, I proudly represent America, and at the University, I proudly represent my Lebanese heritage. I’ve accepted that no number of hyphens will be all-encompassing of the complexity that is me. I’ve come to realize that, while labels can be dehumanizing and dismissive at times, they allow for some degree of visibility and recognition.
So don’t you dare obliterate what I have so proudly cultivated.
Too often at this university I hear ignorant comments such as, “Race is not biologically a thing; it’s a social construct; therefore, race doesn’t matter,” and “I think diversity education is unnecessary; I don’t understand how it’s supposed to enhance my experience here.” If you think these things, I'm talking to you. Perhaps you don’t get it because you’re blinded by your white gaze.
Let’s take a look through my eyes, shall we? Of the plethora of issues embedded in your ignorant statements, I will emphasize two main points:
First, in saying, “race doesn’t matter,” you’re essentially denouncing my very existence as a person of color. You’re dismissing my emotions, my experiences and my choices that are often attributed to this identity that is apparently invisible to you. But forget about me — do you seriously believe that the experience of a Black, Latino, Arab or Native American is no different than that of a white American? Race matters. There are books on that very subject — enlighten yourself.
And second, when you deem diversity education “unnecessary,” you’re pretty much ridiculing our history and experiences as people of color. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying diversity education has been everything to me. It has been my frustration, my validation and my empowerment as a woman of color navigating an overwhelmingly white institution. Just a general tip to be a more worldly person: Issues and affairs shouldn’t have to affect you directly for you to have an interest in learning about them. Be inquisitive. Be empathetic.
Because counterarguments to “controversial” topics such as race and ethnicity have become so painfully predictable, I’ll be proactive and try to address them here.
Your angry tone is not conducive to effective dialogue. That’s fine by me because, one, this is not a dialogue, and two, anger is an emotion to which I am entitled when faced with bigoted, racist or sexist remarks. Don’t get me wrong — there is certainly a time and place for everything; I have engaged in my fair share of productive dialogues over the past few years. But at this very time and place, this chameleon just wants to be seen — riled or not.
Too often in our diversity or social justice conversations we are afraid of making the privileged feel uncomfortable. Those who are excluded from the dominant narrative are arguably always uncomfortable. Your comfort is not more important than mine — especially when it’s my identity that is at stake.
Or to those who say, “I don’t see race! I’m honestly color-blind!” No you’re not; stop lying.
I don’t want you to be color-blind.
Colorblindness is a fallacy that far too many people try hard to believe because it sounds politically correct. Much like my cold-blooded counterparts, I don’t want to blend in. I don’t want to assimilate, and I despise the bigoted implications of a “big melting pot.” I want to be seen for who I am. I want my unique voice to be heard. My olive skin is very much a part of me — more than ever amongst the sea of white at Michigan — and I’m proud of it.
What I’m saying is that I’m trying to communicate, so please stop pretending that I’m not here.
Instead, recognize, respect and embrace the different individuals around you for who they are.