MiC Drop: Let's talk about race

By Rima Fadlallah, Michigan in Color Editor
and Jerusaliem Gebreziabher, Michigan in Color Editor
and Kayla Upadhyaya, Michigan in Color Editor
Published January 20, 2014

MiC check 1, 2. 1, 2. Can you hear us? Because we’re here.

We are Michigan in Color, the Daily’s first opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. Welcome! MiC is a place for people of color to voice their opinions and share experiences that are overshadowed by dominant narratives — or the history, stories and perspectives that privilege conformity and make it into the mainstream, marginalizing all other narratives in the process. We hope MiC will elevate conversations on race, identity, liberation and social justice while engaging specifically with communities of color on campus.

Race is a topic that can elicit several different emotions; from shame, pride, anger, confusion, love, discomfort, or all of the above, this space is here to explore it all. We want to unearth “taboos.” We want the topics that feel a bit too coarse to talk about in a crowded coffee shop to roll right off your tongue in this safe space. We want to challenge the historical whiteness of The Michigan Daily by creating this long-needed space that will hopefully lead to a more inclusive newsroom and a better informed campus.

To kick off this exciting new project, we will start at the roots of MiC: What exactly does “person of color” mean?

Person/people of color — or PoC — is a blanket term typically used to refer to all non-white individuals. The term is far from perfect. Just look at the definition: It doesn’t say what we are, but rather points to what we are not. As with any umbrella term, using the label PoC runs the risk of collapsing many diverse and complex identities and experiences into one falsely homogenous and broad group. Many different identities exist under the PoC umbrella, and we will never suggest that all PoCs have the same experiences, beliefs or priorities, just like we will never deny that differences and hierarchies exist within the phrase itself. How can any phrase encompass the experiences of a group of people so diverse?

It can’t, so in introducing this space, we must first recognize the limitations of the phrase “people of color.” Instead of relying on this very general and oversimplified phrase to identify us, we appreciate the power of personal narrative in making our individual voices and specific experiences heard, debunking myths and unpacking stereotypes in the process.

“Unfortunately, so many times, people of color hear the term ‘people of color’ from other white people that (PoCs) think white people created it instead of understanding that we self-named ourselves,” Loretta Ross, a reproductive rights activist said in a talk about feminism. “This is term that has a lot of power for us.”

The dominant narrative often excludes and silences the diverse experiences of PoCs, both on and off campus. Through MiC, we hope to open one avenue through which PoCs on campus can make their voices heard. All posts published on MiC are written and edited by PoCs, making this a space that is truly ours. On a campus that is 72.6 percent white, having a space just for students of color isn’t just important; it’s essential for our survival and thrival on campus; this space is radical.

MiC isn’t a diversity project, because diversity is just about numbers, and our vision is much bigger than any set of statistics. First and foremost, we hope MiC will create a space where we, as people of color, are free to unapologetically express and be ourselves as we discuss our ideas, goals, dreams and experiences while fostering this collaborative and creative space. Not everything in this space will tackle heavy issues (we are people, after all), but we expect that many of our posts will be powerful and provocative, discussing marginalized and trivialized topics like anti-Blackness, internalized racism and University policies on “diversity and inclusion” that so desperately need to be part of the larger conversation on campus.

We also want this to be a safe space for both our writers and readers, and personal attacks will not be tolerated. This is a platform for speaking out about the lived experiences of students on campus, both good and bad, in whatever creative form writers see fit. We aren’t hostile assailants but pursuers of whispered memories as a source of change instead of shame.

As the founding editors of Michigan in Color, this project means a lot to us. We’re excited; we’re ready.

I’m Jerusaliem Gebreziabher, and I’m here because as a victim of internalized racism (sometimes self-inflicted) I needed this space four years ago. As a first generation American with parents hailing from Ethiopia and heavy strains of Italian blood in my veins, I struggled to identify with anyone and was afraid of being stigmatized if I did. Although I know myself to be more than my race (ironically I’m often mistaken for being everything but Black), I found it hard to find my place on this campus for fear of being lumped into another category. Throughout my life, I’ve felt waves of shame and pride for who I am, where I’ve come from, or the undeniable evidence my physical features reveal about my identity. MiC is a space where I hope to reconcile some of this conflict and connect to those with shared experiences.

I’m Kayla Upadhyaya, and I’m here because I can still recall the overwhelming sense of affirmation and safety I felt the first time I found myself in a room of only other people of color here at the University. With a father who immigrated from India and a white mother, racial identity is oftentimes a source of confusion for me. But over time, my mixed racial background has become as important to who I am and my writing as is my identity as a feminist, and MiC is a space where I can not only explore those parts of my identity but also connect with other PoCs and write about the issues that truly matter to me.

I’m Rima Fadlallah, and I’m here because I believe in the transformational power of storytelling, starting with campus climate. I am a first generation American from Dearborn, Michigan — home to the largest concentration of Arab Americans in one city outside of the Middle-East. My community has been a source of pride, affirmation and empowerment for me, and I would not trade it for anything in this world. The past few years have forced me to navigate a setting where people do not look, act, talk, or think like I do; this would’ve been wonderful if my identities were recognized and celebrated rather than ignored and silenced. Thankfully, I found my niche within communities of color (including but definitely not limited to my own), and MiC is a space where I can engage with other PoCs and also be the proud author of my own narrative.

If you’re interested in joining our team as a regular contributor, e-mail us at michiganincolor@umich.edu to request an application. If you’re a PoC who doesn’t want the commitment of contributing regularly, this space is yours to claim whenever you feel so inclined — just e-mail us your posts! Otherwise, we hope you become a part of this community by engaging with our posts and continuing the conversations beyond this space. Pick up the MiC and share your voice.

Rima Fadlallah is an LSA senior, Kayla Upadhyaya is a Public Policy senior and Jerusaliem Gebreziabher is an LSA senior.

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