Dear future Michigan in Color editors

Monday, February 5, 2018 - 9:10pm

Michigan in Color

Michigan in Color Buy this photo
Illustration by Roseanne Chao

 

The Michigan in Color of today is not the same as the one of yesterday, or even the one of tomorrow. From radical column to bona fide Daily section, MiC continues to grow to meet the needs of communities of color across campus. Along with sharing the narratives of the lives of students of color, we are expanding to focus on lighter content with commentary on pop culture and a new blog and podcast. In honor of MiC’s four-year anniversary, we wanted to pay tribute to the amazing women who founded this space, the editors who helped us grow and the future we have left to create.

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Written in 2014

Dear Future Michigan in Color Editors,

We are so excited to welcome you to the MiC family. We know that you are going to have an amazing time with this magical space, and we have no doubt that you will be overwhelmed with the amount of love, affirmation and knowledge that you will gain from your experience. Before you start serving those who will interact with our space, we want the opportunity to first serve you by telling you MiC’s story…

We created MiC because we believe wholeheartedly in the power narrative has to facilitate social change, so we feel it is appropriate and necessary to include the MiC (hi)story in this constitution:  

Rima: The week before my senior year began I was at my apartment on Thompson street talking to my mom on the phone. My mom is an avid novel reader, and she was telling me about how ethnocentric the novels she reads are and how she would love for someone to start a publication that was devoted to publicizing the narratives of people of color to make readers aware of the multitude of experiences that fall under this umbrella. She said: “Take us for example. Someone could write a book about being an Arab American from Dearborn and just walk us through their every-day lives. It doesn’t even have to be heavy! It could simply be about the food the character eats, or the way she interacts with her family. My point is, I’ve been reading the same perspective and I just want something different! People should be aware of other experiences and people of color should be the ones writing about their own lives.”

This idea, that the dominant narrative excludes and silences people of color’s voices, should sound very familiar because it is the premise of Michigan in Color. Its truth was the reason we approached the Daily with our vision for the column. But MiC didn’t come with the snap of our fingers, and as your founding editors, we want you to keep MiC’s history in mind as you invest in its future.

Rima: I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan — home to the largest concentration of Arabs in one city outside of the Middle East. Ironically, I didn’t realize how “Arab” I was until I came to Michigan, a school that is 72 percent white. I spent my first three years trying to understand why I felt uncomfortable, and realized really early on that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way, that most people of color do not feel represented or welcome on Michigan’s campus. Places like the Michigan Daily, a publication even whiter than U of M, made me especially uncomfortable, but I really believed in the necessity of a column where people of color could share their stories. I felt that my campus’s publication should make room for a space like this if it was going to claim to be representative of all students on campus. I first approached the Daily expressing interest in one of their columnist positions because I love to share my opinions (who knew?) and I felt the position could help me make connections within the Daily.  

I e-mailed the Daily a few times over the summer about the application and received no response. When I got to campus early that Fall, I approached a Daily staffer about the opportunity and he responded pretty condescendingly: “We’re no longer accepting applications for that position and, no offense, but we usually only offer those positions to really important people. Like students who are really heavily involved on campus. You can still join edit-board though if you’re interested in writing for Opinion.” I was extremely confused by this man’s response considering he didn’t even know my name, but I thanked him anyway and decided I would join edit-board because it was the only way I could be involved with the Daily and possibly forge relationships with people who might believe in my vision.

After the first few edit-board meetings, I realized that biting my tongue was something I would have to get used to doing while in the student publication building. After all, that’s what the other two POCs in the room did — even when [white] people on edit-board said crazy things like: “Race isn’t a thing — it’s a social construct. Because it’s not biologically a thing, I’m not going to treat it like it’s a thing,” or “Detroit is useless. We should just burn the whole city down,” or “What the hell is the point of diversity education and why do we talk so much about it? There’s no point in educating people about diversity,” and lastly, “Why do we keep blaming Israel for everything! There are horrible things going on everywhere in the world - why do we keep picking on Israel!? (*cries and shoves gummy bears in her mouth*)” It made me sick to my stomach to hear the “leaders and best” saying such ignorant, silencing and offensive things. If I wasn’t already convinced walking into the Publication Building, my few weeks with edit-board furthered my conviction in starting our column. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut for long though.

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One day, a staffer sent out an e-mail to the entire Daily staff likening an annual Michigan Daily football match to, in his careless words, a “Shiite vs. Sunni rivalry.” At this point, I was tired of having to bite my tongue when it didn’t seem anyone else around me felt accountable for theirs. I emailed then Editor in Chief, Andrew Weiner, because I got a pleasant and friendly vibe from him; still, I didn’t expect much, but I hoped he would be responsive to my concerns at the very least. Sure enough, Andrew set up a meeting with me and included Zeinab Khalil — a fierce Daily columnist who was also extremely triggered by the malicious email — and the [white] asshole (we’ll refer to him as WA) who wrote the email.

The only thing that came out of that meeting was Zeinab and I realizing more and more how silencing white privilege can be, and Andrew recognizing that the Daily may have a serious problem with diversity and inclusion. WA refused to apologize even after Andrew asked him to several times. Instead, he raised his voice to try to intimidate Zeinab and I because he was very uncomfortable with two women of color putting him on the defensive. By the end of the meeting, Andrew still could not get WA to apologize and had to, instead, apologize profusely on WA’s behalf. Andrew told Zeinab and I that he wanted to meet with us again in the coming weeks to discuss ways to make the Daily more inclusive to and representative of people of color on campus.  

Shortly after this incident, I approached Zeinab Khalil with her idea for the column and she helped me refine my ideas and come up with a more solid vision for the column. I always admired Zeinab’s critical mind and devotion to social justice — her belief in the vision made me so much more confident talking to other friends and using their feedback to create a more holistic plan for the column. Zeinab and I agreed that we would present our notes to Andrew during our follow up meeting with him.  

Andrew was extremely receptive and willing to implement pretty much anything we asked for. He told Zeinab and I that he would love for us to co-found the space. Zeinab politely declined the offer because she was busy founding the kick-ass Michigan Women of Color Collective (MWOCC), an organization that significantly transformed the face of student activism within communities of color during our senior year and is a huge reason why MiC is so successful today.  

During this conversation, Andrew introduced me to Kayla, a senior and another woman of color, who had been writing for the Daily since her freshman year. I remember hearing Kayla speak at one of the Daily mass meetings, and I always admired her boss status from afar. She edited the Arts section of the Daily and had been working for the Daily for three years. Andrew said that she heard about the column idea and was very interested in co-founding the column with me. Kayla then got in touch with Jerusaliem, another talented woman of color whom she felt would be perfect for the third editing position. Jerusaliem, Kayla, Zeinab and I collaborated on a Google Doc titled “POC Space in the Daily” and “Name/Mission Statement” that we have saved for you in your “History and Constitution” folder. These documents were basically the building blocks for what is now Michigan in Color and could probably help you understand better the raw thoughts we had before MiC became the monster it is today.

Shortly after Zeinab helped Kayla, Jerus and I finalize our Mission Statement, Vision and name. For the first time, Kayla, Jerus and I met up at State street’s Espresso Royale as the MiC Editorial Team (still strangers) to write the first ever MiC Drop (that we decided we would publish, not coincidentally, on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday). Before we published it though, Jerus and I attended MLK Symposium events and started spreading the word about Michigan in Color and encouraging people to apply to contribute. We individually and collectively reached out to our friends within the Daily, in various student orgs and even on other campuses to spread the word. We attended meetings to get people to sign up and obviously, we Facebooked and Tweeted our asses off. All that was great, and while we’re sure it helped spread the word about what we were doing, we want you to understand how important personal relationships were in making MiC happen.

Zeinab’s Women of Color Collective was an organization that united over 200 amazing women of color from all walks of life. At any given meeting, there were at least 30 women ready to share their hearts and speak their truths. In MWOCC’s Facebook group, women of color can post to an audience of 240 other WOC who are ready to listen and respond with love, support and affirmation. Because of the relationships that came out of this wonderful collective, student groups of color were able to forge personal, social and political relations for the first time in our four years at the U. Prior to our senior year, we had all belonged to different communities of color who dealt with issues independently, rarely receiving support or offering a lending hand to other communities of color on campus dealing with similar issues.  

Because of MWOCC, real relationships happened across these lines of difference, and because of the genuine love that transcended these imaginary walls, real activism and coalition building happened. Without MWOCC, momentous movements like the Black Student Union’s #BBUM (Being Black at Michigan), and Students Allied for Freedom and Equality’s #UMDivest campaign/sit in — two student-led movements that gained national attention that year — would not have been able to garner as much genuine support and allyhood as they did. Largely because of the relationships we built in MWOCC, your founding editors were able to attract contributors and a solid reader base who trusted and believed in us. MWOCC helped us form real relationships with women who would ride and die for us and our movement. It helped Jerus, Kayla and I understand one another as more than just co-editors — by the end of the year, we became life-long sisters in a movement larger than we could imagine. Our time together as MiC editors — though far too short — has changed each of our lives forever. 

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We can’t stress enough how important keeping the trust and genuine relationships will be in the years to come. Because MiC has developed a name for itself, it is unlikely you will have to worry about outreach (after the first few weeks, we were overwhelmed with the amount of submissions we were getting). But that’s not our point.

Yes, you are editors and managers of this column, but what you are working with is so much more important than marketing and statistics. MiC was attractive because there was a need for a platform that amplified the voices of people of color, but it was successful because people knew, loved and trusted someone involved with Michigan in Color. While keeping this trust will undoubtedly look different than gaining it, it will require from each of you just as much reflection, humility and love as it did from us.

And trust us, you will receive it in return. The amount of support, affirmation and love that we got from those interacting with this space got us through our toughest days. You will receive random e-mails from people across the nation telling you that they appreciate your work. You will be showered with compliments in Tweets and Facebook posts. You will have allies who defend your work every time someone posts a stupid and ignorant Facebook comment under an article. You will run into people on campus who remind you how much they love you for the work you are doing. And you will be worthy of all of it because you are amazing, brave and dedicated to this movement. You are the facilitators of a discourse that needs to be happening in our nation. You are the enablers of voices and narratives who have been silenced, discouraged, marginalized and oppressed for far too long.  

You will be playing defense and offense at the same damn time. You will be defending this space from anything that tries to harm it (we wouldn’t be surprised if, as it gains more traction, the “no whites allowed” element becomes more controversial). You need to truly believe in our MiC Drops and embody MiC’s Purpose and Vision because you will need to defend them time and time again if you haven’t had to already. You will be playing offense because you will have to constantly ask what communities of color on campus need and want out of MiC and then ask yourselves whether MiC is fulfilling this need. A huge part of your job is to continue to develop this space so it is all that it can be for POCs at or affiliated with Michigan.

And the job description ain’t the half of it. You will each be a full-time poster child for this space, whether you like it or not. This reality is why you should be able to defend anything and everything you do as editors, students, activists and young adults. There will be times when your activism — both in and outside of MiC — will come under attack (in our experience, especially if you are pro-Palestinian). You need to support one another during these times but continue to be brave and unapologetic about the work that you do because it’s not about you. It is so important to embody MiC’s vision and purpose in all that you do, because your undying belief in this movement is the reason spaces like these are visible, replicable and powerful. In these moments of controversy, consistency and conviction is key. You need to think about the bigger picture at all times: could the backlash, criticism and verbal violence from white peers be exactly why a space like MiC needs to exist for us? If communities of color are upset or unsatisfied, what could we be doing better to ensure they feel welcome and represented in a space created for them? 

Our intention is not to scare you (and we know you’re too badass and committed to be scared anyway), but we want you to know that the worst thing you can do for yourselves, for others and for MiC is to undermine the power and importance of this work. As you change lives this year, don’t let modesty get in the way of recognizing and celebrating the revolution you are leading, but be humble enough to learn from those around you every step of the way.

With much love and respect,

 

Your Founding Editors

 

Jerusaliem Geb

Rima Fadlallah

Kayla Upadhyaya

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