It feels like I’ve spent the last week crying on the Usdan floor. Since Thursday when I rushed to the Speakout between a lecture on Palestine and my first shift at work, I haven’t left that space. My voice through the megaphone, unfamiliar and wavering, echoes in my ears. My eyes are still raw from the tears. I thought I’d gotten over feeling violated, thought I’d left behind that night in February, changed my sheets, aired out the room and moved on, but now I’m stuck in Usdan, stuck in February. I feel marked by the violence enacted against me, feel like a public display of pain.
At the black out I wanted so much to be able to be there, to listen, to feel, but even I as a sat wearing black, I was stuck five days in the past, stuck three months ago. Watching the ritual of standing, speaking, bearing witness, my stomach tightened, my eyes blurred and even writing this now my hands are beginning to shake. I stood up and went to get more food from upstairs- unable to stay, angry my own pain got in the way of being able to be an ally, of being able to empathize and listen.
When I came back, someone spoke about constantly hurting deeply, about carrying trauma throughout your whole life and I felt that so much, felt that speaking to my own experience- thought that I could feel with them. So I sat, I listened, I cried, I tried to feel. It wasn’t my pain they were talking about, it isn’t my pain to appropriate. I felt like ass for crying so much because I was taking up so much space and because I knew my tears weren’t fully for this speak out. I’m worried that I don’t know how empathize with people of color without centering my feelings on my own pain. I’m worried that this article is the problem, and that if I read it I would hate the fragile white girl who wrote it.
Because I know that the fact that some boy put his dry fingers inside me and laughed when I asked him to ask for consent does not make me any more equipped to understand racial trauma than any other white person. I’m scared that I don’t want to leave Thursday or February behind- that I’m holding on to the pain to feel anchored. To feel.
The easiest thing is to be numb. We practice a cult of “OK.” We worship the getting by- the just fine, the happy because it’s sunny, sad because it’s raining. If Thursday and Monday show anything- it’s that lots of us aren’t okay lots of the time, and that sucks and we should take action against the things that are causing us pain, but also, it’s okay to not be fine. I’m sick of the constant refrain of “Are you ok?” It’s exhausting to have to be reminded that I shouldn’t be alright, that I have a reason to not be. It’s frustrating to have to lie and say that I am just so other people can be comfortable in a space.
Which is why we need to speak out, to interrupt the OK. By bearing witness to our pain, we challenge the systems that simultaneously produce trauma and deny its very existence. So while I will never feel pain caused by racism in the same way as people of color, we are united in our need to speak out through silence.
We shouldn’t need to speak out though. No one should have to put their pain on display just to be listened to. I shouldn’t have to tell a guy that I was assaulted just to get him to give me enough space to breath. Students of color at this school shouldn’t have to speak about their trauma just to get some institutional support, just to have the Ride start stopping for them. It’s time we build better networks of support on this campus and learn how to care for each other, how to feel authentically and honestly.
The author is a member of the class of 2018.