Professor, does only one person of color get to talk per class? I’ve been searching for the answer in the syllabus but only see the readings. Is it, like, a quota? A quota for the white people here, that is? Is there a limit to how many “race issues” they can handle per day? Is it gonna take six weeks for all of us to speak—yeah, there’s only six of us here, and we are wavering.
My hand is not in the form of a fist, but it is raised erect, with the rigidity of a flagpole, waiting for a chance to declare patriotism to my people. Your eyes wander across my patient face set in amber and keep going. We’ve been talking about Manifest Destiny in film and you want to make sure that the white students understand what that is.
Tristan flings his hand into the air and you call upon him. He says, and I quote, albeit loosely,
I’ve had many debates with my friends on the value of certain movies, because I am of the opinion that certain generations will produce movies that have offensive content or lack representation in one way or another, but that does not take away from their value.
I look at this gringo head-on, like seriously. Like, Professor, my hand’s reaching for the stars and tickling the underbelly of Mars. You launch into an explanation about inclusivity that is more a footnote than a lesson—and I finally get chosen to speak, and I point out that it is an advantage CERTAIN PEOPLE have to not care about representation when they are already represented.
Tristan mentally notes this, apparently for the first time, and raises his hand again—and actually gets a rebuttal in. He drones on for a while before Addison raises her hand to back up his devil-advocacy.
But, Tristan: I don’t care that society “was” racist when racist directors got racist budgets to make racist movies. They’re not poor, working-class heroes who had to succumb to the degradation of other human beings to not-starve. That just means they profited off of racism while we starved.
Meanwhile, I see you, sis; brown honey with the deep-set bangs, your hand only raised to the height of your neck. If these white people keep talking you might strangle yourself. I see the weight upon your hand, sitting “Indian-style” on the comments you want to make. Your hand tires from the gravity of this institution, the gravity white people inhabit when they talk about race.
Dustin thinks it’s important to say that “real analysts” need to acknowledge the value of cinematography before writing off a film for its “disrespectful remarks” on “certain groups.”
I sit there thinking, Motherfucker. I don’t need to do anything that takes away my humanity.
But Professor, you agree with him and say that there might be more complexities in a film that require that film to use “certain language.” White students in the class nod their heads; they just got an excuse to jerk off to Quentin Tarantino’s pasty, n-word-saying ass.
The discussion—it’s more a social experiment in whiteness at this point—turns to the reading. Professor, your voice sounds like the air conditioning in the background, but you’re counteracting the machine’s work when you blow hot air into white egos and announce the ways that capitalism has commercialized souls and attempted to sell audiences their humanity. All the counterculture kids are in bored awe, processing what it would be like to buy their humanness. I guess only six of us here remember slavery.
It’s so odd, such a—dare I say, Enlightening—experience to sit in this classroom. I have already built a panel of solidarity with half of the people of color in this class; I remind you, that’s three people, myself included, sitting in a corner, refusing to spread out like fat-free butter in this room full of crackers.
Sometimes, when there is a lull, I look at the faces around me. I see Rachel Dolezal-lookin’ asses, I see polos, I see farmer’s tans, I see so-white they’re red. In this space, I am the alien; my name is a hieroglyphic. Even my voice is free labor.
Professor, you finally call upon a second student of color; I am happy. She is my friend. But you ask her a question where you only want a specific word as an answer. I watch the faces of our white classmates as she struggles to find that word. I swear that they don’t know half of the languages she knows—not English, not Spanish, not the assimilated speech of PWI—but they bask in the presence of her stutters regardless.
Closing remarks. Chad speaks again; his speech is a snowfall of middle-ground.
Certain groups of people will be offended when slurs are used in film. But the film’s merit…
What! Oh, Chad. Ten points for you, Chad! Your participation is exemplary. The way you give merit to moving pictures before beating hearts is just really—what’s a word white people like to use?
But, Chad . . . what “certain groups of people?” What certain groups of people, Chad? You’re so vague, Chad. Your tongue can’t take Tabasco, Cholula, or the words “Black and Brown.” You’ll serenade a racist picture before naming its victims. All because its victims are in the same room as you right now.
I wonder how your speech would change if six was zero.
Chad, take a seat. Take another seat.
Take the backseat.
Caridad Cruz (they/them) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.