THE STRIPES VOICES ON RACE, C U L T U R E , A N D MINOR ITY IDENTITY V
THE S TA F F Editors-in-Chief Aisha Oxley Emily Tu Production Manager Lauren Richardson Design & Layout Emily Tu
Staff Editors Julie Chen Rajeshwari Enjeti Sally Lee Zeena Mubarak Denay Richards Lauren Richardson Rosed Serrano
Special thanks to the ODUS Campus Conversations on Identities Fund, USG Projects Board, the Carl A. Fields Center, and the Program in American Studies for their generous support and funding.
Dear readers and contributors, Nearly three years ago, we first wrote to you to explain the mission of The Stripes: “We are encouraging a discourse, both necessary and new, on the cultural issues our generation faces.” Since then, many of you have contributed to making that discourse a reality through our blog. You’ve written on topics of a wide range, from the complex of Asian “uncool” to the silencing of women in the Black Lives Matter movement to the struggle of clarifying Latinx identity through language. You’ve commented, shared, retweeted, liked and otherwise spread these pieces across the Internet, making sure they are read, discussed, and engaged. Because of you we’ve garnered thousands of views and thousands of followers, and our presence continues to grow. Of course, there comes a time in the lifespan of every publication when the mission has to be reassessed— perhaps not for its substance but for how well it is being met. We’ve decided that the Stripes needs to be reenergized and our audience reinvigorated. Our mission remains the same, but we are expanding the medium through which we approach it: in print. In our very first print issue, we’ve compiled a selection of essays, editorials, poetry, short stories, creative pieces and photographs that represents both where we’ve been and where we’re going. We’re celebrating some of our most poignant, salient pieces published on the blog and introducing new content that continues the discourse we’ve set in motion. As you turn these pages, we encourage you to reflect on our evolution with us and engage with us further. Some may say we’ve done it backwards — from a blog to a print publication. Rest assured, you can share the print issue online via ISSUU. And in any case, isn’t it exciting to be holding a piece of Stripes’ history in your hands? We know it is. Enjoy, Aisha Oxley and Emily Tu Editors-in-Chief
Forever Foreigner: Language / Namkyu Oh ’16
mahjong / Christie Jiang ’17
August 2015 / Lynse Cooper ’16
July 2015 / Lynse Cooper ’16
Black Skin and a Voice Like Honey / Zeena Mubarak ’17
Notes on Microagression: When my Arabic 101 professor / Namkyu Oh ’16
January 2016 / Lynse Cooper ’16
January 2016 / Lynse Cooper ’16
The Criminalization of Migration / Courtney Perales ’17
Alternate Names for Intelligent Black Boys / Malachi Byrd ’19
Detroit, 1982 / Nick Sexton ’16
#MikeBrown or, the day our bodies became hashtags / Aisha Oxley ’16
Limbo / Emily Tu ’16
The Interrogation / Azza Cohen ’16
Silenci / Alice Frederick ’17
‘Not Spoken’ Don’t Mean ‘Not True’ / Malachi Byrd ’19
Say That Again / Namkyu Oh ’16
Black Affinity Spaces: A Necessity / Destiny Crockett ’17
The Things You Won’t Remember: The Plight of the Black Male in America / Lovia Gyarkye ’16
Forever Foreigner: Language Namkyu Oh ’16 Korean fits my teeth the way hand-me- downs did. All my relatives speak to me like my words can barely walk and still wear diapers. My grandmother uses my father as a translator. In Seoul, I am the American cousin. In Princeton, I am the Asian friend – my voice a suitcase lost during a layover. I have two tongues and only one mouth. If you showed me five family trees with only names written in Korean, I couldn’t tell you where my grandfather was. I walk the streets in Seoul layered to the sky with neon billboards and might as well not have eyes. I bring my friends to a Korean spot where the waitress corrects my pronunciation on an entrée and I might as well not have skin. My mother heard her baby’s first words and had to grab the dictionary. My father heard his boy tell him he loved him in the same tongue that called him chink. They speak to me in English to show me they still love me. I speak to them in Korean to show them I am still their son, still the same boy they used to hold still the same boy with a throat caught between two alphabets – every conversation still a scrambling to stay afloat – screaming underwater.
Namkyu Oh was born in Seoul, South Korea—raised all over New Jersey—and learned how to speak English from Staten Island baby boomers. He is a member of Songline Slam Poetry and tweets about middle school romance @NamqOh.
MAHJONG Christie Jiang ’17 1968, 1968, 1995, 2002 2002, 2009, 2010, 2015 * Our parents used to play rounds of card games at church group gatherings, seated around a picnic or dining table, talking and laughly loudly. These card games were a mystery to me – especially the ones called zhaopengyou (“looking for friends”) and zhengshangyou (“swimming upstream”) which they played most of the time – so we kids stuck with spit, uno, spoons, ladache (towing the truck), and lots and lots of MASH. During one such gathering, an older girl was reading The Joy Luck Club. I tried to read it – it was very boring, and sitting on a picnic blanket in the warm, humid summer didn’t help my drowsiness. It painted majiang (alright, fine – mahjong) as some exotic but essential aspect of Chinese women’s social experiences, set apart from their husbands. However, my laolao and laoye (maternal grandmother and grandfather) had brought us a mahjong set when we were younger, and we as a family learned to play it. It didn’t leave a deep impression on me – mahjong seemed to be just another card game, but with tiles instead of cards. We soon left it in a closet, unsure when it would be touched again. My little brother soon latched onto video games, and we as a family latched onto Clue, Monopoly, and Apples to Apples. The Amazon blurb for The Joy Luck Club reads, “In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club.” Chinese-Americans did not live like this, as far as I knew; Chinese-Americans played card games and board games, not mahjong. * When we visited China one summer, my yeye and nainai (paternal grandfather and grandmother) installed an air conditioning unit in a room of their old little house where my father had grown up, in order to accommodate our “Western” comforts. They were the first in their town to install A/C and the first to get a radio, electric fan, television set, and motorcycle back in the day, as my yeye told me proudly. My brother wouldn’t leave the air conditioned room, where he ended up watching cartoons all day. He had no interest in anything else in that muggy, rural, Chinese summer. My grandparents joked – with a hint of sadness – that he, the only
one born on American soil, was more American than Chinese. Conveniently, his Chinese improved as he watched so many cartoons, listened to the Jay Chou songs I had begun to obsess over, and was forced to speak in Chinese with our grandparents. But after we came back, his Chinese quickly deteriorated. Around that time, we stopped playing games as a family. Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet had been around the block enough times. * The mysterious Chinese games that I grew up watching my parents play began to lose their charm, too. We moved and I learned from new friends that zhengshangyou was a lot like scum and president, and that zhaopengyou was a variation of bridge. My parents’ new friends didn’t play card games at parties. Rather, they favored gossiping about their children, talking about college, planning yet another group vacation, talking about church, and singing karaoke. Good things, but no cards and no dice. My Chinese-American friends at my nerdy high school got together to play mahjong in the main dorm lobby, eager to demonstrate and practice their heritage. Then in college I overheard a few acquaintances talking about playing mahjong together. These occasions made me feel a combination of indignant and excluded – games of mahjong in these settings seemed cheesy to me, robbing it of both its Joy Luck Club-mystique and its comforting ties to home, but still I wanted to play. * Imagine my surprise when I picked up our smooth, solid mahjong pieces once again thanks to my brother, the little one who had cast off his China and had grown up on Cheerios and Minecraft. We had unpacked that old mahjong set a couple of times over the years, each time at my father’s mention. But this time, my brother begged us to play after dinner, which was when we used to play Clue, Monopoly, and Apples to Apples. Happily, we laid out a blanket on our breakfast table, unlatched the box, and tilted it to let the pieces crash onto the now-protected surface. Arrange, arrange – four sides vaguely resembling a box, though each side too long to connect at corners – two pieces tall, fourteen long in each row. Then we picked up the blocks to build our Scrabble-like rows to play a game far superior to Scrabble. And so we played, turn after turn, round after round, joy after joy. Joy at feeling the engravings on each tile, joy at outwitting each other, joy while laughing at my brother’s frustration from losing too many times. This mahjong, as I had suspected, was no mystery. It was familiarity. As much as The Joy Luck Club had propelled Chinese-America into the public literary world, it had made mahjong, and what it meant to be Chinese-American, foreign to me. It could not and should not speak for my experience. Of course, it had never claimed to do so, but it was the token piece on which we Americans – Chinese or not – had laid our expectations. We arrange, play, shuffle, arrange, play. Since then, every return home has meant a few more lines added to our ongoing sheet of scores, and thankfully no clear winner has emerged yet, so we play on. Mahjong has plucked up the four of us and arranged us around this table like nothing else has. We play and then, interrupted by a phone call or homework or me going back to school, we shuffle again. Christie Jiang is a junior minoring in ethnographic and urban studies, and majoring in environmental engineering and being an overly-attached big sister. She believes The Stripes has created unprecedented opportunities for us Princetonians to read and write our most important stories, and for that she is very grateful.
Lynse Cooper â€˜16 August 2015
Lynse Cooper is a senior majoring in psychology who is also receiving a certificate in VIS. She is from Sacramento, California.
Lynse Cooper â€˜16 July 2015
black skin and a voice like honey Zeena Mubarak ’17 Like most grandmas, mine liked to tell stories. She was made for it. She was short and wide, with a billion wrinkles folded into one another, like elaborate human origami. Her skin was the color of peanut butter and she always smelled like her daily cocoa butter routine. We children used to say she was carved out of candy. But her glory was in her voice. Her voice was bull strong and sugar sweet and had the power to make every word into a jewel. I used to dream about someday borrowing that voice, when I was big enough to carry it, but that was before I learned that voices like my grandma’s were kept secret. Now, when I was little, I didn’t like having my hair combed. She knew how to sort me out. “Come here, baby girl,” she said. “Let me braid your hair and I’ll tell you a story.” ——— Once in a place, in the oldest of times, there was a famous princess. Conventional wisdom held that she was quite ugly. The princess’ story began before she was born, when her father the king shocked his people by marrying a woman with skin the color of chocolate. It was whispered that she must be an enchantress. How else could a woman so dark have ensnared the king? In due time, the new queen became swollen with the country’s future. It was a difficult delivery and she labored for many hours. When the baby was finally ripped free, it was wrapped up and taken away from her. She turned and grabbed the hand of her favorite maid. “Well,” said the queen, “What have I brought into this world?” “It’s a girl.” The queen closed her eyes in resignation. God does not answer every prayer. Her next question came out in a faltering tone unbecoming of her majesty. “And she has her father’s color?” “She has skin of coal,” said the maid. “Doubly cursed, the poor little wretch,” said the queen and she set about the task of raising her daughter. But babies, like cats, understand everything and so the little princess grew up with knowledge of her two curses inscribed in her bones. She and her mother kept to themselves. They spent most of their time in her mother’s apartments and gardens, with infrequent excursions on the orders of the king. The king was a faraway god to his daughter, capricious and dangerous, occasionally loving and kind. Every day, the little princess watched him kiss her mother and then disappear into the outside world of dignitaries and women with creamy gold skin. The golden women hated her.
She had skin of black satin (“Look at her, with her skin the color of coals. Hardly fit for a king’s daughter to always look like a maid in a chimney.”) Her limbs were long and graceful (“Far too tall to be a girl. Are we certain she isn’t a little prince?”) Her hair was thick and strong, a powerful halo of twisting curl (“They ought to tame that lion’s mane.”) “Why don’t they like me, Mama?” “Don’t worry about it, child,” said the queen. “They may look like humans, but really they are monsters with vipers instead of tongues.” This answer did not satisfy the little princess and she struck back with the precise cruelty of children. “Does Baba have a snake for a tongue?” Her mother slapped her. Palm met cheek in a violent kiss. The only sort of kiss, the princess thought ruefully, that skin this black deserved. She made her friends among the birds in her mother’s gardens. They lived in a parallel kingdom above her’s, their jewel bright colors a shocking tapestry against an azure sky. They sang wonderfully, intricate patterns of high angel voices twisting beautifully with one another. Sometimes, alone in her bed at night, she tried to copy their songs. It comforted her, bringing the beauty of the birds back inside with her. She was outside with the birds when her father found her. “I have found you a husband,” he said, not unkindly. He was good at being gentle with her when there was no one else to see. Still, it was not a question. “He’s a king. He will take care of you.” She wanted to ask if this king had gardens overflowing with birds, but she did not want her father to say she was silly. “I’m sure you know best, Baba,” she said. There is no sentence men like better. It was a good match, by any metric. The one king would get rid of a daughter disliked by his people. The other king would gain a dowry. There was nothing to dislike. The little princess fretted for months. She stayed out of the sun so as not to darken her hated skin. She applied potion after potion to her head to try and tame the wild masses. After the customs of their people, the bride and groom were not to see one another until their wedding day. But at last that day arrived, and the princess was draped in red bridal silk. She was covered in the best of her mother’s gold and the best of her new husband’s gifts. Her proud height displayed the jewelry fully, and her dark skin contrasted majestically with her bride’s dress of red. Her hair had been made into a thousand braids, the thickness a display of her health and prosperity. ——— “Did she look pretty?” I asked anxiously. There was a thousand other somethings in the question, the kind of somethings that were too big for my childish mouth. My grandmother put one hand on my shoulder and turned me around to face her. “Pretty?” she said with obvious frustration. Maybe there are some somethings that are too big for even a grandma’s mouth. “Honey, she was magnificent.” ——— The princess was carried into the wedding chamber. She looked anxiously about for her new husband. She could see her parents standing there. Her father, as ever, was inscrutable. Her mother was holding her breath. The holy man came forward to perform the ceremony. She was placed on a couch, and a handmaiden came forward to remove her veil. The princess looked around immediately for the unfamiliar face. There he was, her betrothed, a tall man of perhaps twenty five years. He was handsome with broad shoulders, honey skin and sleek hair. But his face was twisted in disgust.
“I was told that I would find the princess unhandsome,” he said in a voice like rocks. “But I was not told she would be so grotesquely tall, so unfortunately black, so, so… How can I look upon that skin every morning? How can I walk the palace with her by my side? What apes would she birth and call my sons and daughters? No! This marriage cannot be.” The princess stood up swiftly at this pronouncement. She was perfectly still and her chin was lifted high. His words had talons, but she refused to let them snatch her dignity. She looked at her father, whose cheeks had gone red with humiliation. Her mother had turned away. With shocking composure, she walked out of the room, the gold on her arms and neck glittering proudly. Once out of sight, she broke into a run and ended up, as always, in her mother’s gardens. God, make me into a bird so I can fly away from here, the princess prayed. She could almost see her new fluttery wings, purple maybe or crimson red. She could imagine what it would feel like to be light and pretty, no longer clumsy and earth-bound. But God does not answer every prayer. She opened her mouth and, almost involuntarily, began to sing with the birds for the first time. Oh, who could say that her voice at least was not gorgeous? She had a voice like honey, rich and sweet and high and clear. Her voice reached high into the heavens and the birds themselves stopped their fluttery little tasks to listen. They came down to her, the little birds, and rained little feathery kisses on her cheeks and hair. She smiled, pleased. But when she stopped singing, they protested with urgent squeaks. She started her song again, and the birds were enchanted. They flew around her and in her hair. As her song grew longer, they began to try and copy it. They wanted to sing with her, like her. But their voices could not compare to her’s in beauty and power. More and more birds came down and surrounded the princess. Those who came called for their fellows, asking in the language of the birds for one who could perform their own art just as well as this human. The best of the bird champions were called. But even they could not match her song; it swelled and swooped around them. They could not understand her strange beauty, so they could not even come close to overtaking it. As the number of birds grew larger, their frustration mounted. How could it be that she, an awkward and grounded Adam-child might chirp and tweet better than those made to chirp and tweet? The birds fed on one another’s jealousy. It was suggested that they leave and stop trying. But then the song would still exist, reminding the entire world that there was one who had bested the birds. It could not stand. So they flew as one to her throat and they ripped out the song, and her life’s blood stained her chest and face with bridal red. ——— My grandmother’s voice crescendoed with the princess’s life and faltered on her death. She gave up the ending almost timidly, like a secret she wished she could keep. I didn’t yet know whose claws and beaks had reached for my grandmother’s golden voice, but I knew enough to heed her warning. So it was in a whisper that I asked, “But what happened next? How did they fix it? She can’t have died.” One hand was pressed firmly to my own throat, trying to keep my beauty from escaping. “I don’t know,” my grandmother said. “Your hair is finished.” And she fixed a bead to my final braid.
Notes on Microagression: When my Arabic 101 professor Namkyu Oh ’16 who was fifty years old, born and raised in Poland, asked me whether I was any part Mongol, I did not feel exhausted like when people ask No, where are you really from. I was relieved – because that meant she didn’t smell rotting fish. It meant she didn’t see the slit eyes and think a samurai or Hiroshima. Instead, she saw my three mustache hairs and smelled Genghis’s stallions. She felt enough of a Northwest China wind to ask about the weather back home. I looked at her blankly and saw that she was just happily eating the entire meal with the wrong side of the chopsticks, that this was just my fourth grade classmate asking me where in China, Korea was, that I was some sort of dog-owner to a puppy who stared at my mouth for an explanation to these chink eyes like my words smelled of bacon, and she wagged her tail while I stood and tapped my foot waiting for her to point out the shit in the corner.
Alternate Names for Intelligent Black Boys Malachi Byrd ’19 after Danez Smith 1. Undertow 2. Tension between Saturday morning and Sunday night 3. Change found in upper-class sofas 4. Ironmen of broken shackles 5. Wasted shooting star 6. Obligated insomnia 7. New writing on weathered whiteboards 8. One man’s trash 9. Racecar without airbags 10. HBCU coated in Ivy 11. First generation grandfather clock with hands afraid of Twelve. Malachi “MalPractice” Byrd is a 19 year-old rebel from Washington, D.C. The inaugural youth poet laureate of The District, he uses poetry and hip-hop to comprehend his Blackness, his poverty, his privilege, and himself.
The Criminalization of Migration Courtney Perales ’17 Two summers ago, I volunteered in the Arizona desert with No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid organization, which provides food, water, and basic supplies for migrants who are traveling through the Arizona deserts and mountains. They provide vital humanitarian aid, medical treatment, and organize protests and visibility campaigns to raise awareness about the hundreds of deaths that occur every year in the deserts. It wasn’t until I had this experience with No More Deaths that I learned how over 6,000 people have perished along the Mexico-US border since 2000 and the complete disregard that politicians and border police have for these lives lost. People disappear every day in the desert, yet there isn’t some national outcry to provide these individuals with emergency shelter or medical treatment. The fact that no one is talking about this humanitarian crisis at our southern border reveals the horrifying reality that in the United States, some lives just don’t matter. Conversations around border security and militarization often ignore the deadly consequences of their implementation along the Mexico-US border. Through the construction and fortification of a border wall, migrants have been funneled from previously traveled trails to the mountains and remote desert areas. Since 2000, thousands of people have died attempting to cross the Mexico-US border and the number of deaths continues to rise. It is deeply disturbing that after spending days traveling through extreme conditions in the desert in order to get to this country, migrants are received with cruel treatment from immigration police, racist rhetoric in the media, and restrictive immigration policies. When apprehended by immigration authorities, migrants are often denied adequate food, water, and blankets while in their holding cells. These cells are called “ICE boxes” and are known for their near freezing temperatures, overcrowding, and poor food. Some cite the poor conditions in these cells as being a form of psychological torture on the part of the border patrol. Border patrol agents are also known to vandalise water drop sites by slashing or kicking life-saving water that is meant for migrants. They have a history of lethal violence in the Southwest and have been implicated in the deaths of over 40 people since 2010. Their reputation for brutality is so pervasive that humanitarian aid organizations like No More Deaths, End Operation Streamline, and Derechos Humanos have dubbed it a “culture of cruelty.” Once transferred from border patrol custody to federal court, some are subject to public humiliation in criminal court, shackled and presented as dangerous criminals. The court proceeding is known as Operation Streamline, and is operational in the Border States of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Operation Streamline can sentence up to 75 migrants to prison every day in under two hours for the felony charge of “illegal entry.” Upon attending an actual Operation Streamline court proceeding, I was horrified by the lengths the state took to criminalize migrants. People were chained by their hands and feet and were required to answer judges in Spanish, even if they didn’t speak the language. They served sentences between 30 and 180 days all for entering into the country without proper documentation, something that had previously been labeled a misdemeanor before 2005. Operation Streamline takes places in border cities like Tucson, Arizona and Del Rio, Texas and continues to profit from the “othering” and criminalization of immigrants. Once they are sentenced and placed in prison or detention center facilities, migrants continue to face poor treatment and physical and verbal abuse from prison guards and detention center officers. People cross the border every day for more working opportunities, to be reunited with their loved ones, and to escape violence in their countries of origin. Instead of being heralded like the heroes they are, they are met with racialized state policies, abusive border patrol agents and detention center officers, and dehumanizing rhetoric. This is shameful and the United States needs to be held accountable for its actions both abroad in the countries of these migrants and at its own border. Though there is much work that needs to be done in condemning this oppressive and racist immigration system, the actions and powerful testimonies of migrants and undocumented peoples throughout the country have brought the conversation a long way. These individuals have propelled change through their incredible artwork, writing, public disruptions, and active resistance. And in spite of the state of immigration, that is beautiful. This article is for my father’s parents, Sylvia and Luis Perales, who migrated from Peru so that their children might have a better life. You are the real heroes and are dearly missed every day. Courtney Perales is from Windsor, Connecticut. She is a junior in the Anthropology Department and getting certificates in Latino Studies and Latin American Studies. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lynse Cooper ‘16 January 2016
Lynse Cooper ‘16 January 2016 15
DETROIT, 1982 Nick Sexton ’16 This story is a dramatized account of the murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American man who was killed in 1982 in Detroit, bludgeoned into a coma with a baseball bat by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz. The club is labyrinthine. Men gander at the rows of women who flip like acrobats, legs spreading and closing like scissors, maneuvering the towering poles, winking at the hungry faces staring from below. Men throw dollar bills at the women. One woman, Racine, crawls over to my friend and snatches a five dollar bill out of his hand with her teeth. She has spunk. There is a fog machine spewing mist around the girls, obscuring the faces of the guys like me who look up at these women on pedestals, enthralled by their sexuality. I know it’s dirty. But hell, this is the last time I can do this, the last time to stare these girls down. It’s a tradition and I have to go out with a bang. It’s been years, coming here after work with the guys. In the haze of the club I can only see Starlene’s pulsating body, her legs wrapped around the pole, strumming the sleek metal like a violin string. Her swarthy legs are long and lean, her silhouette in the dim light of the club excites me. I am kind of tipsy but I am okay. We had a couple of shots, but this is my bachelor party, so I deserve it. I am getting married. I am getting fucking married. I am going to marry Vicki. Victoria Wong. The words tingle on my tongue. They dance out of my voice box, wiggle up my throat, and my tongue sends the sweet sound out for the world to hear. Vic-tor-i-a. I am the victor, the man who has won the trophy. I am going to take your porcelain hand in mine and we will take a trip to Lake Erie and camp out in a cabin on the shores. We are going to splash in the freshwater of the lake in naked feet, granules of sand between our toes. The water will cover our ankles and recede, cover and recede. My toes will wrinkle and so will yours. I will caress your neck and we will lie down on a knit blanket and be together, just us, alone. I will look down at your legs next to mine. Yours: curved and bare. Mine: angular and hairy. I will tickle your nose with my nose and we will giggle. We won’t be able to help but smile until we start laughing, brimming with joy like an overflowing glass of good beer, because, shit, we’re together. We’re married. But that’s not until next week and so now, I can put this dollar in Starlene’s thong. “Come here. Why are you being so coy? Okay, fine, fine, you don’t like Chinese guys, I get it. That’s fine. Then get outta here. I can do better. You’re not even pretty anyway, just a pair of legs. Shoo, get out of here.” I just need another beer. Someone, gimme another beer. ——— Who is this punk shooing Starlene away? I swear nowadays every time I stop by this place I see another Jap through the smoke saying something stupid to these fine women. These are my ladies. They know me. Every time they give me a lap dance, I know they make it last a bit longer because they know what Ronald is packing. I love it when they wear silk. All I need is a lady wearing silk and a couple of shots and I am damn good. My neighbor is out of work again and it’s because of these Japs. Three years ago, a swarm of the yellow horde came into my neighborhood and pushed that nice Italian family out of their row house. They used to cook spaghetti and invite me and Nita over, but now the only things that come out of that house are kamikaze lunatics waving their red fucking sun flags around the neighborhood, yelping like samurais. World War II wasn’t so long ago, and I feel like people forget that. They’re always out on their front porch, staring me down with their chinky little eyes. I wanna ask them, What are you looking at? Get the fuck back to your country. But I know that I can’t. Down at the Chrysler plant where I work, a lot of my co-workers are Japanese and word spreads fast in this devious little circle, so I got to keep my trap shut. I wouldn’t want them to do some sort of karate on my ass. That’s something they’re good at. Sometimes I just want to leave this compacted mess of people and factories and broken asphalt that we call Detroit and go back to my mother’s farm. There’s no Japs there. Starlene is one of the most fiery girls up there on that stage. She knows how to move it. But damn, I think that guy with that blocky black mullet bruised her ego. There’s something off in her step now. He said she’s not pretty? That’s rich, man. Look at his yellow glow.
Maybe some people like that look. I don’t know. But I swear those sort of eyes are ugly—that wide face something that only a mother could love. I mean, I really wonder sometimes: how are they stealing all these jobs making cars? I work with them and they don’t get things done any better or faster than me or my buds. There has to be something, because they sure as hell don’t got shit on us real Americans. Maybe there’s some Jap shrine these people are praying to. I hear that family down the street uttering wild things sometimes. Maybe they cursed my son, yeah, that’s why he got laid off. They wanted his spot. Or maybe there’s some demon up above fighting for these yellow bastards. That’s the only way that a horde like this could ever elbow my family out of the Chrysler plant. Jeez, man, when I get drunk, I know how to speak the truth. I’m gonna tell that man what he needs to know. “Boy, you don’t know a good thing when you see one!” ——— Jesus Christ, why is this idiot yelling at me? He’s wasted, it’s not worth it. But he keeps yammering on. He’s here with his son. How classy can you get, bringing your own son to a strip joint? There’s no way his wife knows he’s here. Or does he even have a wife? Probably not. Too ugly a guy, too tomato-colored. Ha. He thinks that I don’t know a good thing when I see one – he hasn’t seen Victoria. My lady. Y’know, I’m here leering at these chicks along with my brothers, but all I can really think about is Victoria. Vic-tor-i-a. Her first syllable, staccato, like a quick dive into the lake. We will dive in together. The second is longer, like a drawn out embrace. It’ll be like we are hovering across all of Lake Erie together, our sides grazing the water, my eyes locked on hers. The last two syllables almost meld together, like all the moments since we first met. It has all passed so quickly and we are almost there, the point where I sweep you off your feet, my foot hits the gas, and the cans linked to the back of our car with yarn clink on the pavement as we drive south of Detroit, Just Married etched on the back window with your ruby lipstick, the felt tip gliding against the glass. Mother will be at the wedding. The pastor will translate everything into Mandarin so that she understands. And Dad will be looking down at us from above. My buds keep nudging me to look up. Yeah, that is a nice ass. I can admit it. It’s my bachelor party, and fuck, okay, I’m tipsy. But this guy is still yelling at me. He just screamed, “Because of you motherfuckers, we are out of work!” My temper: the air in a balloon just expanded and made it pop. I yell back. “I am not a little motherfucker.” “Okay, I’m just not sure if you’re a little fucker or a big fucker!” This airhead needs a lesson. These types think they can get away with whatever the hell they want. A couple weeks ago, a guy – the type to drape Confederate flags on walls and wear jean jackets and jean shorts – pushed my mom on the bus and clamored “Ching chong, ching chong.” I get up and make my way through the mist to this buffoon and give him a shove. He stumbles back; his breath reeks of a mix of beer and cheap rum and the way he fumbles backwards makes me think that he has had a bit too much to drink. He pushes me back. I almost fall. I should disengage, I know it. This guy is too wasted. But his son, who looks like he’s in his late 20s, gets up and wails on me before I can make a decision. I get a blow to the face, a blow to the neck, a kidney punch. They’re both on me and my eyebrow is bleeding. But I tell my friends not to get involved. There’s two of them, but I can handle myself. I get the dad in the stomach. He’s bent over, nursing the blow, and he’s unsteady and drunk. And I shove him again and he’s on the floor. Someone turned off the fog machine and now everything is visible. The girls in their thongs and bras scatter and shriek. I’m turned around and his son kicks me in the
Achilles heel, a bolt of pain shoots up my right leg and I almost fall over. But I quickly grab a chair and whirl it at the crony. It clocks him on the chest and he falls over. I’m standing above them, my eyebrow bleeding, my jeans torn, but I’m still upright. I’m okay. This is some fucking bachelor party. I should’ve stayed in with Victoria. I want a burger. My buddies and I get out of there quickly, and we drive to the nearest McDonald’s. Maybe I can get Victoria some fries too. ——— My head is aching and my stepson is on the floor and this Jap thinks he can just walk away. He thinks he can do this shit in my territory. Oh, I’ll show him. I lift up my stepson by his armpits and we hobble to the car. We get our energy back the closer we get. By the time I’m in the driver’s seat, my body’s feeling okay, the adrenaline is healing my wounds. I’m drunk but I can drive. I’ve done this enough times that I could close my eyes and beat him to wherever he’s going. I kind of miss my lady, Juanita. She’s at home, I think. I’ll go see her after this. His car is already out on the highway next to the club, but I see it, an emerald Mercedes, that rich motherfucker. He probably can afford it on the money he gets from kicking my son out of the factories; his horde probably pooled its money together so that he can show off to the chicks and make up for his yellow skin, his gook eyes. Ha. But Starlene didn’t want him. They’re still Japs to the bone. The Detroit night is buzzing. Lots of black people are walking on the side of the road, blasting their music from boom boxes held on their heads. That dude’s hair is fucking huge, ha ha, and his afro is almost covering his boom box. I hit the gas and now we’re a couple cars behind him. I think his eyes are too small to see us. He is pulling into McDonald’s. I see him. He is getting out, he is with a few of his friends. Two go into the McDonald’s to buy food and the Jap and a white dude are standing outside of the Mercedes smoking cigarettes. I look my stepson in the eye and he knows, he knows what’s coming to this guy. We station our car on the other side of the McDonald’s parking lot and I grab my wooden baseball bat from the trunk. My head is still pounding but I can walk without limping because my body is high on adrenaline, pumped up on the chemicals rushing to my brain because I know I am about to take this Jap out, this invader who has come into my city and pushed my boy out of his job, this little yellow shit who has come and polluted my neighborhood. My son runs at the white dude and shoves him on the floor, kicks him in the stomach, in the face, he’s writhing on the floor, he can’t do shit, can’t save his friend. Then my son grabs the Jap’s arms and holds him straight for me. I look this yellow little shit in the face and a mass of energy consumes me and I am at once transported back to the days of middle school little league and am also in the present moment. I am in seventh grade and the pitch is coming to me. The pitcher throws curveballs, screwballs, fastballs, but I am the best hitter we got. The pitch goes and I steady my bat, swing it and I hit it full on, all my force flying through this chunk of wood, and I hit it so good that I do it again, and again, and again. There is blood spraying everywhere, I am getting blood on my face, but where the fuck is the blood from, this is a baseball. No, this is a fucking Jap, a Jap who deserves this shit. That’s his nose, his forehead, his eyes, caving in. I hear a loud crack. I am doing it. It is all caving in! My bat’s broken. Mom, take me to buy a new baseball bat! HE BROKE MY BAT! History of Vincent Chin Vincent Chin died four days after the attack. Starlene, the stripper described in my account, was an actual witness during Ronald Ebens’ trial. My story is told in the first-person, switching between Chin and Ebens’ viewpoints. Ebens was motivated by resentment towards the Japanese-American community in Detroit for having taken many competitive factory jobs; his stepson, Michael Nitz, had been laid off three years prior to the murder. He brawled with Chin in the strip joint called “The Fancy Pants Club.” “It’s because of you motherfuckers that we’re out of work!” Ebens yelled. Chin escaped, but Ebens and his stepson tracked him down and smashed his skull with a baseball bat. Ironically, Chin was not Japanese; his murderers were uninformed about Asian-Americans and mistook a Chinese-American for a Japanese-American, killing someone who did not play the role in the supposed workforce competition of Detroit in 1982 that the perpetrators had assumed. Chin’s murderers were never jailed for their crime, even after a second trial on the federal circuit. Today, the murder of Vincent Chin is considered to be one of the critical events in the formation of Asian-American identity, an event around which AAPI community organizers gathered in solidarity. Christine Choy and Renee Tajima created the documentary film “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” in 1987, and it was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award. Chin’s legacy lives on in numerous scholarships, including the Asian American Journalist Association’s (AAJA) Vincent Chin Memorial Scholarship. Nick Sexton is a Politics major who freelances for NBC News. Follow him on Twitter @_nick_sexton_.
#MIKEBROWN OR, THE DAY OUR BODIES BECAME HASHTAGS Aisha Oxley ’16 August 9th, 2014. It’s hot today. 82 but it might as well be 90, kinda hot. Air is all water, kinda hot. Open the fire hydrants for kids in the ‘hood to play in cuz the community pool is packed, kinda hot. Do they even do that anymore? Nah, just let ‘em sweat. Let ‘em know this skin ain’t alive til it cries. Today a big black boy in Ferguson is gonna steal some cigarellos cuz he’s black and his skin’s been crying tears over 2 centuries old and ain’t nobody came to wipe them. Cuz he doesn’t even know what those tears mean, or what to do about them. But that ain’t the point (that he’s trapped), even though it is. On his way home, when Officer Wilson stops him, he’ll be dead already. When Officer Wilson shoots the big black boy, he’ll fall on the concrete just a few blocks down from where he stays, cuz you know black folks don’t really live nowhere. As he dies, feels 6 bullets find him like hailstones, he’ll cry: “I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting,” like crying’s ever done us any good. Officer Wilson will let him lie there, let the sweat on him return to the wind, let his blood drain slow. Let ‘em know this body ain’t alive til it bleeds. Too bad that’s when it’s too late to live. Too bad you’ll know the big black boy tomorrow but not today, when his body is named by a hashtag. What you’ll learn when you click #MikeBrown, is that the big black boy had a name. That black folks down in Ferguson are mad. This ain’t the first time, kinda mad. We’re prisoners in our own neighborhood, kinda mad. Fill up the streets, cuz if Mike can lay for hours like roadkill, we’ll give you a spectacle. That kinda mad. Then the media will give you reasons why they shouldn’t be mad. You’ll learn that Mike was a thief. Mike smoked weed. Mike was vulgar. Mike’s Momma will admit through her tears that he had problems. They will omit the part when she says he was working on them. And Mike becomes a monster. Mike becomes a menace. Mike becomes a big black boy that deserved it… August 10th, 2014. It’s hot again today. I am 19 and black and miles away from Mike and who he was but I curl up on my bed and mourn him anyway. At work, I hear my boss ask my coworkers what’s wrong with me. Don’t they know my brother is dead? Don’t they know my Dad, my uncle, my cousin - every black body I’ve ever loved, could be next? Don’t they know my body is a teardrop? Don’t they see the pool of blood that my body could make a home at any time? Don’t they know my womb is full of bodies just like Mike? Don’t they know that when you click on that hashtag, that’s just the beginning? That a body is a hashtag is a hashtag is another fucking hashtag. But a hashtag has a heartbeat. We are mad. But we’re alive. Let ‘em know, this body is alive. Aisha Oxley is a senior from NJ majoring in History and earning a certificate in the Visual Arts. Check out her other work at aishaoxley.com and find her on Twitter @aishaoxley.
LIMBO Emily Tu ’16 The deadened trees are just beginning to find their color again, the fitful warmth of the sun coming in waves and waves. Time moves forward, erasing winter’s mess even as you stay fixed and unfixed. The clouds part while you sit and the sun, which is suddenly sure and full in its light, gently places a startling heat on the back of your neck. ——— Your mother tells you she had to stop taking her prescription allergy medication because depression was a side effect. She speaks to you in Chinese, the word ‘depression’ occasionally slipping out in English as if she cannot figure out what to replace it with. She tells you that she is never going to tell someone it’s going to get better when they’re depressed. Because when you’re depressed, the only certainty is that nothing will get better. And I, I would never wish that feeling upon someone else, especially you. You wait for her to continue—to arrive at a different point, a certain question—and the moment is infinite before it cracks and falls and she is turning around and walking on. ——— The Atlantic article suggests that Asians are not, in fact, disproportionately represented in the Palo Alto suicide clusters. You wonder why this is a clarification someone wanted to make. This is a twisted version of the same, tired story you heard yesterday and the yesterdays that came before—the Asian immigrant arriving in the States and making a home out of nothing, their children growing up to attend an Ivy League university—except now the immigrant is the Tiger Mom with extreme expectations and the child is the pressured student who jumped in front of the Caltrain. Who is doing the telling of these stories you’ve always known? ——— A friend reminds you that the Chinese character for to endure is made of the characters for knife and heart, the knife on top of the heart. To continue on, unyielding, despite a knife through your heart. For a moment you think this is a provocative metaphor, but then you are disgusted with yourself for thinking that the causes of depression can be clear-cut, the blame definitively assigned, because of seven pretty black strokes. ——— When your sister tells you her classmate jumped off the George Washington Bridge, you blurt out that you’ve always been waiting for the first student from your high school to commit suicide. Her name was Dana, she was Asian, and she didn’t have many friends. The cause of death is never officially acknowledged by administration, and none of the local papers cover her death. Later you think to yourself that when Dana jumped into the Hudson, sun on her neck, she turned into the greyed and greying waves—those shining, shifting waves—and in the end, the rest of it all wouldn’t have mattered. A New Jersey native her entire life, Emily Tu is a senior in the comparative literature department getting a certificate in American studies. 20
The Interrogation Azza Cohen ’16 It was hard to imagine what would happen if I cracked open Pandora’s box: “Mom, there’s someone I want you to meet.” At 20 years old, I am not particularly old-fashioned, but I still feel the tension of wanting my parents to feel comfortable with me dating a non-Jew. They only ever dated each other; they grew up in the same Jewish suburb of Chicago, went to the same high school, and went to the same university. I hear my dad brought the audience to tears at their wedding: “I’ve been chasing her for seven years and tonight, she’s mine!” It’s snowing. I tell my mom about a friend, a boy friend who is not (yet) a boyfriend, who takes me out for hot chocolate and writes me poetry and always walks me home from the library at night. I describe this man who is the trifecta of Mom’s nightmare: he is not Jewish, not my age, and not American. His Princeton roommate is Jewish, and of course, by the laws of Jewish Geography, grew up fifteen minutes away from me. They’re all in town for Thanksgiving – it feels like now or never. I ask my mom to consider having dinner with him, you know, because he’s in town. She politely agrees. I feel a rush of love and whatmight-be. I imagine her inviting him home, him making the most delicious tea she’s ever tasted. “So what’s his name?” she inquires. I snap out of my aromatic daydream. “Rohit,” I reply. “Ro-heat?” she tries. Mispronunciation is the earliest miscommunication. Mom agrees to carry out The Interrogation, but only in neutral territory. “No Indian food. Can we do Chinese?” I soon discover Mom does not feel comfortable conducting The Interrogation by herself. She allies herself with my 16-year-old sister Daniella, my best friend Laura, my father, and my grandmother, Bubbe. Arriving at the restaurant, the forces assemble. Rohit’s eyes widen at the magnitude of the Cohen clan. I had made the reservation for three, but this isn’t a new situation for Mom and she implores the hostess for four chairs. “We’ll squeeze,” she promises. Mom instructs me to sit at one end of the table with my sister, while the Elders surround him. Bubbe gets right to the point: “So, how ‘Hindu’ are you?” I recite apologies in my head to the beat of the frantic steps of waitresses whirling around the table. It’s 10 degrees outside and yet my sweat is beginning to outdo the condensation dripping from my water glass. The conversation casually braids together the three canyons between us: his age, his passport, his religion. I feel a thousand pangs of regret that the one man who ever told me “I respect you” before “I think you’re beautiful” is the one man thrice forbidden.
——— I think of Diwali two weeks ago, the Hindu festival of lights. I don a kurta with jeans, and a bindi on my forehead. A friend of mine insists on straightening my hair. She gently combs my unruly curls and promises, as all best friends do, “You look amazing!” I wonder if I am wearing too much eyeliner. Diwali takes place in the Chapel; the walls are beaming with the flickering lights and when our eyes meet I think he just might hear my heartbeat. As the Hindu chaplain begins his speech, Rohit excuses himself, as all good graduate students do, to hit the library even though it’s 11:00 on a Saturday night. I find myself praying to the tunes of bhajans, which is especially unusual because I’m thinking in Hebrew in a Presbyterian chapel during a Hindu ceremony. My phone buzzes. “May I walk you home?” I wait under a blanket of soft light outside the chapel and see him coming, his backpack slanted just a little to the right with just a little too many books and he smiles. We walk briskly. I want to hold his hand more than anything in the world, but I keep my thoughts to myself for fear he can hear them. “Is everything okay?” he asks. I’m not usually this quiet. Oh no, he’s onto me! This is awkward. “Yes. I’m just cold,” I reply, even though we both know I’m from the Windy City and this weather is perfect. We are near Forbes and I stop abruptly. “Rohit, there’s something I need to ask you.” He looks concerned. I pause, and then realize this seems a bit dramatic so I go along with it. “Rohit…are you being romantic with me?” I immediately hate myself for being so amazingly uncool and decide to evacuate the situation and of course I trip over myself and I guess there’s nothing that can make this worse and I want to cry or become invisible or hide, but he says, all too suave, “Azza, wait.” “I first want you to know that I respect you. I have always respected you and I always will. I didn’t want to say anything for fear of ruining our friendship, but yes, I’ve liked you since I met you. And I will wait for you because I think this might be really special.” ——— The arrival of stir-fry stops the film reel in my head. Rohit and I both reach for the spicy sauce and our hands briefly, electrically touch. I smile; Mom stares at me. We talk about his parents; his mother is a German teacher. Before I can formulate a thought in my head, Bubbe unsheathes her sword: “What does she find in that language?” I hate her in that moment for being so immediately intolerant, and then I hate myself for judging my Bubbe, a Polish girl whose mother narrowly escaped pogroms and no wonder she viscerally reacts to the German language. Mom and Rohit bond over their trials and failures with the chopsticks. They clumsily navigate a fried rice fusion and she asks him about why he wanted to pursue a doctorate in economics. His eyes light up and my parents can’t help but be impressed by the beauty he finds in numbers.
Laura, my friend, jumps in, noting that John Nash came to one of Rohit’s presentations. Dad seems impressed. I flash a smile when he asks, “So Rohit, you worked for the government of India?” which, naturally, leads to a skeptical Bubbe’s question: “Are you planning on living there? Would you be happy living here near Chicago?” He briefly mentions the village his father was born in. “In Cashmere?” He stifles a laugh, and I know he wants to tell her that his home in the contested, snowy region of India is not, in fact, pronounced like the woolen sweater. My mom suggests we go somewhere else for coffee and makes a quick phone call. I later realize that she was calling for backup. As we enter the coffee shop across the street, I am greeted by my high school physics teacher. “I am here to meet Rohit,” says Mr. Pujara gently. Oh, I see. My mom planted the only Indian person she’s ever known as a spy on our coffee date. This really is the cherry on top. Luckily, Rohit is just as much a physics nerd and they seem to get along. We exchange hugs and many a “Happy Thanksgiving” and part ways into the snowy evening. As we pile into the car, I ask the obvious: “What did you think?” The three Elders reply in unison: “He’s nice.”—two cutting syllables of euphemistic ambivalence, and I know in that moment that Rohit and I still have many miles of awkward family dinners. This dinner is a Venn diagram, overlapping my love and respect for my parents with Rohit’s love and respect for me. Caught in the middle of familial devotion and the promise of romance, I feel waves of history washing over me. When I think of forbidden loves, I think of Juliet and her Romeo in Italy, of Helen and her Paris in Troy, of Layla and her Majnun in Persia—women who ostensibly share the same skin color, religion, and citizenship as their forbidden lovers, but whose relationships are banned because of family feuds. I think of my paternal grandparents, of when the red-haired Gabriella Coen from Rome married her Albèrt Cohen of Casablanca; they shared their Judaism, which meant more to them and their families than skin color or nation. And I think that maybe it’s in my family history, too. ——— Now, Rohit knows how to braid challah bread, how to pronounce my Hebrew name, and he can pretty much bless the wine at Shabbat. In turn, I call his parents on Diwali and have learned how to light a diya. We joke that if we got married, it would be a “Jindu” ceremony – we would dance the horah to the tune of the tabla. Two years later, we are having dinner again. Bubbe, who has very much warmed up to Rohit, playfully asks, “Honey, how do you feel about conversion?” Azza Cohen is a senior in the history department and a big fan of The Stripes. She can be reached @azzacohen on Twitter or accohen@ princeton.edu.
Silenci Alice Frederick ’17
In the summer of 2015, I took a vow of silence for fifty days in Barcelona with a Dale Sophomore Award, a $5,000 grant that allows students to pursue passion projects. At the outset of the vow, I imagined it would be mostly cerebral, an exploration of how language and my voice contributed to my existence (or didn’t). But I found that I couldn’t separate philosophical from physical. Silence created my first complete experience of my self and my body as one. In my speaking life, my body and I are not always friends. Sometimes I starve it or dress it in uncomfortable clothes. I deprive it of sleep and nice walks when I have work. My mistreatment of my body is closely tied to my gendered pursuit of beauty as well as to my desire for professional success. The thing about having anorexia or trying to be a phenomenal student is that you can end up viewing your body as distinct from you, something that is getting in the way of where you need to be, which is somewhere more attractive and generally excellent. I punish my body when I think it’s failing me. Taking better care of my body was not an explicit goal of mine in Barcelona but an activity into which I naturally fell, with a city to explore by foot and the nutritional care of a Benedictine hostel. I followed its cues (I learned it gave me cues!) and discovered that when I listened to my body, we got along. We were on the same team. More than that—we were the same. The process of folding my body into my new self-idea was not entirely under my control. I learned a new degree of vulnerability after encounters with strange men and felt the full, frightening implications of female voicelessness. Being a mute foreign woman can generate harmless condescension; many assumed I was silent because I didn’t comprehend their language. But it can also provoke endearment and, uncomfortably, attraction. I dwell on these things that are not explicitly racial because I can’t ultimately separate them from my experiences with race. Racial assumptions, like gendered and sexual ones, reduce people to sets of physical features. Practicing silence in Spain gave me a visceral and sometimes absurd experience of race as a literal projection onto my body, one that changed colors between countries. To those who asked, I would answer (in writing) the question of where I was from and all of its inevitable follow-ups: American? But you’re not Chinese? Japanese? What about your parents? At first, I was less frustrated by American-equals-white assumptions than struck that I was so immediately categorized as Asian. In recent years, I had increasingly passed for white in the United States. Friends who had known me for months would express surprise at learning that my mother was from Taiwan. Barcelona, and Spain more generally, has a different racial paradigm. In more harmless threads of conversation, I was asked about my freckles. Some people had never seen an Asian with freckles before. Others remarked that my hair, which fell below my hips, must owe its length to the influence of my mom—a new and intriguing stereotype to me. They’d nod knowingly. On more trying days, I found my race combined with my gender and silence to create uneasy dynamics of power. Silence is a passivity, and passivity is a cliché embedded in yellow fever, with which I had brushes. I worried that I inadvertently 24
invited racialized sexual attention. Even if I didn’t feel it, I presented, I think, many trappings of powerlessness. I remember one woman who was particularly filled with wonder by my “good mix” and lack of speech. She stared at me and repeated incredible in a hushed voice through dinner. I kept my eyes on my plate and attempted, through my irritation, to act like she was behaving normally. In moments like those, a strained, recurring insecurity of mine resurfaced: the idea that the appeal in my silence lay in my unknowability, my being too unconventional and vaguely defined to be fully understood. As I couldn’t tell whether the woman stared because of my eyes or my silence—were they separable?—I felt the unknowability turn a shade of exotic. Race didn’t only overtake my body. It overtook my silence, too, my inability to define myself on my own terms. Of course, this is not a groundbreaking lesson. You don’t need to stop talking to lose control over how people see you. What has preoccupied me, more than my racialized experiences, are my internal responses to them. Nearing the end of my vow, I wrote a message to some friends, shifting from discomfort to guilt: at school, when i’m mistaken for white, i sometimes feel like discussing my asianness is pulling a race card to which i don’t really have a right if i’m ‘passing.’ it makes me feel like i’m [marketing] my identity as a ‘minority’ when i know that culturally/linguistically/in basically every way i am pretty distanced from my asian heritage…. so i get reluctant to jump into conversations about racial identity with most people, which has this sort of awful cyclical effect of even further erasing the asian half of me…. [In Spain,] it sometimes feels shitty to explain being american and being half-white to people, i think because it feels super uncomfortable to be ‘defending my claim to whiteness’ and the power-reach that seems to be implied in that act given…racial hierarchies here/everywhere….i hate the feeling that telling people ‘i’m only half-asian’ here makes me seem like i’m trying to distance myself from being asian…. [But] i have erased my asianness at home in various ways, with varying degrees of intentionality. i’ve become very scared that i do want to distance myself from my asianness, especially here where it is more otherizing than in the states.
My racial ambiguity can leave me feeling isolated from both sides of my identity because either can easily go unrecognized. Because whiteness and Asianness carry distinct sociocultural associations, I make an effort not to sound defensive or apologetic when I “explain” my race. I fear seeming self-loathing. What’s more, I fear I actually am self-loathing. It is as tied up with my body as everything else. My desire for beauty is a desire for white beauty. When my face loses weight, my eyes get bigger. When my hair is long, it looks more brown and less black. Sometimes I wish I could walk through Barcelona and blend in. I want to be in a place where people look like me, where I don’t feel automatically and eternally foreign. I want my body to be part of me but not all of me. In spite of my surprise and resistance, race became a prominent part, though not the only part, of my summer vow. My questions surrounding mixed race and belonging remain. But my new sense of bodily possession gives me some hope. On most days, I no longer distinguish myself from my body or loathe it when I worry I am being reduced or misunderstood. If anything, the transition from blaming my body to sympathizing with it, the process of forming a sense of self wrapped around it, has made me cherish my body more. In more hackneyed terms, we’re in this together now. What silence taught me was how to be okay with understanding myself much better than anyone else did or could. It taught me how to make my body mine and love it. It made me knowable, at least, to myself. Alice Frederick is a junior from San Antonio, Texas. She studies anthropology and linguistics.
‘NOT SPOKEN’ DON’T MEAN ‘NOT TRUE’
Yesterday, I heard two Black men say I love you. And my chest became a furnace All the stigmas of black apathy now firewood, Who said this house ain’t warm? That brick walls aren’t good for interior, The same people gasping to blow our houses down take our breath like burglary, Like home invasion, So who’s to say that these bolted doors are too defensive, That home when haven should confiscate your legs, And as he leaves I remember that a black man’s love is an earthquake, He stands in the doorway, & I am just glad that he’s safe.
Malachi Byrd ’19 Malachi Byrd ’19
Say That Again Namkyu.
Like Nam like Vietnam and Q like the letter. Cute I know. Honestly Q is just fine
Or Q-man is fine too.
Namkyu Oh â€™16
or Chinaman or Banana or Dog-eater or Cat-nibbler or 1882 or Chink or Jap or Gook Whatever is easiest for you.
Kim Jong Un 27
Black Affinity Spaces: A Necessity Destiny Crockett ’17
With the recent surge of activism on college campuses, including Princeton, questions have arisen about the motives of Black students when they seek to claim a physical space as their own. The Black Justice League, and many other Black student groups around the country, have demanded affinity spaces on campus designated specifically for Black students, which can provide a haven and a home for Black students. Critics ask—but isn’t this just like Jim Crow segregation? The short answer is no. Jim Crow was hegemonic and forced, upheld with abusive practices, and allotted spaces in dismal physical condition to Black people in the United States. After the Brown vs. Board decision of 1954, many of us have been convinced that any sort of racial separatism is harmful, without distinguishing separatism from affinity. The Brown vs. Board decision was rooted in the premise that separate was inherently unequal and damaging to the self-esteem of Black children. Black affinity spaces should not be conflated with racial separatism — they are at the request of Black students, not forced. At Princeton, some Black students still do not feel we have the social equality and inclusion that Black student activists of past decades worked toward. From the fact that Princeton did not offer an African American Studies major until 2015, to the mere 7.6% of Black students enrolled as of fall 2015, to the slow administrative response to Black campus activism, some students feel they navigate a university that admitted them but does not include them. These students would find solace in a space just for them, and understand it as an emblem of the university’s understanding, a recognition of their humanity and the need for somewhere sacred. While not all Black people would find value in these spaces and groups, they are necessary to providing mental, emotional, and yes, sometimes physical safety. If we choose to, in these spaces, we can foster friendships and mentorship. We can allow for an unapologetic use of vernacular or dialect that is often ridiculed by white supremacist ideals of
what is considered an acceptable mode of communication. We can, literally, let our hair down and escape the microagressions about hair hygiene, or sometimes unwanted touching that feels more like petting. We can engage in Black liberation work, whether that entails organizing as part of a national movement or campus-wide activism. In a Black affinity space, we can allow different cultural practices to settle in peace and without intrusion. And some days, the news of yet another Black person slain by police, an underreported terrorist attack in a predominantly Black country, and microaggressions at the hands of white and other non-Black classmates and faculty make for a palpable feeling to be surrounded only by people who understand Black rage and Black pain firsthand. Surely, the absence of white people, and non-Black people of color does not produce a perfect world. Needing an all-black space does not mean one would want to purge all non-Black people from their life or from campus. In Toni Morrison’s novel, Paradise, the women live in an all Black town, but it is still wrought with sexism, greed, and conflicts rooted in economic inequality. Of course, Paradise is fiction, but Morrison acutely illustrates that simply being away from white people does not absolve Black people of every single problem, particularly those that impact Black students on an intraracial level—such as sexism, classism and homophobia. However, these intracial dilemmas may actually provide more support for Black centered space because they could be discussed and investigated without the imminent pressures of the white and non-Black gazes. Non-Black people of color are also subjected to the terror of white supremacy, so the assumption might be that they too should enter Black affinity spaces. While spaces for all people of color can be powerful sites of healing , all-Black spaces are still necessary. A space with an amalgamation of all people of color may no longer present a safe space for Black people. People of color are not monolithic, and racial hierarchies among people of color
mean even non-Black people of color can internalize anti-Blackness and perpetuate the structural violence that makes Black students feel left out. Nonetheless, a black affinity space may be deemed “exclusionary,” as though being exclusionary for one’s own protection is a negative thing. But exclusionary is often a term associated with an elite group of people who keep people out for the sake of personal satisfaction. Affinity spaces are not for satisfaction, but for solace and survival. Black colleges, Black churches such as the AME church, and Black affinity organizations all prove that Black people have been claiming spaces for ourselves for centuries. But we have yet to see non-Black people living under the crushing foot of a ruling Black throng of elites. Lack of social and political power presupposes Black people from exercising exclusion that has devastating consequences in the same ways white people have excluded Black people and other people of color. Surely, a Black affinity space might seem like a utopian escape from the real world of racism. Yet the desire to escape momentarily is not the fault of those who desire it. The fault lies in the real world problems of racism and white supremacy. The desire for a Black affinity space is the hunger to be momentarily away from racism. Thus, the racism that might drive a person to want such a space should be under attack, not the person. While not all Black students will see the need for an affinity space, consideration for all members of the campus community means the concerns of the marginalized, even if not all, are valid. Designating a space signifies to Black students that their safety and their joy matters. If we can have one nook on campus to ourselves, it can make a positive difference in our college experiences by providing a safe space, a bastion for group-centered racial pride, and a home for cultural consciousness raising. Destiny Crockett ‘17 is from St. Louis, MO. She is majoring in English, with Certificates in African American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies.
The Things You Won’t Remember: The Plight of the Black Male in America Lovia Gyarkye ’16 When the group of young boys got on at 79th Street, very few people took notice of them. Slouched in their hard, plastic seats or leaning against the doors, the eyes of my fellow passengers were glued to their books and their glowing Apple devices. “Stand clear of the closing doors please,” said the muffled voice of the conductor over the intercom. Lacking the modernity of the new, shiny cars, frequent passengers of the 1 train grew accustomed to deciphering every message. As our downtown train zoomed through the dark tunnels of New York’s underground, I looked up and scanned our car. For a moment, my eyes rested on the group of boys that had boarded the train at the previous stop. No member of the group seemed older than sixteen years old. Their stone faces avoided my eyes. The tallest of the pack sported a pair of electric blue basketball shorts and white mid-calf Nike socks. His friend, who stood next to him, wore a plain red t-shirt and a pair of black basketball shorts. As I often do with strangers, I imagined their lives outside of this train car. I assumed that because they got on at 79th Street, maybe they were a group of schoolboys, having just been dismissed from an air-conditioned classroom. To be honest, judging only from their stop, I imagined that they were boys from the Collegiate School–scholars of a classroom that once excluded them. I imagined that they had just returned from school and were perhaps heading to their respective homes in Brooklyn, that their black drawstrings held summer reading and permission slips. At 72nd street, one crowd replaced another as people rushed off the train. The car doors remained open as the Downtown 2 express train rolled into the adjacent platform. Passengers grew antsy as they were forced to weigh the odds and pose critical questions: Should they jump off this local and head for the express? With it being rush hour, would it actually make a difference? Would the doors of this 1 train decide to close once they got up? Or worse, would the doors of the 2 train close as they approached? Amidst these thoughts, no one noticed the “crime” that occurred until the shrill voice of the victim broke their mind game. “HE STOLE MY PHONE!” she yelled. “THAT ASSHOLE STOLE MY PHONE!” The people on the platform and in the cars went into a silent panic. With no one actively wanting to show fear, we stood and let the rising tension explain the surprised and uncertain looks on our faces. Before we could process the event that had moved from our car to the platform, three plain-clothed police officers jumped into action. In the next ten seconds, a series of things happened that are still difficult to register. The doors of all the trains remained open as the conductors attempted to provide no escape. An undercover cop in a pair of blue faded jeans and a white collared shirt tackled the ebony skinned boy with the skinny arms and the red t-shirt. I looked at him and tried to search his eyes. His stoic expression and unnerved dark brown almond eyes gave me the impression that he had already given up. The cop, now on top of the boy’s body, continued to hold him down and punch him in the face. A somewhat dramatic gasp unexpectedly escaped my lips. In the same amount of time that it took for the robbery to occur, the fist of the officer proceeded to collide with the face of the young boy.
I looked at my friend. She looked back at me, pursed her lips and shook her head in disapproval. Without exchanging a single word about the punch, I knew that her expression was of expected disappointment than anger. We turned our attention back to the scene. The boys had all dispersed. The pale skinned police officer with the flushed cheeks handcuffed the red t-shirt boy’s wrists and the other officer, his partner in plain clothes, chased his friend down the platform–out of our line of vision. Passengers of our car wore shocked looks on their faces—attempting to process if the police officer had actually punched the already defeated boy. No one could understand if the pale hand of the man in blue had, in reality, touched the ebony skin of the teenager who had already surrendered. At that point, I searched for the female voice. My eyes scanned the perimeter of the platform and I found her hovering over the boy, calling him an asshole. The edges of her dark curly brown hair were frizzy and I imagined each bead of sweat coiling the straightened locks as her anger and fear grew simultaneously. I looked back at the boy. His face was pressed against the grimy gray tiles of the station platform. His eyes looked empty, void of compassion. He looked as though he could have cared less about his current situation. The car doors closed, marking the end of this event and the beginning of our regularly scheduled lives. On the other side of the car, I saw an older black male bow and shake his head. He wore the same look of expected disappointment as my friend. At 66th Street, I mumbled a weak goodbye to my friend and walked up the stairs. As I emerged from the underground and unto the unaware city streets, I tried to comprehend what I had just experienced. I remembered looking into the red t-shirt boy’s eyes and seeing them lack any faith. While I understood that he had committed a crime, I could not help but feel anger for the unnecessary punch. I knew that the passengers of the 1 train had just witnessed the metaphorical end of his life. I could see his future. It consisted of standing in front of some judge with an overworked and underpaid public attorney to his right. An attorney who had about one hundred more cases of the same variety. An attorney who would attend to his case with minimal care. Standing there, this boy would make no indication of remorse–knowing that his fate had been sealed. This young boy would then end up in the juvenile system. At age 15 (which is how old he looked) he had already lost any life chances. He has already been marked a failure in red ink and thrown into a general pile of delinquents. This woman, who may or may not have gotten her phone back, will be shaken. The passengers in our car will feel bad for her and wonder if she is all right. No one will wonder about the boys. This woman will call her cellphone provider and they will send her a new phone–maybe with a small charge. She will tell her friends, and maybe even her family, and they will all sympathetically comfort her with brunch and bottomless mimosas– as good friends are meant to do. Still, no one will wonder about the fate of the boys. No one in our car will be able to send the red t-shirt boy’s mother a new son or give him a second chance. Instead, he will now be a part of a system that will harden him. No one will think about the struggles he will face or the hate that will inevitably grow in his heart. When his time is up, he will go back into society alone and abandoned.
We won’t think about this on our next train ride or even the next time that we see something of this sort. If we do, we will shake our heads in disappointment as we wonder about the deteriorating condition of New York City. When we are at the grocery store trying to decipher between organic and not organic, it probably won’t cross our minds that this kid will not be able to get a job because of his new record—a fresh coat of red ink branding him as a criminal. We probably won’t think about the fact that because of this, he might resort to stealing and end up in the same system—doomed to a never-ending cycle of arrest and release. The next time we walk by police officers adorned in their signature blue uniforms, we might fail to think about the fact that a few weeks ago we witnessed an abuse of power. An unnecessary act of aggression for an event we all agreed was a crime. The next time we turn on our televisions or open up the amNY during our morning commute to hear or read about the arrest of yet another “black male, average height wearing all black,” we won’t think about the results of our failed justice system. We will fail to recognize that while black males make up a meager 6 percent of our population, more than 30 percent of them are currently in our criminal justice system. We won’t remember that 50 percent of African-American men do not finish high school and that by age twenty-three around 50 percent of them will have been arrested. When we recall this incident and try to remember if the police officer had indeed punched the teenager in the face, we won’t think about the lives of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Sean Bell or any of the black males shot by a police officer or vigilante every 28 hours. We won’t think about the thousands of tears shed by black mothers across the nation as they cry to and curse a God that cannot replace their sons. We won’t think about the fear that grips a parent’s heart as they explain to their sons that there are people out there who will judge them just because of the color of their skin. We won’t think about the communities in which funerals and wakes have become the norm as they mourn the loss of a young community of men. We won’t think about the fatigue that plagues a nation of individuals too tired of explaining over the noise of the media, newspapers, politicians and your opinions, why their existence is important. We won’t remember these facts because it is all too easy to forget that the America we live in today is still very much under construction. However, we will remember one thing. The next time we are sitting on a downtown 1 train during rush hour and a group of black males enter the car, we will feel our guards go up and the tension rise as we do remember that time the boy in the red t-shirt tried to steal a phone from the poor white woman with frizzy hair. Lovia Gyarkye is a senior pursuing a degree in English and a certificate in African-American Studies. Born in Ghana and raised in the Bronx, Lovia feels passionately about books and food.
Spring 2016 Print Edition