I didn’t get a lot of writing done this week, glued as I was to reading about protests and discussion about racial discrimination at Yale, my alma mater. I learned that many students of color are subject to racial slurs and comments that other students—and faculty members!—don’t even seem to realize they’re making. I learned that black women in particular feel that Yale isn’t theirs and doesn’t care about them. I couldn’t believe what I was reading at first; the Yale I knew was a place of equality and respect for everyone, regardless of background, gender and race. Wasn’t it? A stream of Facebook comments, blog postings and articles by African-American alums and current students let me know how clueless I was. Powerful, frank and true words from Roxane Gay in the New York Times today:
“There is a degree of safety members of certain populations will never know. White people will never know the dangers of being black in America, systemic, unequal opportunity, racial profiling, the constant threat of police violence. Men will never know the dangers of being a woman in America, harassment, sexual violence, legislated bodies. Heterosexuals will never know what it means to experience homophobia. Those who take safety for granted disparage safety because it is, like so many other rights, one that has always been inalienable to them. They wrongly assume we all enjoy such luxury and are blindly seeking something even more extravagant. They assume that we should simply accept hate without wanting something better. They cannot see that what we seek is sanctuary. We want to breathe.”
Even as I was reading these words, the terrorist slaughter in Paris (a lack of safety on another order entirely) was distracting me. My husband Dan and I have passed much of the last two days watching updates on T.V. (Count of the dead up to 132.; attackers being traced to an impoverished Brussels suburb.) It seems to me the French authorities have worked exceptionally fast. They have already pinpointed members of the terrorist group who are still at large, including a French citizen whose photo has already appeared so frequently I think I would actually recognize him if I saw him. (To be the one to bring him in—what a thought; the stuff of fiction!)
In Paris, schools, museums, the Eiffel Tower, all will reopen tomorrow. The French will leave their homes and try to go about their lives once again. We New Yorkers who lived through 9-11 understand their fear. We lived it. We survived, and they will, too. And working together the world’s major powers will dismantle ISIS. I have to believe they will.