Students Valerie Figaro (C’21), Lebreshia Pactor (C’20), LaToya McIntyre (C’20), Aydrian Shores (C’20), and Ezechias Nshimiyamana (C’21) speak on colorism panel. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).
By Sydney Leibfritz
On Valentines Day, the Black Student Union celebrated self-love through a “Shades of Blackness” panel discussion focused on colorism throughout the black community.
This panel consisted of 5 students: Valerie Figaro (C’21), Lebreshia Pactor (C’20), LaToya McIntyre (C’20), Aydrian Shores (C’20), and Ezechias Nshimiyamana (C’21), each of whom had an unique experience to speak on.
The panel touched on a variety of sensitive topics, ranging from bias within racial identities to how race has impacted each of their experiences as a student at a predominantly white university.
Most of the conversation seemed to revolve around having choice in expressing a unique aspect of their identity taken from them. Some recalled strangers mislabelling their race or friends joking that they “aren’t really black” or “aren’t dark enough” in terms of complexion, interests, or simply the language they use. Others shed light on direct racism and their inability to respond, especially at younger ages.
“Sometimes I want to go up to someone and just say that I’m black. Sometimes I say that I’m biracial,” Pactor explained. “I get to pick and choose when I do that, because I am me and I am the owner my identity.”
In terms of media representation, the answers were more mixed. Though many admitted that representation was improving, the majority did not feel adequately represented due to one-dimensional stereotypes of how people of their racial identity “should” look.
Alternatively, Shores explained that she feels almost entirely unrepresented as someone with albinism, as nearly every maintainstream character is either a villain or portrayed as something otherworldly or unnatural.
In terms of their specific Sewanee experiences, several of the panelists felt they had found a reliable group of friends but wished the campus as a whole was more inclusive. McIntire explained that most of her time when not in class is spent in deans’ offices trying to further validate and push concerns forward.
Ultimately, the panel’s advice for understanding someone different than yourself is simple: ask and don’t make any assumptions. As Nshimiyamana stated, “We are all different whether we are white or black. Try to understand someone more as an individual instead of generalizing them based only on how they look.”