As an artist for Spectator, I sometimes have to illustrate pieces laced with unrecognized privilege. I’ve drawn for articles that fetishize poverty in Spanish Harlem and pieces that depict the “Columbia experience” as entirely universal to its student body. I’ve also illustrated for authors who have complained that “their privilege excludes them from conversation.” As a result, I, a low-income, Afro-Latina, first-generation American woman, feel alienated in my own community. This is not to say that Spec’s contributors aim to drown out the voices of the marginalized—I believe most have good intentions and hope to create a forum of expression safe for all identities. But intention is irrelevant when people of marginalized identities feel the ever-present divide reinforced.
I love illustrating for Spectator, but it’s time I decide where to draw the line (pun intended) for which pieces I choose to illustrate. I often wonder whether the larger community knows that an illustration doesn’t necessarily condone the views in the opinion piece—or perhaps my work to them implies a woman of color’s approval of these thoughts. It is due to my uncertainty of how those outside of Spectator understand the distinction between the writer’s and artist’s opinion that I can’t help but feel extremely uncomfortable allowing my name to visually represent and defend the very privileges that I myself lack.
For an institution that claims to foster the most diverse, international community, Columbia often lacks this inclusion. Instead, my experience is much like one that James Baldwin describes: “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” When discussing issues of race or gender in classes like Contemporary Civilization, I become incredibly frustrated at the lack of empathy or value given to the actual, tangible experiences of those of marginalized identities. I have had to leave class because my rage brought on tears.
But that is not an isolated incident. The first of the “Our Blue” videos, meant to represent Columbia students as a whole, largely excluded Black and Latino students (of which I am both). So is it really so hard to empathize with my rage when I have to depict sweeping generalizations about “the typical Columbia experience” or the “silencing of the white, straight, male”? It should not be difficult to understand why being told that I—as a person whose identities are time and time again excluded from conversation—am the part of the problem of marginalization makes me and so many others so damn angry. Is it so hard to understand why I would want to actively reject that form of thought as the norm?
Many of you are thinking: “Reverse racism!” “Political correctness!” “I don’t have bad intentions!” But if we want to actively foster a diverse and inclusive community, then there is no excuse for not acknowledging the anger of those who are marginalized. There is no excuse for not taking a step back to allow members of these groups to address the issue of communication as they see fit. There is no excuse for not being humbled by or grateful for a reminder of your privilege.
I don’t want to stop illustrating for Spectator. Doing so seems antithetical to promoting the very sense of inclusion I so desperately crave. However, I can no longer ignore the relationship between a piece and its illustration. Many will argue that this is a very minimal relationship, that there are more important contributions that could be made toward my efforts of achieving equality for all. But I see its effects portrayed in the quality of my illustrations. It’s the small things, the subliminal expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc., that shape a person’s perceptions of self-worth, the extent to which they believe they are equal to others, the day-to-day challenges they face in reminding themselves what it means to be an equally valued member of our society—if they can even claim to know what that experience is. It’s seeing my work next to articles that trivialize my own experience that force me to again consider the veil I was born with.
I will be more assertive. I will refuse to contribute to pieces that challenge my right to feel included or my anger in feeling lesser. This seems to me a better way to communicate across the divide. My assertion protects those with whom I disagree from inadvertently misrepresenting their views and from having poor-quality illustrations. After all, even the most blatant support of ostracization needs to be properly represented—otherwise, it cannot be challenged.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in political science. She is an illustrator for Spectator’s opinion section.
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