If I had a penny for every time I heard the following things from Harvard students, I would be a very rich queen: “We have a black President now, why is everyone still complaining about racism?” or “Why do all the gays hang out together, and why do they feel the need to act so gay around everyone?” or “All the people on financial aid need to stop complaining about being poor. They get to come here for free which makes it so easy, but my family has to pay full tuition so I should be the one complaining.”
It’s easy for people with specific privileges to believe that we are in, or should be in, a society that is post-queer, post-racial, and post-oppressive. They see all these offices and organizations at Harvard like the BGLTQ Office of Student Life, the Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, the Queer Students & Allies, and Fuerza Latina. They see colleges encouraging applicants of diverse cultural, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They see special internships and jobs for people of color, queer people, and women. They see all these things and think everything is solved. And since everything must be solved they think: Why am I being excluded? Why don’t I get special privileges?
These “special privileges” exist for a reason: They are created to support students affected by the stigmas accompanying their identities. The “us and them” mentality, mentioned by the author of a recent Crimson op-ed, entitled “How Gay Pride Backfires,” is not created by these “special privileges” and offices and organizations—it is created by the histories of hatred and systematic oppression that accompany minority identities. The offices and organizations are created to support students who are made to feel like others because of the social stigma surrounding their identities. People who complain about not being included in these spaces should remember that they have the privilege of having a “safe space” everywhere in society—no one will ever question their right to be in most spaces because of their identity by virtue of being white, straight, wealthy, able-bodied, or a cisgender male.
Moreover, these offices and organizations are welcoming of privileged identities, even if it means taking up space that could be reserved for marginalized identities: The white race is included in the Harvard Foundation’s insignia; the “BGLTS” tutors at all the different Harvard houses do, in fact, include the word straight in their acronym instead of many other relevant marginalized identities such as two-spirit, gender-non-conforming, or queer. The student organization in which I am most involved, Queer Students & Allies, has the word “allies” in its own name and mission. The Women’s Center and Office of BGLTQ Student Life have prepared incredible student-led trainings on gender and sexuality (in which heterosexuality and cisgender men are discussed) that any organization or student can seek out at any time. Maybe if any of the people who are complaining about these entities actually needed the resources that these offices and organizations offered, they would have sought them out and realized that their identities are indeed included.
I encourage the more privileged among us (including myself) to really think before complaining about gay pride or anything else that seeks to support a marginalized group and about why those organizations exist. Think about the little kid growing up in a small, Evangelical school in the South coming to Harvard who never got to express his gender without shame. Think about how even though very few final clubs, sports teams, or other socially prestigious institutions that we laud as Harvard students are welcoming to him acting super queeny, that the QSA or the Office of BGLTQ Student Life or a lunch table full of other gays might be at least a small space where he can feel comfortable with his identity, one that is socially determined to be gross, sinful, and embarrassing.
And think about all the other experiences of marginalization that are caused by various stigmatized gender, racial, religious, disabled, and socioeconomic identities and statuses. While a post-oppressive society might be nice to imagine, groups that are affected by the reality of our discriminatory society need institutional support.
This isn’t an attempt to segregate. It’s an attempt to survive.
Powell Eddins ’16 is an economics concentrator in Currier House and co-chair of the Harvard College Queer Students & Allies.