The People of Color (POC) Spring Formal last Friday night was a necessary brief distraction from the dystopian nightmare that is our current political climate. Sponsored by the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB), the off-campus event celebrated students of color — providing a much-needed break from the barrage of click-bait articles, “alternative facts” and the candlelight vigil for victims of Bowling Green.
Ever since I watched Trump’s inauguration with the boy that I babysit, I needed this type of safe space.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to change the channel?” I pleaded with him while a foreboding feeling rose in me. “Why don’t we switch to an episode of Little Einstein’s instead?”
“No, thank you,” he replied — with all the stubbornness of a sugar-wired preschooler who wants his way just because.
At the age of four, he was far too young to understand the political ramifications of a Trump presidency. He was much too fascinated by Barack Obama’s cool-looking helicopter to worry about the next four years, and spent the rest of the night trying to recreate his departure from the White House, using nothing but the pile of Lego’s strewn across the living room floor.
As a Muslim-American woman, I had a markedly different reaction to the events unfolding on screen.
I stared in horror as Trump raised his right hand and vowed to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.” I spent the next morning unfriending dozens of old classmates on Facebook, whose racist, xenophobic exclamations of America’s renewed greatness proved too much to bear. I spent the next week glued to my laptop, index finger hovering over the refresh button, terror-stricken at the sheer inhumanity of the President’s latest string of executive orders.
The truth is, I am exhausted of hearing about Donald Trump. I am tired of thinking about him, and I am even more tired of talking about the steady stream of vitriol that spews out of his and his supporters’ mouths.
I do not want to worry about the normalization of hatred, once hidden under the pretense of common decency. I do not want to wonder about the ripple effect that Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric will have on my close friends and family members, many of whom do not have the privilege of an American passport or the luxury of an American accent. I do not want to acknowledge a future that is controlled by yet another power-hungry white man.
With the POC Formal, I finally took the night off from obsessing over Trump’s Twitter tantrums. I let myself get carried away with finding the perfect dress. I shut my brain down for the few hours that it took to straighten my hair — a futile attempt given the weather conditions — and perfect my winged eyeliner. I posed for cute, candid photos and uploaded them to Instagram, no filter. I then disconnected from social media and muted all incoming notifications on my phone. I let myself relax, surrounded by the people I knew shared my disgust and empathized with my pain. For the first time in over three months, I let go of the fear that loitered at the back of my brain, the voice that whispered “be careful,” every time I ventured outside the Occidental bubble.
POC Formal was a necessary reaction to the atmosphere of grief that has permeated this campus since Nov. 8 (and arguably much before then). It gave people of color a safe space, away from Occidental College and the claustrophobia it can often induce.
I needed that space right now as I, unfortunately, am well aware of what faith, family and freedom loving Tomi Lahren thinks of “liberal snowflakes“, and their ridiculous demands for safety. I have reconciled myself to the media’s misrepresentation and satirization of whiny millennials, so eager to play the victim. Our passion makes us “entitled,” our refusal to acquiesce to institutionalized inequalities “triggered” and “politically-correct narcissists.”
My cousin —17 and still processing the different facets of his own identity — believes that colorblindness is the only way to fix a country ripped apart by racial tensions. Although he means well, his shortsighted beliefs about a “post-racial” society overlook people of color in favor of faux tolerance and superficial harmony. My friend struggled to understand the purpose of POC Formal. We fought over the weekend about, what he claimed, was an example of “reverse racism,” a divisive tactic that both excluded and alienated a significant portion of Occidental’s student body.
It is not discriminatory to prioritize the wellbeing of marginalized communities. It is not exclusionary to provide a safe space for people of color. As an Indian-Pakistani woman, I am used to feeling left out and underrepresented at on-campus parties. These past three and a half years have helped me appreciate the weight of these overlapping identities, in relation to my sense of self. I know from experience the awkwardness of making small talk, red solo cup in hand, with a stranger with whom you cannot connect. I also know the simple thrill of watching a group of impeccably dressed, sari-clad students compliment each others’ style.
We do not deserve four years of President Trump. We do, however, deserve a night to feel comfortable in our own skins. POC Formal gave us that much.
Sana Vasi is a senior Diplomacy and World Affairs major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.