I am Naomi Tomlin and I live in identity limbo. I am caught between worlds and not sure where I belong.
My mother is white and my father is black. Sometimes, I’ll check multiple boxes under the terrifying title which reads “RACE.” Sometimes, I’ll just check black. My sophomore year, I attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, where I learned that race is a subjective label, often based on how others see you. This definition terrified me. I’ve had people think I was all black, or all white, or Puerto Rican, or many other things. This definition made me feel hopeless, like I won’t truly own a label until everyone else applies it to me first. Suddenly, I felt deeply alone.
My mother is from East Germany, and German culture is very close to my heart. This sometimes feels at odds with my blackness. I walk down the streets of Nurtingen and see nobody who looks like me. I go into the Judisches Museum— a Holocaust memorial— and face the irony of being a black German. Looking at me, you wouldn’t think that I’m German. When I say I speak the language and have a dual citizenship, I’m met with surprise.
As a black woman, I face other small assumptions. Like many people my age, I am still figuring out what I believe. But some people assume that I am a democrat or a liberal because of how they perceive my identity. Like assumptions about my race, assumptions about my political identity make me feel confined and invalid.
Finding your perfect affinity group is a long and personal process which can bring such empowerment. But being forced into one by other people brings the opposite. If someone pushes an identity onto me, it makes me feel limited instead of liberated.
I encourage you all to consider how the labels you push onto others affect them. At Hopkins, I’ve heard people say that Democrats are ruining America or that Republicans are all Nazis. This shows how even our campus is affected by harmful stereotyping. Please consider the possible experiences of your classmates, your students, your coworkers, and your teachers. Be sensitive to the assumptions you make about those around you and how it might affect those people if the assumptions are false. I have been impacted by these assumptions, and I know I am not alone.
Together as a community, we should work towards an environment of equality. Respect equally; don’t just respect people you agree with. Listen equally; even listen to people who you find irritating. This is hard for everyone, and it’s something that I struggle with too. But it is even more important to listen to those you disagree with and respect their opinions. Otherwise, we run the risk of living in a bubble of like-minded people, alienating and judging everyone outside of our group. But when we welcome differing views, we expand and deepen our own beliefs more than we would living in an echo chamber.
Connecticut is not homogenous regarding race, socioeconomic status, political belief, sexuality, or experience. The sheer amount of individual experience is overwhelming sometimes, but I like to see it more as a resource than a disadvantage. Even just here on the hill, no two people have identical experiences. Reach out to new people, question your opinions, and see that novelty is not threatening, but exciting.
There will be an open discussion tomorrow in the Weissman room G and H blocks. If you have a free, I would love to see you there to further discuss these topics.