Evelyn Kachaje, HLS ’15
It’s the little things that catch you off guard. The use of a phrase like “those people.” Realizing that “we” doesn’t really include “me.”
Today, we sat in class and, as the professor expressed her glee about how perfectly the facts of the case at hand fit with our careful categories of homicide, I found myself taking a step back from the dialogue. For some reason this case, this discourse, and the general delight with which the facts were being discussed, bothered me. This was the first time I had felt this way. Or maybe the first time it had been enough of a feeling to make it to the surface. I always worry about becoming “one of those people.” Those people who are overly sensitive, those people who can read racism or sexism or any number of isms into any statement. I try very hard to not be identified as one of them. So for the most part when there are stirrings of a bother, I kill them instantly in an effort not to be outed. Today I couldn’t stop the stirrings. The difference? This criminal law case was not a 1920′s homicide case; it is a case happening right now, halfway across the world in South Africa, a country very close to home for me. And “those people” are my people. There are times I can forget that am one of the only international students in the class. Or more importantly, I am one of the only students in the class who doesn’t identify as American. An immigrant to the States. Everyone else forgets.
Then there are times like today.
When South Africans are referred to in class as “those people.” When “we” means all of the people who are American citizens. When “us” means everyone in the class who can vote. When “reasonable person” imports into it an inherent assumption of a specific type of American culture. Prof. Montoya speaks of her experience in her first Criminal Law Class, in which she as a Latina first encountered a representation of her, and that representation was a defendant in a murder case. I look around my Criminal law class and see only one other black female face. It’s times like today that are a stark reminder that as much as we have progressed in the classroom, as huge the strides are that we’ve taken, as much as I feel comfortable speaking up in class, as connected to the rest of the group I feel and as wonderful a time as I’ve been so blessed to have here at HLS, there are still some strides to be taken. It’s the little things that remind you. I’m sure someday “we” really will mean “we”.