On Being a Person of Color in an MFA Program

I am angry.

That’s the first thing you should know.  I am so full of rage right now that I can barely speak, that tears fall unchecked because I can’t even bother to take a deep breath and stop them.  I am here, in my room, alone.

And

I

am

furious. 

As I type I wonder if I’ll regret what I’m about to say, but I don’t know that I will. Because it needs to be said.

And every author of color needs to hear it.

Being a person of color in an MFA program is like willingly going to that part of town you know you should avoid.  It is walking into that one honky tonk bar that still flies the confederate flag out front. 

It is condensing every microaggression you have had to endure for the past twenty years, distilling them into a bitter cocktail that you must drink again and again and again, sometimes only realizing after the fact that you swallowed poison.

I just spent an hour in a lecture in which a faculty member told everyone that people (re: minorities and ostensibly QUILTBAG folks) are just way too angry these days and to not worry about stepping on people’s toes. After all, people need to get over themselves.

These are the things no one warns you about when you say you want to finally go and get that MFA you’ve been dreaming of.  Well, no one except for Junot Diaz. 

And unfortunately, he was right.

I have never, ever, been so consistently injured by something I chose to do voluntarily. Never.

The faculty member who lectured used scare quotes around microaggressions, as though they were some fairy tale created by people of color to make life more difficult.  She used news items out of context to make her point.  She told us how she felt sorry for white men, all while reassuring the audience that she was a feminist! And had gay friends! And had once gone to the black part of town while on vacation!

“If you accidentally use a slur, move on. Fail better.”

No.

Nononononononononononononononono.

This is not okay.  And I won’t pretend that it is.

That isn’t to say there aren’t faculty here who are strongly against what was said, who didn’t try to redirect.  Who are even now trying to pick up the pieces and move on.  And I love them for that.  I deeply, truly appreciate that.

But once a bomb has been detonated in a neighborhood it takes a very long time to rebuild, to fill the crater left behind.  To replace each brick, to heal the grief and injuries of the people who were trapped inside.

There are good faculty members here.  There are amazing people who are trying very hard to make the program I’m in one that embraces diversity and encourages differing perspectives.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it is still incredibly othering to be a person of color in an MFA program (and QUILTBAG!).  And it only takes one lecture to open wounds that never truly get the chance to heal, that have only just begun to scar over.  It only takes one lecture for a faculty member to encourage everyone else in the room that your perspective is just angry, that there is only hurt behind your rage.

If I could quit, I would.  But I won’t.  Because I’m too stubborn. And because the only way to fix this problem is to have MFA faculties that better reflect the amazing world we live in instead of the privileged few.

So I’m going to fix my make up and go back. 

Because I am angry.

But I am not broken.