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Is Your History My History?

ladyinwhite's picture



I cannot help but cringe whenever I hear the term we, or us – the very stamp of inclusivity. This supposed notion of involvement forces me to question the extent of history, our history—one that I am told is in fact my own. As we, a group of students and professors, strolled through the ‘Black at Bryn Mawr' tour, the storyteller made a subtle yet clear distinction between us and them.

 Who is us? During this experience, every mention of we when referring to the wrongs carried out by the white people in the past caused me unease.

 “We would live in the nicer rooms…we could get multiple rooms.” ~Grace Pussey

 Does this lumping of the audience into one include me? It simply is not true—as a listener to the story of Bryn Mawr, I can say that I do not feel included within the we that was constantly used to describe the actions of white people during that particular time frame of history.

 “… and they would stay in the maids quarters of merion….they weren’t allowed to go to school here.” ~Grace Pussey

 It was clear that for the duration of this tour, within every reference of us—the white students of Bryn Mawr, there was a them—the black students.

 The tour in itself sought to educate and shed light to the history, an amenable cause; however, in bringing this awareness, the bearer of the account must be cautious of their audience, and their histories. Personally, I do not connect to the we used repeatedly—as I am obviously not a white woman; the history expressed is not mine.

 When someone presents this binary of we and them, I tend to deviate from it. This is not a divergence from the otherness, but a complication. I have to navigate and maneuver these experiences from my own context—one that might not be mentioned.

 The slippage lies in the terming of us and them. This subconscious distinction between the two is exclusionary. The audience cannot be lumped into a single entity to which a spiel of singular perspective is emitted. This one sided telling takes away whatever sense of belonging is possible for everyone else. If one does not fit into the telling raised by the orator, that person is automatically the outsider. This experience during the tour resurrected this concept of the two entities—us and them—existing separately.

 The slippage arises when one does not think to consider that there are people in the audience where in this experience, are ‘them’, according to the terms put forth.

 But why is it that this slip may have some to fruition? I am in no position to say why any slippage may occur specifically, as reasons and past experiences fluctuate immensely across individuals. The very definition of slippage slides throughout time, and as of now, one reason for a slippage may be the aspects of ourselves that we cannot control. It is the capricious part of our consciousness that slithers into conversation, usually unintentionally. However inadvertent the slippage may be, it still has an impact on others, and it is our duty to make sure that these slips do not go unnoticed.

 The offense in a slippage is tangled with the present day moral code, which is constantly shifting and adjusting with every experience that is added. We do not all follow the same distinction of right from wrong, we do not all believe the same thing when in a reasonable and rational state. While I may consider someone a perpetrator of slippage, they may refuse to believe that they have slipped—what it is to be done then? At this point, it is no longer a slip; one must have empathy for acknowledgement of a slip to prevail.