I’m the bitter brown boy. I complain about the lack of faculty diversity on campus, meet with high-ranking administrators, and advocate for a culture of empathy and sensitivity. I’m hyper-aware of the melanin in my skin and I make sure everyone knows it.
But why? As an observant Crimson commenter pointed out on my previous piece, should I really be criticizing the fat entitlement that is a Harvard education? Maybe I should graciously accept the privilege of being a Harvard student, one of a select elite, and just appreciate what I’ve been given.
I would shut up and accept the privilege if I could. I really would if my time on campus wasn’t filled with reminders that maybe, just maybe, this place isn’t for me. When I find my experience at Harvard altered by the simple fact that my skin is darker than the majority of my peers, I find it impossible to be anything but outspoken.
During Opening Days, I went to one of the upperclassman houses to pick up a couch my white roommate had in storage. As he spoke to the building manager, I stood beside him.
“I see you brought a laborer.”
In the two seconds of silence my roommate and I spent deciding whether or not it was a really awful joke, the confusion in the building manager’s face and his follow up made it clear.
“Or is he the roommate?” An afterthought.
Fine, perhaps I shouldn’t be too sensitive. Perhaps, I should ignore the history spanning years of workers laboring endless hours in the sun, for close to no pay, to build up this country. Perhaps I should have been wearing Harvard gear, just to ensure that my body on this campus was valid.
On to the next day.
I’m sitting with some friends in the dining hall—the one that we’re told we should embrace as our own, even without a single portrait on the wall that looks like us. I hear the suggestions that I should broaden my horizons and really understand diverse perspectives, but somehow this doesn’t sit well. We’re accused of self-segregation when we advocate for a multicultural center, when we’re throwing Spanish around in the dining hall, being a little loud, or when we have an all brown, or all black, blocking group. A group composed of entirely white, blonde students sits one table over.
I got an email last semester from a Crimson news writer asking to interview me about a meeting with President Faust that I attended. I agreed, but upperclassmen who had attended this meeting as well, and had a history with interviews in the past, warned me to be thoughtful and careful about the way I phrased what I had to say. They knew, as I’d come to learn, that when there are only a few of us in the classroom and extracurricular organizations, we run the risk of representing an entire population. I choose to engage with my culture by being active in the Latinx organizations on campus, but this automatically makes me the voice of “The Harvard Latino,” as if we were a monolith. But, hey, I should be honored or something, right?
When I hear that people don’t want me to talk about race, I wish I could stop. I wish that my skin color didn’t affect the way I fit into this institution. I wish my beautiful brown skin, ingrained with the complex history of my mother and her mother before her, could exist the same way white skin does on this campus.
But that simply isn’t the way things are at Harvard, and it isn’t the way things are out in the world, and I won’t stop talking until people begin to realize that. As long as your anecdotes become national news while mine are dismissed as whiny, entitled student activism, I’ll continue to speak out. I’m waiting for the day I can stop, but I won’t be quiet while I wait. I’m a brown boy, writing, mobilizing, learning. I’m a bitter brown boy still breathing.
Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Canaday Hall.
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