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Suede Graham | PACE UNIVERSITY

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Westchester Magazine featured Haub Law Dean Horace Anderson and Coordinator for Student Development and Campus Activities Suede Graham in "Local Westchester Leaders Reflect on Race"

10/14/2020

Westchester Magazine featured Haub Law Dean Horace Anderson and Coordinator for Student Development and Campus Activities Suede Graham in "Local Westchester Leaders Reflect on Race"

– Horace Anderson Jr. –

Dean, Elisabeth Haub School of Law, Pace University, White Plains

Over the last two months, I have cycled through a number of emotions related to the killing of George Floyd. I have felt anger at the police officer who kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and at the officers who watched it happen without intervening. I’ve felt pride for the mobilization of protests by people (across generations and racial/ethnic groups) to seek redress not only for Floyd’s death but also for the deaths of others at the hands of law enforcement and the treatment of Black people by our institutions in general.

I have felt anger again at those who have co-opted the protest moment for violent and destructive ends. I have felt fear for communities wracked by the current violence, having grown up in neighborhoods that took decades to recover from the rioting of the late 1960s. I have felt fear again for my friends in law enforcement, who I think exemplify a spirit of public service and community-mindedness that is common among the majority of law enforcement officers and that I believe is achievable throughout the system.

We are scrutinizing whom we honor with statues and monuments; we are questioning how we make hiring and purchasing decisions; and we are reexamining how we police. On the other hand, I have felt pessimistic about how much we will accomplish if we are satisfied with the quick and easy answer.

If we do not move beyond the tearing down of statues to a deeper understanding of the history that led to those statues being erected in the first place, we will accomplish little. If we accept mere cosmetic changes to how we provide economic opportunity for all, we will accomplish little. If we embrace careless language about “abolishing” police that obscures the real need to balance community safety and order with the individual rights of those who have encounters with police officers, then we will accomplish little.     

Along with all of those emotions, I have found myself asking questions, all under the heading of: Why now, and what now? What is there about this moment that has brought people to the streets, to legislative halls, and to boardrooms with such antiracist fervor? The issues were not new; people of color and their allies have been speaking out about them for centuries. Did the fact that so many of us have quarantined at home give us more time to reflect? Did our inability to distract ourselves with dinners out and baseball games and Broadway shows force us to grapple with that infamous video more than we would in “normal” times? Did mass unemployment make it easier for people to take to the streets and spend hours, days, or weeks protesting? Has reporting on the disparate and devastating racial impact of the novel coronavirus provided a timely confirmation that race still matters in the United States and that the spheres in which it matters, such as housing, healthcare, and public safety, are full of life-or-death consequences? Has the pandemic created in each of us a clearer understanding that ignoring problems will not make them go away, that politicizing them can endanger lives, that leadership matters, and that we each need to play our part in bringing about the change that will lead to better outcomes?        

It will take much more time to understand the Why now? but we need to proceed with the What now? As a father, teacher, and leader of an educational institution, I have a responsibility to facilitate a better world for my sons, my students, and my community. Actually, we all have that responsibility, and we should all be looking for ways, in our homes, workplaces, and social circles, to expand opportunity, insist on equity, and ensure that some good comes out of the George Floyd tragedy.

– Suede Graham –

Coordinator for Student Development and Campus Activities, Pace University, Pleasantville

I remember the first realization that my mother and I were a different color.

Sitting in the bed of my grandpa’s truck, on a hot July afternoon in a small Arkansas town, my 4-year-old eyes rummaged back and forth between my mother’s white thigh and my caramel-colored arms.

“Momma, why aren’t you brown like me?”

My mother, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Southern belle, sat in silence, not necessarily prepared to have the birds-and-the-bees conversation with her 4-year-old son. Nervously, she grabbed me by the hand, and we scurried inside the house to the kitchen. I sat at the kitchen table and watched as she retrieved two clean glasses from the countertop, a gallon of milk from the refrigerator, and a bottle of chocolate syrup from the cupboard. She began to fill the two glasses with equal amounts of whole milk but proceeded to pour and stir Hershey’s chocolate syrup into only one of the glasses. I watched as her concoction transitioned from notebook-paper white to a color quite similar to that of my arms, legs, face, and body.

“You are just like me, Suede, with just a little bit more sweetness in you.”

To my curious mind, that all made sense. But now, as a 27-year-old Black man in America, I wonder to myself: When did that “sweetness” my mother presented to me turn into a setback?

My mother and father divorced by the time I was 2, and we soon relocated to a town full of people who looked more like my mother and not like me. In my earlier years, I never realized and grasped the idea that I was a different color than many of my friends. As I grew into a young teenager and then into an adult, navigating life in predominantly White spaces became awkward and oftentimes confusing. Being too White for the Black kids but too Black for most of the White kids, I felt the need to look, talk, dress, and act a certain way. Hannah Montana once had a song titled “The Best of Both Worlds,” but what does one do when your two worlds neither collide nor coincide?

Being biracial, specifically as a Black-and-White individual in America, understanding your identity can be elusive and arbitrary. Race can often be used to define so many aspects of our lives, and we feel as if we are forced to make a choice. We did not choose our skin color, but the world chooses to cast upon us judgments and prejudices simply because of our darker complexions.

A big part of the biracial experience in America is being treated, or not being treated, like a Black person. Because of my darker skin tone, I identify more, and live this life, as a Black man. I walk into a room and immediately search for someone in the room who may look like me.

I love my Blackness. I love my culture. I love my hair. I find joy in the things that make me unique and different.

I just wish our nation loved my people the same way that I do.

Read the full Westchester Magazine article.