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Shades of Grey in-focus: a journalist’s notebook

Supreetha Gubbala discusses lessons learned on completing a four-part series on race at Brandeis

Published: April 29, 2011
Section: News


I didn’t realize race until this year. Though I had attended a Posse Plus Retreat focused on “Race After Obama” and roomed with my first “black” Nigerian roommate in a crowded single room, I didn’t fully understand the effects of race until the first week of our Race and Gender in the Media class when Professor Eileen McNamara (JOUR) proved to me that pedagogy can fling open doors in your mind that simply cannot be shut again. At that point it becomes so difficult to unlearn what becomes so painfully clear in the classroom that you simply cannot turn away from seeing it everywhere in your life.

You might say the three of us came into writing this series well-educated but supremely naïve. During the three-month process of writing this series, we have screamed at each other out of frustration, been lied to by those we respected, considered giving up, considered restarting the Black Panther movement and been moved by people we had never before met. In working with two other journalists, my best friend and an experienced senior journalist, this understanding of race was unavoidable as we realized that our lens of objectivity was clouded with the subjectivity of race.

People are not what they seem; we were taught this by moments that were sometimes inspiring but sometimes greatly disappointing. Each person has different motives for their beliefs. Maybe, as journalists, we could not dig up the entire truth from our politically correct academia. But, without writing this, how would I have ever known the truth often lies in that which is off-the-record?

Race is not easy to discuss honestly because it is easy to lie to yourself. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to know how you actually feel about it unless you admit it and, I will be the first to say, writing this is only the first step toward accepting how I feel about race. I am a South-Asian girl by appearance with an ever-changing accent as result of being raised in India, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Australia and the United States. Race is not a concept I was taught until I arrived here. I had no personal relationship with racial struggle. But attempting to understand a struggle not my own has ultimately made all the difference.

Writing this series made me see that the majority of Brandeis has been standing on a moving walkway for too long, unaware of the dangers of remaining uneducated on an issue that underlies the very buildings we walk through. As students, we cannot sit and wait to be educated about race when it is visible in our science classrooms, which are void of black skin, and grad fests with floor parties stratified by colors. It is all around us in the crevices of Usdan and in the location of the ICC on campus—most of all it is in the lack of color on campus.

The school that I once glorified for being avant-garde in taking the unbeaten path is now accepting mediocrity and stagnancy because it is easy. It’s hard to see a lack of African-American professors when you only have a handful to point it out to you and even harder to see why that is important to a confused Indian girl with only fresh knowledge of African-American history. I secretly hoped in doing all this, in admitting that confusion and frustration is better than ignorance, that we could fling open doors that cannot be shut; that we could so clearly outline the dangers of what we don’t talk about and what is not there; that we could show you firsthand that this journey is worth taking.