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To the perpetrator…

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dear not-so-gentlemanly boy of Stanford Hall,

Because you feigned ignorance to the reason I slapped you this past Saturday night, please allow me the opportunity to explain (although, quite frankly, you do not deserve the courtesy). No, it was not because it was in my nature as a black woman as you very loudly lamented. It was because I am a woman, a human, who is simply deserving of respect and courtesy. It was because the moment you decided to swing your hand down at my bottom, you believed it was okay to put your unfamiliar hands on my private part without my permission, and I am NOT okay with that.

For the past month, I had been thoroughly consumed with writing my very important final paper for the graduate course I was taking, so I elected to spend my Saturday night in. My friend had graciously vacated his room in Stanford for me so I would not need to confine myself in the library which was already swarming with students hard at work. At half-past midnight, I decided to step out into the lobby to use the restroom when you, not-so-gentlemanly boy, stopped me to ask, “Who are you?” Knowing well enough nothing good could come out of the situation, being that you were so intoxicated, I decided to continue on my way without answering. Upon my return, you and several of your cronies had congregated around the door of the party you were at and were effectively blocking my passage through the hallway. As I made my way through the throng, you decided it was a good idea to slap my behind. Try your best to imagine my shock and disbelief at having you, a complete stranger, put his hand on me as if I wanted it there. I did what I would have done had the situation occurred in a bar, on the street or anywhere else; I slapped you and walked away. I was upset and visibly shaking when I re-entered the room. I did not care to have your hand on my behind, good-natured though the intention might have been. I did not know you and did not give you the permission to touch me. When I closed the door behind me, it was all I could do to keep my calm as my bottom continued to sting where your hand had abused it.

My head was swimming in fury and humiliation. Yes, humiliation. Do you understand that? Then I noticed something else, my eyes were stinging with unshed tears. No, not because of what had just occurred. I was upset because of the analysis that you and your buddies were giving for my slap. “Why would she do that?” “Oh my God, that was out of nowhere” “Wow, I am really glad that I am not a black man … I would never want to deal with women like that.” And from you, dearest not-so-gentleman, “That was so black of her!” Wait, what? Why was it so easy for you to blame my actions on my skin color? I was mad, furious, to be perfectly honest. Mad at the girls who stood there and did nothing when you slapped my bottom, at those very girls (notice that I do not call them women) who seemed astonished that I should react in the manner that I did, mad at the boys (for I shall not call you or them men) who did not chastise you for your inappropriate behavior and mad at being reduced to a race instead of the human that I am.

You see, not-so-gentlemanly man, before you, I had never had a racist encounter. Before you, I had often had conversations with my friends where I expressed fears that one day I would have to face racism. I had survived all 12 of my years in the United States without ever going through that moment and I had hope it would never happen to me … until you.

When you and your friends said those things about me, I froze. I could feel something inside me screaming, “This is it, Priscilla, look at it in the face,” begging me to react and put you to shame, but I couldn’t.

I was so dumbfounded and so incredibly hurt that I couldn’t move. The pain was visceral and consuming. I was angry at you for tearing down what little hope I had in you as a human being and at myself for not being able to react the way I wanted to.

I slapped you not because I am black, but for the profound respect that I have for myself as a woman. I do so hope you read this because I write it especially for you. How does it feel to be the perpetrator of my first racist experience? Congratulate yourself. Not many can say they were able to bring Priscilla Nyankson to tears, but you can.  

Priscilla Nyankson