Underrepresented, Misunderstood with Hannah Cornish

Text: Naomi Shimada
Photography: Stephen Thomas-Dorin

 

Hannah Cornish, a first-year neuroscience major, views the SPIRIT Fashion Show as an opportunity for her to be a part of spreading the celebration of diversity and art. She believes that art is the perfect way for her to be a part of spreading that message.

I joined SPIRIT Fashion Show because I wanted to be a part of celebrating diversity through art. I loved that idea. The show gives so many opportunities for people to showcase different aspects of ethnicity and race by showcasing their beauty. In every way I can, I want to be a part of spreading the celebration of diversity and art is the most potent way of conveying a message. SPIRIT Fashion show gives me the perfect way to be a part of doing that.

 

SPIRIT’s celebration of diversity helps to bring the issue of discrimination to the forefront of conversation.  Cornish believes that veiled discrimination is just as harmful as overt discrimination.

People seem to think that discrimination must be obvious. However, discrimination often is not overt. It can be felt in the way one is spoken to, the lack of makeup that matches your skin tone, or assumptions made about one based on their ethnicity. There doesn’t need to be racist comments nor preference shown to a certain group for there to be discrimination. It’s often a mix of little things that make one feel they do not belong.

 
 

Cornish, who is black, white, and Filipino, has acutely felt discrimination herself.

Being of mixed race, there was a sense of not being “enough” when I was growing up. I wasn’t “white enough” or “black enough” to belong anywhere. There was a period, especially around middle school, when I had trouble fitting in to any one group. People didn’t really know how to categorize me. I think people generally feel they need to be able to group people and, as a mixed girl, I made this hard to do. I received a frustrating, horrible mix of criticism. I often heard that I was “the whitest black girl” that people have ever met and that I “wasn’t really black.” I was called everything from “Oreo” to the N word. For a while, I believed that I had to essentially pick a side and choose one race to be. This conflict of identity was horrible for developing a sense of self. But, as I grew up, I began to realize that other people’s notions of who I should be are completely irrelevant. I’m black and white and Filipino and I don’t owe anyone an explanation for that

 

More broadly, though, Cornish is angered by the discrimination against black people that has become institutionalized.

I find myself most enraged by discrimination against black people within the legal system. It’s outrageous. Black men are incarcerated at five times the rate of white men. It blows my mind. Hispanics and African Americans only make up about a third of the US population but over half of the prison population. And most of their cases are settled in a plea bargain. It’s incredibly alarming to me. Even the language difference used when describing white crime versus other crime is crazy.

 

 
 

Allies, Cornish says, need to be ready and willing to listen to the frustrations of those affected by discrimination.

Listen to understand, not to respond. This will allow you to narrow your focus and tailor actions to help solve the issues that really affect people. I think one of the biggest jobs of an ally is to be willing to talk to and educate people that perpetuate discriminatory behavior. Defend and advocate for people who are being mistreated, especially when you are in a positon of privilege that gives you an advantage. Recognize when your privilege is harmful for other people and show others how theirs might be, too.

 

To help end discrimination, Cornish says, communities must educate.

Education is key. I think a lot of our issues come down to ignorance. It’s much easier to harm those you do not understand. In order to create progress, people need to be willing to talk with others, listen to them. Communities need to look within themselves to see where they specifically are perpetuating discrimination. They need to be made aware of their own problematic behaviors. Discrimination is a big, complex issue so communities need to tailor their responses to their own people’s concerns. They should also be aware of gentrification within their communities because this process disproportionately harms minorities groups.