The December issue is getting printed somewhere, and meanwhile, a little feature to
keep your spirits up.
Emilie Rosenblatt, CC’ 08, is of average height and build, unassumingly pretty with straight brown hair and fair skin. In her daily uniform of jeans, a hoodie, and a tank top, at first glance she could be in the admissions brochure of any East Coast private college. But those jeans? They’re Baby Phat. And the tank top says “Latina is Beautiful” in rhinestones. When she opens her mouth, it is clearer still that she doesn’t fit the mold: she uses a distinctly urban dialect—sounding more like a hip-hop artist than an Ivy League academic—readily admitting that she’s not too concerned with colloquial grammar.
And then there’s her resume. At one point during our interview, Rosenblatt used the word “myselves.” Though it was an accident and she laughed and corrected herself, it was a fitting Freudian slip: her incredibly busy schedule requires a few extra limbs, if not personalities. As an English and African-American Studies double major, Rosenblatt balances an ambitious course load—last semester she took 24 credits. As if that weren’t enough to keep her occupied, at only 21 she’s already held more jobs than most retirees. As a first-year she worked full-time at Duane Reade—the four P.M. to midnight shift—to compensate for “lousy” financial aid. She’s held countless internships, including stints at Grove Atlantic Press, Crotona Park in the Bronx, the Working Families Party and Sean John, and she used to copy-edit for an economics professor specializing in contract law.
She also participates in America Reads, takes dance classes at Barnard “just for fun,” and performs with the Black Theater Ensemble. She played a major role in a production of Ntozake Shange’s (BC’ 70) For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, which was written for an all-black cast. “I called and said, ‘I’m white, is it OK if I show up?’” As a resident of the Intercultural Resource Center, she helped found Freedom School, a program designed as an “answer” to the Core Curriculum: a recent alternative-Art Hum field trip took students to 5 Pointz, a graffiti mecca in Queens. She’s devoted past spring breaks to working for social justice in Nicaragua (with Hillel) and New Orleans (with the Office of Multicultural Affairs). “I’m indecisive to the point of, well, I’ll just do everything,” she said.
And then there’s her life story, which she is hesitant to share and careful about relaying. She was born into a Jewish family on the Southside of Chicago—a specific I had to coax out of her because she is wary of being pegged as the token white kid from a poor black neighborhood. That said, she is something of anomaly, though she moved to Minneapolis by the time she entered (a mostly white) high school. The environment of her early years, coupled with her activist-type father, might help explain the particular bent of her resume, her reasons for participating in last month’s hunger strike, and why she is “often the only white person in the room.”
It wouldn’t be fair to accuse Rosenblatt of denying the fact that she is white. She maintains a connection to Judaism, attending Temple on the High Holy Days and Passover—though she doesn’t quite see eye-to-eye with one of her older brothers, who is Hasidic and has seven children. And she considers criticism of her lifestyle to be valid, explaining that a lot of white people appropriate black and Latino culture in a manner that is not respectful. “There’s a tendency to go into it ignorantly,” she said. “I’m not saying that I don’t, but I try to do it in a way that’s conscious of power and race and privilege.”
In the end, Rosenblatt isn’t too preoccupied with defining herself—any of her selves—and she shrugs off the question of her own identity. Said one of her friends: “After years of failed attempts to place her into a category, I’ve decided that she’s just Emilie: a sum of different experiences, different social groups, different ideals. She throws her entire self in every situation of importance to her. She’s so real, and I admire her for being that.”
– Hannah Goldfield