Author Matthew Salesses Discusses Race and Identity at Convocation

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Matthew Salesses discussed the Convocation theme of “Belonging and Identity in America,” a theme which runs through both his novel and Wheelock’s summer reading assignment, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Wheelock College formally opened its doors for the 2015-2016 academic year on September 1 with a Convocation Ceremony featuring an address by Matthew Salesses, author of the novel The Hundred-Year Flood. In his remarks, Salesses discussed the Convocation theme of “Belonging and Identity in America,” a theme which runs through both his novel and Wheelock’s summer reading assignment, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The two authors experience different journeys, yet both speak similarly regarding the struggle of understanding themselves and where they belong in America.

WATCH: Author Matthew Salesses Addresses Wheelock Student Body

Coming Together

Convocation is Latin for “coming together,” and this important Wheelock tradition is part of a day of learning for the campus, with special activities planned for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the larger community. All incoming students read Americanah prior to arriving on campus, discussed the book in small faculty- and staff-led discussion groups prior to the Convocation Ceremony, and will continue the conversations throughout their first-year courses.

Matthew Salesses, who was adopted from Korea, grew up with white parents in a small town in Connecticut. He said college was his first opportunity to define himself on his own terms rather than in the context of his family, community, or racial background.

From His Own Experience

“I have a four-year-old daughter and she doesn’t see any difference between herself and Elsa [the Disney princess],” he said. “She doesn’t see Elsa as white and herself as brown….But many little kids treat other little kids of color as different than them because of the way they look.”

“It’s my suspicion that these kids who see my daughter as not-white, as different from them, go to the movies and notice the one or two characters of color and think of them as what we often call diversity,” he said. “They are aware from a very young age that kids of color are racial, are diverse. And they, they are just kids….I had to learn to think of myself as racial…..I had to learn to think of this as unequal.”


“When we value diversity for its otherness, we’re devaluing it.”


“When we value diversity for its otherness, we’re devaluing it,” he said. Matthew Salesses cautioned about the “The Danger of a Single Story” narrative- idea is that, in some cases, one story becomes the accepted (or only visible) version among many, and the persistence of stereotype and singular model can be extremely damaging to a person’s sense of self, truth, and empathy. He challenged student to see race and to change how they see race. “Remake yourself within the world you live in and you will remake the world.”