It's okay to be
Happy Black History Month, guys!
This is an extremely interesting time to be in part of the "other" in the United States. It is as though the baseline idea of White is beginning to change. When a person is introduced, there is no immediate assumption that the individual in question will look a certain way. This is refreshing. Also scary, but sometimes optimism is all we have.
I recently took part in a panel discussion on my campus (I was a speaker). The discussion was centered around some sheets of white printer paper that were posted around campus last semester with the words "It's okay to be white" on them. Obviously, these posters prompted a lot of feelings, most of them angry. At first, I thought that I was angry as well, but upon closer reflection, I can recognize the deep sadness I truly felt. As panelists, we worked hard to approach the whole discussion as a civil conversation, and the moderator did a fantastic job of keeping us in the right headspace. Overall, everyone had a lot to add, and I so appreciated all the participation, and the space that let everyone feel truly heard, if not completely understood. However, there were some questions involving self- segregation. I personally would argue that I have felt this division more in Alaska than anywhere else I've been in the US thus far. When I get to see more of my own country, I'll be able to offer better comparison. Additionally, things have to heat up for us to change anything, unfortunately. It would be so easy to sit back and pretend that we can do nothing. We have to stand up like the people marching with MLK, like the women marching for rights, like the people taking to the streets for Women's marches...
There are a couple things that I took away from that amazing night of conversation.
1) This is not a fight of Black people versus White people. This is a fight of the oppressors becoming the minority. In this case, not even becoming a minority, but feeling confused about their place in society. News Flash: it's about dang time you felt the way the rest of have been this whole time!
2) It is not our job as the out- group to educate the in- group, but if it falls to us, listen. I can't give you homework assignments like "get pulled over for driving while brown," or "go through TSA with hair that is immediately a problem and gets you extra pat downs." It falls to you as the group that doesn't have to deal with these things to come to us with your questions and concerns. I, for one, am happy to talk.
3) This is not a problem that only exists within the US. A German man in the audience said something along the lines of "why are you making such a big deal out of these words? I'm from Germany, so I have no experience with this kind of prejudice." The fact that this gentleman had the audacity to say something like that just proves how far we have to go. Remember Germany? She's mixed, like me. There are things about her life and identity that make me want to cry. Prejudice is a worldwide virus, and we must come together to stop it once and for all.
Overall, we can all be better. I should work harder to encourage meaningful conversations with people who are coming from different worlds. I need to listen just as much as everyone else. This is what is necessary in order to create safe places.
It is okay to be yourself. It is fine to stand up and be whoever you want to be, to say what needs to be said. What is not okay, will never be okay, is purposefully attacking others who are different from you.
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Everyday Acts of Activism