Unknown

I first composed this blog post in my head walking back from class so gosh darn angry at myself. Why did I have to be so ignorant? 

The reason for my anger came from a comment I had made in class: “Wow, I didn’t know ‘white privilege’ existed in the 1980s!” (Regarding a Peggy McIntosh’s White Privledge: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, copyright 1988) What I really meant to say was that I hadn’t known the term “white privilege” had existed almost twenty years before I had been born. Of course, it is evident that white privilege itself has existed for centuries– I know this. But what I had said made me sound like a completely uneducated airhead who hailed from a town population 900. More and more, I am starting to think that the words “uneducated airhead” really do describe who I am.

Still, I am further frustrated by the fact that there are so many ideas out there that I do not know. I don’t mean factual concepts like how to derive something, I mean negative experiences that people face day-to-day in the society in which I belong that I am barred from seeing because of my race or economic status or gender or sexual orientation or nationality…experiences that I have no way of knowing that I don’t know until roughly shoved right in my face. It took the tragedy of Trayvon Martin for me to see that America still bleeds racist. What else is hidden from me?

My anger and guilt is reflected in Jennifer Self’s Framework for Developing Consciousness to End Oppression. As I move past’s Self’s stages of unconscious incompetence and conscious incompetence, I am caught in the “choice point” of the model. Here, I am feeling all the emotions that Self suggests I might in my existential crisis: overwhelming guilt, sadness, and anger. So I must emerge myself in university classes, which provide such a healthy outlet for my feelings, and continue opening my ears, mind, and heart. How lucky I am for the opportunity to learn what I do not know.

I have a suspicion that confusion and anger I experience is a feeling commonly held in many white Americans as we move around Self’s model. The rising availability and popularity of media like Netflix documentaries (example: 13th) and publications like Dear White America by Time Wise has doubtlessly had an effect on America…now it is not necessary to be a scholar to understand the rhetoric that proves our country needs some serious change.

I think that the only barrier that stands in the way of media text like Dear White America is the deeply dichotic rhetoric used. Wise demonstrates what some call a “liberal superiority complex,” using a sarcastic tone that does not open a dialogue between those who are liberal and those who are not. This hinders Wise’s persuasive power, and could further alienate those who are in the stage of conscious incompetence.

While I am in the process of learning what I do not know, I can combat my unconscious incompetence by acting with love towards those around me. It is my hope that white America leads with their hearts as well.

A Timeline

The following is a timeline charting my awareness, as a white Midwesterner, with racism. It is honest. I recognize my privilege in that racism is a thing I’ve had to uncover and not endure. I recognize that there are elements and aspects of racism that I will never understand, and do not intend to speak over or for the oppressed. I invite you to call me out on the mistakes I make in this post.

Here, I am giving a white person’s perspective of racism that will help me evaluate myself.

1997– On November 17, I am born to a white, middle-class Midwestern family.

2006– Several years ago, I remember being snuggled close to my white mom in our white house that is in a white neighborhood reading a children’s novel about slavery. In the novel, the protagonist, a girl around my age, worked in the cotton fields every day. Often, she was hungry and verbally abused. Sometimes, she was beaten. The book seemed so in the past to me that the pages I turned with my white little hands appeared to have a fictional haze hung over them. Slavery and racism, to me, were a concept of the distant past. America had since won herself over these evils.

“Are people still racist today?” I asked my mom.

2006 through 2011– I don’t think I can pinpoint the moment when I realized for myself that racism was an evil still alive and well. Perhaps it came when I visited my grandfather in Georgia and he used antiquated and offensive terms to talk about Black people. Or maybe it came when I heard my history teacher ask one of my Black friends what he thought about slavery. But I blindly brushed (privileged!) off these racist occurrences as viewpoints only held by “old people,” figuring that once the oldest generations had left that America would be racism-free.

2008– Barrack Obama was elected president. I remember being very excited. I was witnessing history! And Obama is left-handed, like me! I do not remember if I believed that America was “cured” of racism. I do remember thinking that the election of a Black president was a landmark of progress for America.

2012– Four years ago today, February 26, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. I remember this moment because, as a white person, this is when a second revelation hit me. Racism isn’t just held in the minds of the elderly. Unfortunately, I see that it’s kept alive in younger generations, in schools, in the law enforcement, in the business world, in our government, and areas that, as a white person, I am unaware.

2016, July– Considering myself a Good Democrat, I held myself to be free of prejudice. And maybe I am free of conscious prejudice. But after conversations with my (very educated and liberal) manager during breaks at my summer lifeguarding job, I came to understand that everyone holds a bias in some way or another– including me. My hesitance is further exemplified in Jay Smooth’s TED talk when he highlights that sometimes people are afraid of admitting their racial bias in fear being labeled racist. If we can change the way we think about race communications, perhaps white people will not avoid the”touchy race topics” and actually learn how to improve race relations in America.

2016, November– Enrolled in a public college, my eyes are opened to social issues that I never considered in high school. I continually question the very beliefs and characteristics I held close to my heart back in my formative, early teenage years. I am so grateful to be able to learn to see the world from different perspectives. When Donald Trump’s campaign brought him to my college, I was amazed to see the the floods of folks who supported a man I thought hateful and ridiculous. I stood in awe of the aura at the peaceful protest that occurred, standing and just absorbing for a half hour. Then, I ran up to my dorm and grabbed my roommate. Together, we stood against hate.

Later that month, when Trump was elected president, the feeling I felt was comparable to heart break. I called my mom and we barely formed sentences, too shocked to speak. I desperately wondered what kind of person had voted for Trump. Coming from a liberal college, it was hard for me to believe that our nation contained enough people who would support a racist, xenophobic, transphobic, sexist man.

The 2016 election delivered an emotional blow to me. I cannot even fathom the fear and feelings of members of the marginalized folks of America.

Singularly, I believe the election of Donald Trump is glaring evidence that racism pulses through American rivers and roads, ebbing its way into towns and cities.

2017– Today, like many other millennials, I feel the importance of activism. While I find my identity, I’ve started small. Recently, I’ve recommended that both my parents read Dear White America by Tim Wise. Over spring break, I’ll have my entire family watch Tim Wise’s documentary, White Like Me. Change, like my activism, has to start small.

Intersectionality

The term “intersectionality” became part of my vocabulary less than a year ago. I probably discovered the term buried amongst the hashtags and rants of my twitter feed. As a small-town Midwestern girl who considered herself a feminist, I agreed with the discussions about intersectionality I read. However, the definitions I encountered never really helped me grasp the term.

After watching Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED Talk, The Urgency of Intersectionality, I gained a much better understanding of intersectionality and its importance, and am left searching for how I can incorporate intersectionality into my life.

In her TED Talk, Crenshaw provided a clear visualization to help me better picture the concept of intersectionality. After sharing the story of Emma DeGraffenreid, a Black woman that took a workplace discrimination lawsuit to court on the groups that she hadn’t been hired because of her race and gender at the car plant where she worked. The judge dismissed her case because the car plant employed Black men and employed women. What the judge failed to see was the intersecting issues of race and gender discrimination that prevented DeGraffenreid from being hired. Crenshaw tells the audience to picture DeGraffenreid at a crossing between two roads:  one road of race and another of gender. Because DeGraffenreid is both identities, she faces a discrimination that is both harsh and typically unrecognized.

Intersectionality is important. I realize now that so many matters are intersectional: gender identity and socioeconomic class, sexual orientation and race, and so many more identities. Crenshaw explains that because of our society’s blindness to issues concerning intersectionality, something as dire as the loss of lives is looked over. She states, “Black girls as young as seven, great grandmothers as old as 95 have been killed by the police.” If we do not recognize this intersectional problem, then serious problems like police brutality will continue to haunt the lives of racial minority women.

After listening to Crenshaw’s powerful Talk, I was left wondering how I could help open other people eyes to the unspoken stories that concern intersectionality. Of course, as it often does, the answer came to me in relation with my life’s dream: writing. When I become a journalist, I want to work hard to ensure that intersecting issues are represented in the media. And because I am clearly not an expert on intersectionality yet, to reach my goal I will have to devour the words and ideas of those who are intersectional experts to correctly amplify the voices of those who are unfortunately kept silent. When Crenshaw mentions the media, I feel as though she is speaking specifically to me: “Why is it that their lost lives don’t generate the same amount of media attention and communal outcry as the lost lives of their fallen brothers? It’s time for a change.”

So, I am adding “intersectional” to my long laundry list of characteristics I need to fulfill to be an outstanding, ethical journalist/feminist/activist that properly serves the world. And this does, admittedly, overwhelm me. There is still so much I must learn and must become that being the journalist/feminist/activist I want to be almost seems comparable to the impossible, naïve childhood dreams I once thought possible. To combat my self-doubt, I continue to study and open my mind to new ideas, absorbing as much of the world as possible.

 

Revisiting my Ego

This post is in regards to my previous post published on February 6.

Today, I question whether it is selfish of me to search for myself–save myself from despair– through the medium of activism.

The sole fact that I have to search for something to care deeply about exposes my privilege. I am not obligated to stand up for a social movement because my rights are not largely threatened on a day-to-day basis. Everyday day, I survive. I am without hunger, without fear, and without prejudice.

Today, I realize that even my new dreams of finding myself in a movement are romanticized, privileged, and selfish. And the longer I am stagnate about an issue as small as my identity, the less time I have to devote to issues that benefit humanity.

 

Ego-Involvement: A Step Towards Finding my Purpose

Perhaps more rapidly than ever, my life is evolving. I know I want to be a journalist, so I am constantly observing the ways that I can improve humanity’s grip on the world through ethical and factually-sound writing. I am also exploring the ways that I can use my love of writing to be an activist. Until recently, my train of thoughts had ended there. I knew I wanted to write. Somehow, I vaguely assumed, my writing would improve the world’s conditions.

Now I have realized a flaw in my reasoning that has made me unsure of my future and question my own romanticized identity: I cannot solve all the world’s problems. I am not a savior whose power is of the pen. Suddenly, I’ve felt powerless. So, how can I contribute to the world—give back what I’ve taken—if I feel so small and helpless? The answer I found in the text of Do it Anyway by Courtney Martin: I would have to focus my “save the world” activism energy on issues much smaller and closer to home, an approach no more less honorable than my previous stance. Realizing this, I felt a burden temporarily lift off my shoulders.

I quickly realized, however, that I would have the difficult task of choosing which social issue to focus my life’s activism work on, a complicated choice combining self-identity, personal experience, and communal proximity. As I dove deeper into this question, I began to uncover that I am still discovering my own self-identity, navigating through a dark room feeling the ends of webs that I could spin into a future. I’m a feminist, environmentalist, writer, dreamer…

The reading The Ego-Function of the Rhetoric Protest by Richard B. Gregg further illustrates the internal struggle I face deciding my life’s purpose. Gregg argues that the “primary appeal of the rhetoric of protest is to the protestors themselves, who feel the need for psychological refurbishing and affirmation.” In choosing a social movement to associate myself with, I will answer my own self-identity problems and further develop my moral beliefs. Gregg outlines several conditions of one’s ego: ego-forming, ego-maintenance, and ego-diminishment. I feel I can obviously place myself in the ego-forming stage, as I stumble through days constantly processing the world around me. Where will my ego be involved?

There are several ways that I suppose I can find my ego and meaning of my life. Almost frantically searching, I am taking a wide variety of classes. I am diving further into the community organizations and issues that surround me. I am looking at my past, evaluating the parts of my life that were instrumental to my feminist and environmentalist identities. I am modeling myself after those who I label as courageous and selfless. And, I imagine myself in the future quietly succeeding, giving back to the world that has given me so much. Maybe I’m naïve for believing that my purpose and I will inevitably find each other and that my ego will blossom into the best flower of myself.

Throughout the course of this semester, this blog will honestly follow me as I navigate the rough waters of finding purpose in my life.