This is not a time for hate. This is a time for reflection, dialog, and action bent toward to bringing together communities that have been at odds for far too long. It is a time to break down the barriers to communication, it is a time to open our eyes as a country to the plight of minorities and the oppressed. We cannot let privilege, distrust, assumptions, or lack of awareness block our view. It is a time to understand that conservatives and liberals both feel that their way of life is under attack, but political differences are just that. Political division cannot be an excuse to remove the rights of others or worse, to act out of hate. We should build up our country, not tear down those who are different. We can survive political disputes. It is the assumptions and divisions based on identity, racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, religious intolerance that really damage us. That is why we all need to seek to explore and better understand each other’s narratives.
We are all human beings at our core with lives, families, jobs, rights, and responsibilities. This is true for both ends of the political spectrum. But we cannot go on with our lives as if nothing happened. People are hurting, people are fearful, and if we walk on by without recognizing this, we are sending the message that they don’t matter, that their existence doesn’t matter. It is easy to be upset by very visible acts of violence, vandalism, and hate speech that we have seen pop up in the news. However, we also need to be able to recognize and challenge the more subtle forms of institutional oppression, microaggressions, and assumptions based on privilege. We need to realize that this election offered countless examples of both visible and subtle forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and xenophobia. It justifies and inflames the fear, anxiety, and nervousness that many people are feeling about the future of the country, about their own safety. At the same time we must also realize that peaceful protesting is one way that people can respond constructively to this, and we must not denounce or suppress their messages, but listen to what they say. We must learn to listen to raw, emotional, and loud messages without dismissing their message or the messenger as being angry.
It is not easy to learn to do this well, especially if you haven’t been exposed to different cultures or perspectives on a regular basis. It takes time, energy, commitment, and a willingness to stay engaged and explore and question our own identity. It requires us to empathize and imagine ourselves in others shoes. We need to understand the complexity of intersectionality, the influence of overlapping oppression, and the importance of those voices. It requires us to gain an awareness of all types of oppression, knowledge of cultures different from our own, and skills to be able to better interact and challenge these issues constructively. It won’t be easy, we need to reflect upon our own lives and overcome our own hidden prejudices and privileges. We must acknowledge them (including my own in writing this). We must not turn to the one person in the room with a different identity and ask them to explain or justify the actions of an entire community. We must not place the burden on them to educate us. We must do the work ourselves. Often guilt stops us from acting. Not knowing what to do or questioning our own ability to engage on issues of oppression cannot be excuses to avoid the hard work. We will make mistakes, but we must not fear them, we must apologize for them and move forward. We must not replace one form of intolerance with another. As we learn to listen and stand in solidarity with others, we must make sure that it is their voices that are heard. We must make sure that our voices don’t overtake or subvert the messages, and we must stand up for others, even when they are absent. We must also learn when to step back and let others have space. It is important that we be authentic in offering our help and engaging with these issues, but we must also know that good intentions may not be enough. We must realize that we don’t do this for a pat on the back or recognition of our own role in it, but for the common good.
The Civil Rights Movement, isn’t just a piece of history. It is ongoing and will be for generations to come. We have made great strides, but there are still many mountains to cross. This can be seen in the #blacklivesmatter movement, whose core values are those of love and the need to focus attention on specific issues. It can be seen in LGBT activism, universal design, religious freedom, and challenges to wage inequality. We must realize that these are not just problems that have been resolved in the past, but challenges that we still face. We must realize that not everyone has the privilege to choose whether to act or not. We must seek to understand the emotional and physical toll that it takes on others. We must not allow the actions of individuals, or the slights to ourselves dictate how we view entire populations. We must continue the path that those before us have set into motion.
In the end, all the awareness, knowledge and skills are nothing without praxis, reflection and action upon the world. We must engage with the issues and the hard conversations. We must reflect upon the world and our role in it. But most importantly, we cannot wait for someone else to change the world, we need to stand together and take action to help to heal the world. We may not have the power or the ability to change large things, but we can have an impact upon our immediate environments: our homes, our schools, our offices. Let others know that you are willing to have these conversations, that you won’t tolerate prejudice or oppression in those spaces. We must all work to do this, it is our responsibility to make this world better for our children, our families, our students, and all those that come after us. We cannot allow others to dial back the rights of our citizens and still look our children in the eye and say that we were unable to try to stop it.
John P. Sauter Jr. Ph.D.
John P. Sauter, Jr. Ph.D.