There is so much to learn on this Pilgrimage. For many students, this is their first experience with the history of the Civil Rights Movement. For others, this is first experience critically thinking about the history of racial oppression in the United States. But for most of the students on this trip, this is the first experience truly and honestly discussing their racial experiences and politics. While it can be incredibly rejuvenating and exciting to talk about these things, I have noticed that tensions run high as we experience the different tactics people take in processing and dialoguing about racial oppression. Things from baiting individuals with opposing views to yelling and aggressively debating others, I and many of my peers have experienced intense discomfort.
I find myself lucky for all of the opportunities I have had to talk about race. As an AFRO minor, I have become more and more comfortable learning and speaking on the subject. In my position as a Resident Advisor at Allen Hall, I have been able to learn how to approach the topic of race tactfully and respectfully, while also educating residents on its importance. Although I am by no means perfect and always have something new to learn, but I feel very comfortable with racial dialogue and look forward to it. There are a couple of things that I have learned, through trial error, that have made my discussions in this trip much more comfortable and productive.
Remember: Privilege really is Black and white.
I think it is easy to think of privilege as being experiential as opposed to visual. The problem is that, as beings of peripheral categorization, we rarely reach an understanding of how people’s invisible identities and life experiences affect them and their privilege. This is why understanding the important of race is essential, because our first understanding of each other is completely visual and based on race, gender, physical ability and size and the meanings and values we associate with those identities. This is why, I believe, racial hatred and violence is so easy to fall into; snap judgments lessens the responsibility we feel we need to take to fully judge a person. So, when it comes to navigating discussions of privilege, it is really important to understand that visual privilege is on the front line of oppression. On this trip, I have noticed a lot of people comparing nonvisual privilege (sexual orientation, nationality within race, class, etc.) to visual privilege, especially up against Black identity. Understanding that there do exist privilege hierarchies (although extremely problematic and useless on a personal level) is extremely important to having discussions on race, especially with people you don’t know.
What you see is not always what you get
I think that when we get wrapped up in the black and white in race we forget the range of diverse identities that can exist beneath skin colors. When we start to move into discussions that transcend privilege at its shallowest form, there is so much room to explore the experiences of those that are ethnically or nationally different from each other. You may be white, but identify as Jewish or South African or Romanian, and those specific spaces of identity could be really important to you and your experience, especially if have spent a lot of time living outside of the United States. I think that it is essential to leave room for these invisible identities when meaningfully discussing race. In some of our discussion sections, these things have been brought up and shot down because of hostility and differing opinions about the values of ethnic and national experiences.
Meet people where they’re at
I firmly believe that the minority is never responsible for the education of the majority. I understand that it is important for privileged individuals to take it upon themselves to learn about the oppressed. However, the problem is that no person is born with full knowledge of minority issues and thus, most people have something to learn about a different identity group. Thus, there is a social justice learning curve for everyone. Because of this, conversations about race specifically should be guided with understanding, patience and a consistent benefit of the doubt for others. Find out what they know, and move forward with explaining your viewpoint or experience. To begin aggressively or shoot people down doesn’t benefit anyone, and generally does more harm than good, especially in the long term.