Speaking Truth to Systemic Oppression

Written by: Baneet Hans

In lieu of the recent events that took place in Charlottesville, I wanted to write about something timely and close to my heart. I am somewhat of a social justice warrior, if you may call it that. The rising of the White Supremacist movement through the Charlottesville events has produced the need to have a conversation. This conversation is not an easy one to have but we need to do what we can to shut down White Supremacy.  My own response to oppressive statements is immediate. The problem is that I respond with emotion.

I get fired up when I hear small comments on the daily such as “that’s so gay” or casually using the N-word. I have heard every excuse in the book.

“I have a black friend, I can’t be racist”

“It’s a term of endearment”

“My friends say it so I can too”

Or the most frequent, “Don’t get offended so easily”

Upon admitting in class recently that one of my flaws is my emotional response to oppressive commentary, I realized I wasn’t the only one that does that. Given that I work in retail, and my friends don’t necessarily pay attention to social justice, I do not usually have the opportunity to engage in conversation about appropriate responses to ignorance.

My dad was actually the one to make me realize that if we all were to respond with the intent of educating, we might get through to the other person. Sometimes, that does not work. There are always exceptions. Some people are determined to remain stagnant and it is not our responsibility to try to change their way of thinking. I will be the first to admit that my initial response is to either be passive aggressive or to outright call them ignorant.

The reason I am so passionate about social justice is partly because of my education. I have had the privilege of taking classes that have taught me about systematic oppression. I have learned about intersectionality and the influences all of us have on our decisions. I have learned not to judge.

Unfortunately, this same systematic oppression I stated above is responsible for people not having access to the same education that teaches us how to stand up against hate. There will never be a correct, uniform response that will cure all hate but having these difficult conversations about things such as race, class, gender are the solution. Knowledge is the solution. And there will always be those people that will choose not to listen. And there will always be those people that will listen and still choose to believe otherwise. But there will also be people that we get through to.

So, I challenge you to think before responding next time someone says something oppressive. If they are willing to listen, try to explain to them the invisible barriers that they are enforcing with their words. To end with the wise words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Speak up when you see hate, speak loud.

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