In December 2019 at my work Christmas party, a colleague and I became involved in a verbal altercation that eventually led to her using charged racial language. To my disappointment, after following the proper reporting protocol and giving a statement to HR the investigation resulted in an apology and a potential write up, though I was not privy to the exact details of the documentation. In the education system faculty rapport is built on trust, often maintained through an attempt to unify as a “Team & Family”, but what happens when someone on your team and family dehumanizes you while others do the bare minimum to hold the aggressor accountable? Who do you turn to and what do you say? Thankfully, through the anonymous unity created by the Internet, people are starting to share their own similar stories and bring these incidents out in the open.
Across the nation marginalized people are beginning to speak out about their experiences in charter schools, higher education, suburbia, businesses, and more. In an act of solidarity, people have begun to detail the microaggressions, racism, and overt oppression they have experienced in the workplace, community, and education systems that define our society. It appears that despite the myth that integration supposedly “defeated” racism, marginalized people have continued to ignore or repress their traumatic encounters out of necessity. In a world where the long-term opportunity, including a potential paycheck and upward social mobility, outweighs the inconvenience of a HR complaint, it becomes far easier to keep your head down than to address the unfortunate situation.
Dismantling the structural hierarchy of the United States white supremacist society will not be easy. The history of the #MeToo movement shows that even high visibility within a movement may not be enough to pull apart an unjust system. Public support is fickle and the machine of mainstream media will act as a propaganda tool for whoever is financially backing the outlet. But why does this time feel different?
As Black Lives Matter protests spread across the globe to honor the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolois Police Department and stand against police brutality, more and more people feel as if they have permission to voice their stories. The rise of camera phones, social media, and the viral factor have become more prominent to exposing these issues that often capture the marginalized experience. With an easy way of dispersion via being shared and re-posted, more blatant oppressive moments are being digested at an extremely quick rate. With the perfect storm of COVID-19 shutting down the economy and reshaping how people spend their time, the injustice displayed over the 8 minutes 46 seconds that Floyd had officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his back has caused many people, white and black, to finally announce that enough is enough. Already, there have been protests in all fifty states.
We are currently living in an extremely transparent world. The veil has been lifted to expose everyone where they currently stand. People are examining their day to day life through the lens of the hierarchical power structures. Where do they personally benefit? Where do they struggle? Reflecting on this topic is difficult, but necessary to ensure that the changes being called for actually happen. By sharing stories and demanding accountability, more and more people are finally beginning to understand what some have been volcaling and many others have been experiencing for years.
Like the cyclical nature of the chicken and the egg, accountability and exposure are driving a new conversation that we have never seen in my lifetime. We are already seeing police officers cracking under the pressure of the same intense scrutiny they have subjected black and brown bodies for years. These moments are laughable, but give us insight into how simply questioning the role of power structures can lead to the oppressor becoming hostile and feeling “attacked” for simply being asked to address their own status in the system. It is a shame it took so long to come to the breaking point that does not allow anyone to ignore or look away without automatically being labeled as complicit.
While working to deconstruct our current society and re-establish one that is more equitable, we must honor the activists and marginalized individuals that came before us. These heroes gave their time, energy, and often livelihood to spread awareness to issues oft-overlooked until now. As people march against police brutality, discussions on misogynoir in the world’s most popular genre are taking place alongside, bringing attention to some of the most marginalized communities. Latinos are reckoning with the long-known colorism that occurs in their own community, while the traditionally isolated Hasidic Jewish people are also speaking out for the rights of marginalized people.
These stories come from real people. This hostility is enacted by real people. I encourage you to seek out any potential Instagram page, space, or community you occupy that allows people this room to speak on their traumas. Listen to their stories. Sit with the discomfort of the conversation. By giving those who feel powerless a voice, we can begin to work towards not only holding those in power accountable, but building a more equitable society. Shining a light on injustice is not enough. Acting to right the wrongs that countless marginalized people have felt is how we unite as people.
As the movement becomes mainstream, watch out for those who wish to co-opt and capitalize off the potential of this historic re-examination of structural hierarchies. Marginalized voices have been silent for decades, wanting only to rebalance the apparent inequality that comes with the day to day life of being born the “other” in a white supremacist world. Distractions will abound, but the act of seeing and hearing the tales shared by marginalized people will be useful to grounding ourselves in the inherent struggle of those who have long suffered by the hands of this unjust system.
The image at the top of the article is “The Lifting the Veil of Ignorance Monument” created by sculptor Charles Keck and located on the campus of Tuskegee University.