I’ve been struggling for the last several months with the intersectionality and hierarchy created around race, gender, and sexual orientation. I’ve experienced some personal, professional, and public challenges in these areas. One example is that I’ve been watching and waiting for people to react to the George Zimmerman verdict for the last few weeks. I’ve been deeply disappointed that some of those who have been so vocal on issues of marriage equality and reproductive rights, have been eerily silent on the verdict. Many of those who were enraged by Texas lawmakers passage of strict anti-abortion laws, were silent when the verdict was announced. Nearly all of those who changed their social media avatars to red equal signs of the Human Rights Campaign or the orange & blue messages of MN United for All Families, did nothing to visually advocate for peace and justice in the Trayvon Martin murder case. It was this lack of action, this silence, that deepened my understanding of the importance of discussing race, racism, white privilege, and white supremacy. It was this silence that pushed my understanding of the constant underlying roots of racism and white supremacy in the United States. It was these acts of silence that pushed me to reflect on my experiences.
Several years ago, I had an experience with an African-American man which ultimately ended our acquaintance. He had asked to store his bags in my room since he had to check out of his hotel quite a few hours before his flight. I agreed. When I offered him my key so he could place his bags in my room, he offered up quite a few concerns about entering my room without someone else present including a concern about being accused of stealing. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. A mutual friend (a white woman) offered to escort him to my room to place his bags. On the trip to my room, he proceeded to make comments about me and this friend including comments of us being aggressive in terms of academics, etc. This created a firestorm of sorts in which I view his attacks on my “aggressiveness” as sexist. I had several other interactions with him that I filtered through the lens of gender oppression. Then ultimately chose to avoid him. Upon further reflection and while I still believe there are roots of sexism in his comments and actions, I’m able to better understand his concerns and reaction to my flippant responses. I also understand how my flippancy could have put him at risk. My intention was to not be racist but to put him at ease, what I did was fail to understand the long standing effects of institutionalized racism and white supremacy. My experiences with him were filtered and clouded through my experiences of oppression to the point that I was unable to appreciate his oppression. I’m humbled and deeply changed from this reflection. I get that my dismissiveness of his experiences are similar to the silence of my white friends in the case of Trayvon Martin’s murder. I know I have a lot of work to do. And rather than judging others by their silence, I’m going to continue to reflect, learn, and continue my anti-oppression work.