One of the actual dumbest things I hear grown adults say is, “Well, I was always taught…”
Then, they say something that’s either patently incorrect, inhumane, or justifies something wrong they’re actively doing.
“I was always taught to respect my elders.”
“I was always taught to listen to the pastor no matter what.”
“I was always taught that [insert political party] was corrupt.”
“I was always taught that thunder is the sound of God bowling and he just got a strike.”
Okay. That last one is dumb. But it’s something that a lot of people I know ACTUALLY heard growing up. At best, it’s a cute way to calm down a kid in the middle of a thunder storm. At worst, it’s a gateway into the fake science that a lot of public schools and universities teach about Jesus co-existing with dinosaurs, or my fav — Satan putting the dinosaur bones in the ground to tempt you into believing thoughts against God.
(I’m not kidding about that. There is a Christian university in my home town that teaches that. A girl I grew up with got a LITERAL NURSING DEGREE from that school. She has a job in medicine. And yet, doesn’t believe science.)
(This is a topic for another day.)
The Mark of a True Adult
As adults, we have to hold multiple truths in our heads simultaneously. If we couldn’t, we wouldn’t survive in this weird world.
We know that our choices have consequences. We also know, that in some cases, we have a limited capacity to mitigate those consequences. We know our own moral and ethical ideals. We also know that our role at a company that gives us money to survive may directly contradict those ideals.
Let me give you an example from my real life.
I used to teach Business Communications at the University of Oklahoma. The curriculum, and the college I was a part of, really catered to the traditional college experience. That is to say, to rich white kids who are having fun for four years while earning a degree.
It was assumed that no student really had a job of consequence. Sure, some of them worked a few hours a week, but that was just for fun money, right?
No. I had many students who worked full-time. Or, who worked night shifts so they could come to classes during the day. The class schedule was often designed to accommodate a student who was on campus all day. So it worked great for the students in the dorms or Greek housing, but was tough on commuters.
It was also tough on students who needed to earn more than minimum wage ($7.50/hour in Oklahoma) student jobs could offer.
So, year after year, I saw students drop out. Promising students. Students who could accomplish great things. Students who came from less privileged backgrounds.
Almost all these students were students of color.
They left because they couldn’t play the game the Business College wanted them to play.
For my part, I knew I had to adhere to certain guidelines: the course attendance policy, the course objectives, certain benchmarks.
I also knew that I could make certain assignments worth certain amounts of points. I could enable students with a lot of outside the classroom concerns to pad their grades.
I never gave piddly bullshit assignments, something my colleagues prided themselves on. They believed Business Communications was the most important class, and that they were justified in giving worksheets as homework nearly every night. The assignments they created were impenetrable, requiring students to come to office hours multiple times a month, something most students with jobs can’t make time for.
(It was fun to watch them flounder under the weight of all that grading.)
Instead, I used class as a time for questions. Class can be group office hours if you let it. I put them in groups and let them work together IN CLASS so they could get stuff done together.
I tried as hard as I could to overcome that system. Because even though I’d been taught all my life that college is important, I learned to hold another truth in my head, and that was that college was a hoop to jump through for those privileged enough to jump.
Everything You Belong to is a Part of White Supremacy
There is no part of the American system that isn’t white supremacist. Everything you belong to — your company, your church, your family — all are steeped in those traditions.
That isn’t to say that you’re a bad person. It is to say that you exist in this system.
You are a bad person if you don’t fight it, though.
You are a bad person if you don’t question those racist systems you were indoctrinated into.
You are a bad person if you can put tradition over empathy, and ignore the pain and struggle of others.
So what’s the advice here?
I’m asking you to question shit. That’s it.
It’s going to be uncomfortable. And that’s okay. Because if you’ve read this far, you know you don’t want to be complicit. So here’s what you’re going to do:
Firstly: Question your church. Do you attend a religious institution that loves to send kids on mission trips to Africa, Mexico, and Central America? Do your pastors/priests ever speak out on the importance of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement or getting undocumented asylum seekers out of detention centers? Does your pastor/priest openly support a racist rapist in the oval office?
If so, ask why your church is okay with being the white savior in places inhabited by people of color, but not okay with upsetting the status quo in your own country. (The white savior myth is a huge part of white supremacy, gang.) Ask what your church gains by supporting a president that goes against everything the good book ever taught.
Secondly: Look at the company you work for. Do they have a few token people of color? How many supervisors say racist things openly? (For a short time, I worked for a defense contracting firm called KeyBridge Technologies, and this was the norm there.) How can you, someone who actively wants to dismantle white supremacy, make the work environment a better place for your coworkers of color?
Know that this won’t be an easy battle, and in a lot of ways, you’re probably courting a job loss here. But if you have the means to do it, and can easily re-enter the workplace somewhere else, then do it.
Thirdly: Question the school system and the curriculum. Why do we only read dead white dudes in English class? Why are we taught that Lincoln freed all the slaves when he actually didn’t? Why do we constantly let history teachers say the Civil War was only about state rights? How come so many public schools only have white teachers?
We have to ask these questions, because if we don’t, we are actively reinforcing a racist educational system if we don’t.
Lastly: Speak up in front of your friends and family. Have a racist uncle who believes news from sites like LibertyEagle.Gun is real? Call him out and teach him how to find real info. (I know that it’s impossible to fight the Dunning-Kruger effect, but by standing up you’re showing others in your family that you care about these issues, and you’re actively encouraging them to speak up too. And it shows what you’ll tolerate.)
Do you have a friend who says casually racist shit like, “I just don’t get Beyoncé and why she’s so popular” or “I don’t think black people are attractive?” Call them out. You can do it in a compassionate and empathetic way, or you can call them a racist and cut ties. Not everyone is going to be open to the message, but they will see you’re passionate about it, which has a lot of power.
It’s Always Uphill
For me, I know I’ve not always spoken out about these issues. I’m a person of color, but I pass for white, and I live in a place where it isn’t always safe to speak up. Like the rest of the country, Oklahoma is a part of white supremacy. There are too many people who benefit from that status quo, and they don’t want you to speak out.
Hell, the University of Oklahoma had a building and a street named after a KKK leader who was one of the first four professors at the university, and they wonder why they have an issue with frat boys using racial slurs on social media.
But speaking out is work worth doing. And I do it because I hate to think that I may someday raise children in a world where they don’t feel safe to speak up.
So this is the battle. And I’ve given a list of some pretty easy ways you can start fighting it today.