Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dallas does...racism and other gut-wrenching topics.

The topic of my senior seminar class this afternoon was supposed to be environmental racism, or the act of locating less-than-desirable factories and power plants on lands owned by or adjacent to peoples who have little voice in the political system. As I would imagine it does to most of you, this topic evokes in me a general concern with corporate corruption followed, quite frankly, with a few yawns. These yawns are obviously a point of contention when I take time to imagine what type of person I am in the scheme of solving the multitude of problems that face our modern world. These yawns are a viable concern as I begin a journey next fall toward a career that will allow me to speak out against a number of concerns that have haunted me since beginning to take Religious Studies classes in the spring of last year.
But, as is the case in many of Professor Diana Cates' classes, the conversation in this afternoon's seminar was far from yawn-worthy. Much removed from the glazed-over look I expected my eyes to have after the first hour of discussion passed, I found myself viewing the room with eyes pinched by discomfort, straining against an unwelcome realization that my yawns are just as dangerous as the corrupt corporate decision-makers depositing waste where it doesn't belong.
Today's blog post is about the kind of topics that leave us feeling beat-up by harsh truths and stunning social problems. It's about the collective amnesia that I continuously allow myself to fall victim to in order to avoid that extra trip to the recycling center or save the time it takes to call in a complaint to your senator.
I know I'm not alone when I say that over the past few weeks my Facebook feed has been clogged with college students trying to make a difference in the world by harnessing the power of social media. Whether it's a YouTube video announcing KONY 2012 or a Facebook event used to organize the Trayvon Martin rally, people understand that to get to the youth of our nation, you need to get on their friend feed.
I, like many millions of other American youths, watched the videos and responded to the event invitations, but thought little about what actual commitment I could make to see a change in the ever-depressing cycle of wrongs that exists in our world. More often than not, I see a social ill, think very seriously about what I can do to help, and then get distracted by who has broken up whom and the text message light blinking on my cell phone.
It isn't until I sit through a class like I had today with Professor Cates that I'm forced to consciously decide whether I'm going to be a person who continues to avert my gaze from the continuous stream of moral wrongs that are presented to us as mere negative externalities on the pursuit of progress. And the fact is, NO, I don't want to continue down this path of apathy, but I'm also very nervous about opening myself up to a continual reoccurrence of this punched-in-the-gut feeling that I get whenever I think about the world's inequalities.
Because, in the face of Trayvon Martin's untimely death, I have to confront the idea that as a white female, there are very few times in which I would be considered "suspicious" walking around with a hoodie on. And that as a middle-class American college student, it is nearly impossible for me to understand what it is like to be ripped from your bed in the middle of the night and forced into a rebel army. The fact of the matter is that when I take a step toward righting social wrongs, I must continuously confront the idea that even if I took zero steps toward improving my livelihood, I'd still live a life more privileged than millions of people around the world, simply because of the community and social system that I was born into.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that on this 27th day of March in the year 2012, I want to commit myself to being a person who genuinely cares about the way my actions impact the lives of the people around me. I want to be more like my friends who take the time to attend rallies in the Ped Mall for causes they believe in and stay up-to-date on world news even though the latest episode of Jersey Shore is on. I want to be more like my professors who have shown me over the past four years that there is true value in having tough conversations, whether you have the tools to make a real change or not.
One of my favorite young adult books, The Secret Life of Bees, features a character who feels so emotionally connected to the people of the world that she becomes hysterical when she hears of any tragedy, no matter how distant from her own sphere of loved ones. She writes down her prayers for the affected people and sticks the little slips of paper into her own personal wailing wall, constantly conscious and pained by global wrongdoings.
I've always seen myself in this character. That is not to say I'm noble enough to spend hours each day wailing for the heartaches of others. I see myself in her own personal heartbreak over issues that are very much out of her control.
Part of the commitment I'm making today is to grow-up and grow out of my fear of the big-bad monster of the global media sphere and the horrifying news it's always dumping on my doorstep. Because, frankly, if I can't even take the time to check out daily headlines, I don't deserve to call myself a student concerned with the course our world is taking.
Now obviously this post reeks of the idealism that plagues so much of my life, but I hope that you were able to find a grain of cold, hard truth in it that will help you navigate this difficult age in which we find ourselves. There's nothing to be gained from burying our head under the distracting rocks that so conveniently fill our American landscape and so much to be valued in a decision to become a more well-informed participant in the global community.

Peace, love and politics,

"The time is always right to do what is right." -Martin Luther King, Jr.