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Exploring Understanding: A Year's Reflection

Reflecting On Race and Social JusticeJudgmental

            “Why am I here?” I thought on my first day of class, as I gazed upon the many faces that were fresh out of High School. Judgmental. Feeling out of place I recollected what I had heard from my counselor after orientation, “you were so close to avoiding FRINQ, you almost had enough credits.” He looked sorry for me, and continued that I just needed to get through it. I worked hard out of High School, I had already managed to become a GM of a small company with three store locations. I gave it up because it wasn’t what I wanted, I needed to go back to college to be a counselor- a pull inside of my stomach. I managed employees their age, and they had a lot to learn. Judgmental. During freshman orientation they discussed seminars that would help students learn how to create resumes. I had judged resumes for a living, I created my first resume at fifteen, I could lead that seminar. Judgmental. The first portion of the first term I often allowed crickets to subside before raising my hand to answer a question, I waited because I talked constantly and felt like a pompous asshole. “Why am I here?” The material was vast and in depth, but was I the only person who had an opinion? The length between eighteen and twenty-four is rather vast and I was feeling that divide. I looked around at the faces of people who had no idea why they were there either. Some seemed bored, some fell asleep, some seemed to pat themselves on the back after answering a question correctly or giving a thorough enough answer to get by, rather than involving themselves wholeheartedly in a discussion that was far bigger than they were.

            What shook the apple loose from the tree? Perhaps it was my passion about the material. Perhaps “Haley’s Choice,” by David Hollinger or “What Divided That House?” by Kyle Dargan ignited the fire within me to see something I hadn’t seen before. I suddenly understood that this wasn’t just a class to “get through” that I was exactly where I needed to be and arrived exactly when I needed to get there. These freshman weren’t below me on the totem pole of understanding this very complex subject. I had certainly experienced the world in a way that they had not yet, there certainly was a difference in age as far as the extent I was willing to explore the material and the distance I was willing to go to achieve an understanding. However, I had no answers to the broader questions of race and social justice, I held no keys to conceiving solutions.  Problems of socioeconomic class, race, gender, liberalism, age, ethnicity, laws, schools, and sexual orientation were unraveling before us in each of our unique communities and we were all suddenly grasping an understanding to why we felt a pull to join this class.

            Joining Race and Social Justice was an automatic response for me, and I was anxious at the thought of not getting in. I had heard it was popular and may have available spots. I had come from the suburbs of Denver, Colorado after Junior High and never truly experienced racial diversity until I moved to Portland and attended Grant High School. Growing up in a Liberal family I was never taught to be racist or cruel to others. I was taught to be accepting and caring, and any of the racism that existed in my extended family was certainly looked down upon and judged by my parents. When my brother Larry came out of the closet when he was eighteen, I was six years old. I grew up knowing Colin, his partner, and there was absolutely no transition time for Larry’s sexual identity to be accepted by our family. I grew up in a Liberal household where acceptance and love were key. But what about respectability politics? Oh… right.

            Let me explain for a moment, my parents grew up in Romeoville, Illinois, under very difficult circumstances. I would go into great detail about this, but I will save you from the details. Basically, my mom grew up in a poor and abusive household, her father was illiterate and she ran away from home and had my brother when she was sixteen with a man who ended up abusing her as well. You’ll notice that I rushed that explanation greatly, and it may seem brash and unemotional. I assure you that I have many emotions about this and the amazing woman that is my mother shaped who I am today. My father, from the same town, is the hardest working man I have known. He, too, grew up poor with parents who also worked harder than anyone he had known. His lineage comes from many coal miners and “working men.” My parents both come from places that stem from “true America,” as the people who hold the American Dream would see it. They both came from households that were vastly conservative, my father went to Catholic school and grew up Catholic only to question the entire religion as a whole in the end and became Agnostic. Both of them identified as Conservative when they got married in their early twenties. That quickly faded, as my father was an avid reader and realized that he was most definitely and always had been a Liberal. My mother felt the same and raised us to despise Republicans. I recall her saying that we were never allowed to date a Republican man because he would be greedy and deceitful.

            Both of my parents worked hard and took nothing from nobody. They believed, however, in well-funded social programs that lifted up the poor and they believed in a strong Middle Class. This idea was passed down to me and I believed that if you worked hard enough, that you could achieve whatever you wanted. If you presented yourself well and took steps to get your foot in the door, that you could make a happy and fair living. You needed to be respectable. “Respectable”, that sounded nice. You give respect and you get respect, it’s that simple… right?

            You want to know my reflection on FRINQ goals, and here’s what I reflect. When you inquire and think critically you’re delving into the works shown to you and applying it to the world around you. You are learning that the home you grew up in and the parents that raised you do not have all of the answers. You are thinking critically about what respectability is and realizing that what’s respectable to the ones in charge of our country is far from what is respectable to you. People can be kind and innocent and wonderful and hard working and still be shot because they were born with darker-than-peach skin and were at the wrong place at the wrong time. People can be kind and innocent and wonderful and hard working and still be denied a house because they were born with darker-than-peach skin. People, as well, can be a kind and innocent and wonderful hard working person and not get a job because you were born with darker-than-peach skin. When you inquire you feel overwhelmed by the truth of the matter, and you feel frustrated that your Toms shoes, and your Gap shirt, and your Victoria’s Secret Underwear, and your Anthropologie bag, and your H&M Cardigan, and your Forever 21 skirt have perpetuated these crimes against humanity and that it’s time for you to give up these luxuries in order to create a greater good.

`            When you communicate you realize that no one has the answers but a lot of people are trying. You’re writing papers and your formulating ideas and you’re sharing those ideas and you’re learning to expand. You’ve explored immigration and the struggles that occur when you are deported after you’ve started a life here from author Junot Diaz, you’ve explored what makes up masculinity and why we see rape culture and sexism every single day from Kimmel and Lorber, you unravel what it is to be a liberal and that being a liberal doesn’t necessarily make you any more enlightened than anyone else in the room, you learn about the true wealth distribution in our country and you bite your pen. You hear the perspectives of your classmates through a mock-symposium where everyone is acting in roles of different genders, different ethnicities, different sexualities, different ages, and different class-statuses. You feel the role you’re playing because you’re communicating something you’re finally comprehending.

            You’re seeing the pitfalls of diversity and the understanding of each human experience and feeling each person. You have initial pre-disposed anger against Tony Hoagland only to see that his questionable poem is highlighting truth and that truth has illuminated hundreds of light-bulbs in other minds and that when we explore these points of view and diversities that only good can come from it- even if it stems from a frightening point of view. Not only are you seeing connections between Trask and Dargan but you’re also seeing a connection to Hoagland and that everyone is feeling a push and pull of power and greed that we see within ourselves and others. That everything is connected.

            You’re held y the “ethics and social responsibility” of our community to see that even though you’re not sure when you’re going to be able to afford to have children of your own that you need to understand and care about what is happening in our public school system. Through Freire, Meier, hooks, and Walzer you see that the children at Alder Elementary school can and will only succeed in their mission to reach college if our community gives a shit and focuses not on private or charter education but a small-classroom size and tight knit public model.

            You’re held by the “ethnics and social responsibility” of our world to see the un-justice before you. You’re held by the “ethnics and responsibility” to improve yourself and make changes that can add to the widespread change. It’s your responsibility to admit your own privilege and that even though you’ve worked so hard and that your parents have worked so hard—that they were given those opportunities to work hard through privilege that was given to us because you were born with lighter-than-tan skin. You must not be judgmental. You must not look at yourself as someone who understands, because you simply don’t. It’s your ethnical responsibility to not look at the room around you and feel that you are more aware or more able to breath light into a conversation. You must listen. You must.

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