The other day, I excitedly announced that I would like to add an African American Studies major to my Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major, as I am interested in studying intersectionality. When I told this to my resident manager, who is a fabulous black woman, she remarked that AFAMAST is a very hard major, and that a lot of people assume it to be easy. At first, I was offended that she would assume that I was not truly interested in pursuing an education and doing extensive work in that field, but then I remembered that I’m not the one who should be feeling targeted, as I have no ownership over the struggles she faces daily. In fact, I’m positive that she was right. A lot of people who claim an interest in AFAMAST probably don’t understand the intensity of the program and the amount of information and history to be learned. However, I want to immerse myself in this history. Being a socially active woman, it was easy for me to declare a WGSS major, but I want to do more and be more. I want to try to understand the massive problems that white Americans have created for black Americans.
The current reality of social hierarchies is largely misunderstood by white Americans. Today, there is a striking lack of empathy in privileged Americans, which allows us to ignore issues of racism, prejudice, etc. As ignorance and indifference are normalized, people no longer see the ways that they uphold, allow, and enact bigotry, and no longer see it as important to take stances of solidarity in day-to-day life. People criticize social movements and protests for things that they do not understand, invalidating the groups of people for whom inequality still lingers. Unfortunately the issue extends beyond what people believe to what people allow others to believe.
Solidarity can only be reached through education. It is not as straightforward a message as it used to be. A white person will no longer be arrested for sitting with a black person on the bus, but young black men are being arrested and harassed simply for looking dangerous. And if they stand up for themselves, they risk being killed. When these issues are outside of your personal community, you do not see them, and you do not feel the guilt of white privilege. Ignorance is bliss.
But this bliss is dangerous. We are leaving behind half of our country simply because we can’t see their struggles, and have no interest in making those struggles visible. However, these problems prevail every day. There is no way to ever understand what it’s like to be socially disadvantaged simply because of your skin color, religion, sexual orientation, etc. unless that is the case for you. There’s no way to truly understand it, but through education you can come closer and be better equipped to work to dismantle the racist, sexist, classist, you name it hierarchies that organize us.
Not the type of education that you get from high school textbooks, or even that you gain from moving onto higher education. It’s the type of education that is gained through an open mind that seeks experience, history, truth, and knowledge — the type of mind that will go on to educate others and shine a spotlight on the issues that are unseen.