Dear Liberal Allies,
You and I learned very different things in very different ways. If you didn’t live an experience, then step aside.
We students of color, gay students, trans* students, children of immigrants and refugees
knew this stuff before our professors told us what to call it. We learned it from the bottom up.
You learned it another way. You received a set of key words and a list of definitions. Your learning was, in all likelihood, “Here is this word. This is what this word means.”
For you, it was “Xenophobia: a strong fear or dislike of people from other countries.”
For us, it was “Xenophobia: the time that boy in my kindergarten class spat on me because I couldn’t speak English yet. Or when I saw that clerk yell at my mom in the grocery store because her English wasn’t clear enough.”
For you, it was, “Racism: unfair treatment of people who belong to another race; violent behavior towards them.”
For us, it was, “Racism: that one time I saw that manager tell that sales girl to follow my dad around at Kohl’s. Or that one time my neighbor’s kid got shot by the police and they tried to cover it up by convincing everyone he was in a gang because he was Hmong, but we knew he wasn’t. Or the time my dad told me I shouldn’t rollerblade to the library because I’m not white and it’s not safe for me.”
For you, it was, “Homophobia: a strong dislike or fear of homosexual people.”
For us, it was, “Homophobia: that time in the sixth grade when Ryan shoved me against a glass door and banged my face in it while yelling, ‘faggot!’ at me until the teacher stopped him. Or when my Catholic high school’s president told me that, though he loved me as a child of God, he still believed I was sinful.”
For you, it was: “Classism: prejudice or discrimination based on social class.”
For us, it was: “Classism: the time when my best friend came over to hang out and her parents didn’t want her to come over again because they didn’t like our neighborhood. Or that one time when my friends had no idea what food stamps looked like and I was too embarrassed to explain what they were.”
So while you were learning that these academically-framed phenomena were real problems, we were getting figurative nametags for awful things that we already knew. Your weekly vocabulary list was, to us, just a hollow shadow of our lived experiences.
When you step out of class, you get to say, “Oh, awesome. I’m learning how to be a good ally and a better human being. This will help me.” For us, it’s more like, “Ah, so that’s what they’re calling it nowadays. When exactly did they say change was going to come for us?”