When facing racism, be an agent of change

By , Columnist  |  Sunday, December 9, 2012 11:01 PM

It’ll be 2013 in three weeks, and it boggles my mind that we’re still living in a world where equality for all is silently unattainable. Minnesota made great strides recently regarding the obvious inequality in sexual orientation, making me a proud resident of the snowy state.  GEENA_REVISED

But what about racial inequality?

Many of you may remember my so-called controversial editorial on the topic from last year where I condensed racism at St. Thomas into a mere 700 words. My goal in that article was to expose the hidden truth of racism (though it’s not so hidden for those who endure it), so people were aware that it does exist on campus.

What I unfortunately neglected (but knowingly, because there simply wasn’t enough room to write) was how to go about solving the issue.

Now keep in mind that I don’t hold a Ph.D. I’m no expert in this field, nor am I the best advice-giver out there.  ops

However, I am a student who has long been passionate about social change, specifically when it comes to racial disparity. My personal experiences with racism have deeply rooted my motivation to stop at nothing. It’s this vehemence that I want to instill in others, in hopes of students acting as change agents on campus.

Racism comes in many forms. It’s the judgmental stares my black friends receive when they wear their hair naturally. It’s the supposed “jokes” my Asian peers hear about their “stinky” food. It’s the malicious status that Taylor read about herself on Facebook. It’s that emptiness you feel when classmates refuse to talk or even make eye contact with you, and it’s then you realize that you’re the only student of color in class.

It’s nothing short of evil, until you ascertain the source of the problem. As I touched on in my previous piece, racism is a product of a sheltered life, in my opinion. And again, as I see it, that limited lifestyle is a product of a clear lack of education, which leads me to my next point.

We must educate ourselves, and in that self-education comes honesty. We must admit that there is inequality and that we, too, have racist tendencies (another topic too large to delve into here, but take the survey from this article and you’ll see what I’m talking about). You can’t diagnose an issue that has been repeatedly denied and expect to resolve it before admitting the truth.

Along with this truth-telling comes the inevitable question: Why? What has caused you to feel this way? Did certain facets of your upbringing accumulate into racism? Did you have a negative experience with a particular person and make a hasty generalization based on her/his race?

You may not have all the answers, but give these questions and similar ones deep thought. If you weren’t exposed to different cultures as a child, surround yourself by people from other races and get to know them. If you had an unpleasant experience with someone from another race, forgive her/him. More importantly, don’t generalize an entire race based on that experience.

Thankfully, educating yourself on different races at St. Thomas is easier than you think. Stop by the Student Diversity and Inclusion Services or the Office of International Student Services next door in the Anderson Student Center. They’re not just meant for students of color or international students, they’re meant for your own education, too. Talk to the staff and involve yourself in the many clubs and programs that cater to the minority students on campus.

Check out a Globally Minded Student Association, Black Empowerment Student Alliance, Hmong United Student Association, Latinos Unidos or a Hana meeting. All of these student-run clubs (including many more that weren’t mentioned) put on events that are meant to educate (and entertain) you all about other races. Make their hard work worthwhile by being an active member. It’s not too late.

Educating yourself has little meaning if you don’t educate others. When you witness racism, being a silent spectator achieves nothing. Absolutely nothing. Speak out against the inequality.

I’d be the poster child for hypocrites if I claimed that I’ve always made my voice heard. I vividly remember overhearing my classmate commenting on the “surplus” of Hmong students in our class and how their lack of English competency makes listening to their presentations “painful.” I sat there tacitly, but never again. Always, always, always make it a point to educate others when you’re in the very presence of racism.

I find it unnerving that we’re living in the 21st century with racism still pervasively handicapping our society. It’s a battle we clearly can’t win overnight, but we can certainly equip ourselves with the right tools to fight the battle. Start fighting, keep fighting and never lose sight of why you’re fighting.

Geena Maharaj can be reached at maha8007@stthomas.edu.

This item was posted in Opinions and has 1 comment so far.

1 Comment

  1. Luis Ortega
    Dec. 10, 2012 9:10 AM

    Very well written Geena! Racism is just a social construct – race has no biological basis and everyone at St. Thomas bleeds purple so there ya have it!

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