It’s always been interesting to me how a country that was based on the ideal that “all men are created equal” created a society where groups are consistently unequal. The United States, a country known for being “The Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave” ironically has consisted of groups that were always confined by prejudice and has condemned those who were brave enough to challenge oppression. One would think that such a country wouldn’t have hypocrisy running deep through its veins, however, the entire history of America features oppressed groups of individuals working to no longer be oppressed.
This year I took a class called Protest Movements in American History, where we learned about the oppression people face just because of who they are. We heard the heartbreaking stories of arguably the most marginalized group in history, Native Americans, whose lives were ruined the moment Christopher Columbus thought he discovered a whole continent. We discussed the horrifying reality of sexual harassment and abuse, as victims silence themselves because they feel they did something wrong. We learned about women’s suffrage, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, and even pacifists. However, the day we reached Civil Rights in our course work something about a video someone shared really connected with me.
The student shared a clip from a modern documentary about segregation that still occurs in schools. The point is that although the school doors are open to everyone, the classroom doors remain closed to some. This really hit home for me because I had always been appreciative of the fact that my school was diverse. In fact, it is what I have loved most about growing up in my town. Everyone comes from different ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, and we all seem to unite because of our differences. My family in particular taught me the importance of loving people for who they are, especially if they’re different from me. However, we started discussing how even in a school known for diversity, there are still problems. Some students shared the lack of representation of people of color in honors and AP classes, while others shared that they never get stopped when they’re in the halls without a pass, yet they see non-white students get stopped all the time. Others shared their experience, and many stayed quiet. It was fascinating to me because I had always thought of myself as someone who was hyper-aware of prejudice. I was upset with myself, how could I not notice this? Obviously I recognized blatant examples of racism, but these subtle experiences reinforced to me the system behind it all. I guess ignorance is a side effect of the privilege that has been built into my life. It is a side effect of privilege created by people once upon a time who decided they should forever be in power just because of what they look like.
Although I almost always share my opinion, I felt like it wasn’t my place to speak because I knew that my lack of shared experience would appear as a disingenuous perspective. I wanted it to be an opportunity to learn about experiences I would never have. It baffles me that before this recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, people thought the fight for Civil Rights was over. Systemic racism has remained pervasive. It is perpetuated by the societal notion that it doesn’t exist anymore. It may seem like there is equality, but this apparent equality is undermined by a lack of equity. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.” But did Dr. King know that to certain groups that oppression would continue for what may actually feel like ‘forever’?
That day in class, I walked away wondering if I was a horrible person. I didn’t agree with the injustice, and I still don’t. In fact, it infuriates me and I make my feelings known whenever I encounter someone who supports the status quo. I’ve been raising awareness in the ways I can and donating to organizations I think can effect change. But society was purposefully constructed so that my life would always be easier. If you’re white, you undoubtedly have privilege. No one is discrediting your hardships, or telling you your life was easy. It’s just a fact that your life was never more difficult because of your skin color. It doesn’t make you a bad person; in fact, recognizing this reality is the first step in the right direction. But not acknowledging it at all means you are part of the problem. The problem of oppression affects more than those directly oppressed; it affects me because it affects my community. It affects my friends and my teachers and the people I meet in the grocery store. It affects the city I love and the towns I will never know. It affects the world. We cannot continue to make the marginalization of groups a normalcy.
From slavery to Jim Crow and segregation to now, black people have suffocated under a system of oppression for more than 400 years. So don’t you dare tell anyone how to protest when you have not once experienced the plight of a black person. Do not invalidate the amount of anger from years of oppression that you’ll never understand. Obviously, all cops aren’t bad, that is not the point. It’s the entire system that needs reform, and those who are “good cops” have the responsibility to condemn the cops who are not. And don’t even get me started on the man in charge of this country. Black Lives Matter.
You cannot degrade the severity of the problem by oversimplifying it with an individual solution. But to my generation in particular, it is our job to create change. We are the change. Whether it is posting on social media, donating to organizations, going to protests, registering to vote, or just having conversations about racism, it is our job to be on the right side of history in the making. So often we hear adults say they’re “a product of their time”, but that is ignorance, and that is someone used to staying on the wrong side of history. It is our responsibility to not be silent because silence is complacency and complacency is a privilege. It is a privilege because those who have the ability to remain complacent are those who will never experience racial discrimination first hand. It’s time to educate and take action. It’s time to learn and make our voices be heard. It’s time to recognize the beautiful colors of people’s skin, and honor their experiences. It’s time to normalize hearing about the bigoted experiences people around you have, and time to stop being so defensive, to break down your white fragility. It’s time to stop making this movement about you by saying “All Lives Matter” because no one said they didn’t, all they said was that black lives should too. It’s our time now, don’t let history repeat itself like it has so many times before. Black Lives Matter.
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Anastasia Meininger, aka “Offbeat Rhythms”, is a high school student in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City. She lives with her parents and older brother, and her life is filled with her hilarious and loving Italian, Irish, Greek, and German family, as well as her wonderfully crazy, and diverse group of friends.
Anastasia is a normal, yet distinctly unique teenager who loves performing, making people laugh, and even going to school! Her favorite subject is Science, especially Chemistry, and when she’s not studying, you can find her at her dance studio, where she rehearses for her dance competitions, and vocal showcases.