Crossing the Line

This blog post was really hard to write. And when I say hard, I mean it’s 3 a.m. and I’m rewriting this for the fourth time because I still can’t get it right. In this post, I wanted to talk about something that’s been bothering me since I started my job as a racial justice intern this summer. When I took this job, I had a fairly strong background in women’s and children’s issues, however racial justice was something I was (am) still learning about.

Since taking on the role of racial justice intern, I’ve noticed patterns in myself and those around me regarding how we externalize our perceptions of race and privilege. For the first time, I’ve begun to think of myself as more than female, and more as a white female, and what that means. I’ve begun to look more closely at who my friends are, and how they influence my experience of race and gender. Looking at these aspects of my life revealed a wall I’d unconsciously built between who I am at work and who I am outside of work.

I draw inspiration from my personal life and put it into writing for my internship, but I don’t really take a whole lot from my internship into my personal life. This is a big problem because it’s a symptom of the very things I’ve been trying to address; internalized racism and sexism.

No matter how I act at work, there is a certain line I don’t cross outside the office. That line appears when someone makes a joke about how women are hormonal and unnecessarily dramatic. The line appears when one of my friends (who, if I’m being honest, are predominately white) pretends to be “hood.” The line is there when someone enforces a stereotype about a particular race. The line is there when I laugh along with these jokes, and the line is there when I don’t say anything. The line is there. What I find so hard to accept is the fact that I put it there.

My friends all know what I do. They know I’m involved in social activism surrounding racial justice and gender equality, but even those who support my work don’t really like it when I bring it to Friday night get-togethers. Commenting on everyday racism and sexism elicits eye rolls and sarcasm or, if I’m lucky, polite interest.

At work, I write about racism and sexism because I’ve seen them in action and I’m aware enough to know that it’s wrong, but what I write is irrelevant if I can’t follow my own advice and challenge the problem in the company of my own friends.

We laugh off issues that affect millions of people because we can; the reason we don’t want to see the issues as anything more than a joke is because when we do, we have to make changes to deeply ingrained behaviors. This is hard. It’s a lot easier to keep laughing than to be the person who points out why it’s not funny, and run the risk of alienating yourself.

Usually when I write a blog post, I try to offer a solution, or at least a helpful hint as to how a problem can be avoided in the future, but this time, I don’t. I don’t have a solution because I’m still learning how to translate the work I do, and the things I believe, into something I don’t have to sugarcoat in order to be accepted. It’s hard for me, but living with sexism and racism is harder for all of us. Facing my bias’ will always be a challenge, but as my mother likes to remind me, I am stubborn as a mule so…

… challenge accepted!