On my way home tonight, I witnessed something I had never seen before. I was waiting in line at the convenience store to pay for my late-night snack, and there were two people ahead of me. The person at the register trying to pay for his food was a homeless man, and the person after him was a big man who seemed around 25 or 30. The first man was 37 cents short of his total. As he was rummaging through his belongings to find the last few coins, the line kept growing. The man behind him grew incredibly impatient and said, “keep it moving, you lousy piece of shit.”
This man buying smokes and three cans of whipped cream decided tonight that he was more human than this man in front of him paying for food. He decided that this man in front of him was worthless and didn’t deserve the one minute to look for 37 cents.
I should have stepped in; I should have paid for the items of the first man in line. I should have said to the second man in line that what he was saying was awful and that people shouldn’t be treated this way. I should have done a lot of things, but I didn’t because as a woman and a person of color, I didn’t feel safe.
Earlier today while I was eating lunch with some friends, one of the ensembles at my school put on an impromptu performance in our cafeteria. They sang three songs about Jesus. They sounded beautiful and I appreciated their musicality and their confidence. It’s so important that people are able to say and sing what they want and we truly are lucky to have this right because many countries do not. However, it was hard to stay positive in this moment. While I do believe freedom of speech is incredibly important, I did not appreciate being forced to listen to music about beliefs I do not share.
If we were at a concert venue and I was uncomfortable, I would just leave the situation. But they were singing songs of worship in the place where many of us try to enjoy a meal together, which is also one of the few places on campus where we don’t hear music. I was incredibly uncomfortable as someone who grew up in a household learning about Hinduism and my best friend was frustrated that this performance was happening considering he was observing Passover. When I expressed my anger about the situation, I was shut down. I was made to feel that my comfort didn’t matter and that I should get over whatever I was feeling.
In this situation, I expressed my thoughts and feelings about how this performance was insensitive to those observing Passover and insensitive to those who don’t share the same beliefs as the singers, and I was shut down. It’s moments like these that make activism hard to keep up. If my friends, family, and others around me repeatedly shut me down, I don’t want to keep speaking my mind. If I am constantly made to feel like my needs are less important than those around me, then I will stop speaking up when my needs aren’t being met. If I am made to feel like I am less than my peers, than I will start believing that I am less than my peers.
Human rights activism is so incredibly important to me and I’m a firm believer that the appropriate time and place for activism is always. This isn’t a popular belief among many activists, and among my friends especially. But I believe that it’s so important to fight for equality. As a woman and a person of color, I see quite a bit of racism, sexism, and blatant disregard for anyone who isn’t a straight white male. The majority of my friends, who are white and grew up comfortably, don’t see the racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination; just because they don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been shut down or made fun of by some of my best friends because they don’t have the same experiences of discrimination. Racism is real. Sexism is real. Microaggressions are real.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t been incredibly lucky to live such a cushy lifestyle and to be studying at such an incredible school. I have the world in front of me, which is not something many people can say. But just because I am lucky and live a good life doesn’t mean that racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination don’t exist in my world, or the worlds of those around me. Activism is important, but if you’re not comfortable being an activist, please consider supporting those around you. It’s hard to stand up for the seemingly unpopular belief that we are all equal, but it’s a stand we must all take together.
Equality is necessary. We are all human. We all deserve love, respect and kindness and I will never stop fighting for that.
Food for thought: think about the encounter that I first told you about—with the homeless man and angry man behind him waiting at the register in the convenience store. Did you picture these people as being of a certain race? If so, who was what race? Take a look at your thoughts and think about possible prejudices that might be deeply embedded into your subconscious. Being aware of our underlying thoughts and feelings is incredibly important to begin the move towards achieving equality.