Racism and sexism are hard things to think about and even harder to talk about. There are dense and complicated theories written on each, some of which I’ve encountered, thought about, and then stopped thinking about because the solution was either buried under words I had to look up or was contingent on a major structural shift that I had no power to singlehandedly bring about.
In the face of what might be the two most divisive issues that we’re grappling with as a nation, I feel paralyzed. There are whole events dedicated to pinpointing the elusive spaces from which racism and sexism flow (or at least trying to understand how we can treat each other better), yet there’s no concrete solution. Although this might suggest that the problem is too complicated to just “fix,” I would argue that at least the first step of the solution is simple.
Sitting in the 10:15 p.m. C.A.R.E. Week mass last Sunday, I was struck by Rev. Jeremy Clarke, S.J.’s, homily, in which he explained that the raising of Lazarus shows us not only Jesus’ humanity, but also his desire to love us and for us to love each other as we are, to roll away the figurative stones that prevent us from doing so. It was so easy. There was nothing to think about but love-unqualified, uninhibited love.
While I’m not going to try to argue that racism and sexism are easy problems to fix, I am going to argue that the thing holding us back from solving them is a lack of the kind of open-minded, open-armed love that we learned about in religion class and an inability to see past the fixed identities that we assign each other.
To be able to transgress the boundaries of race, class, and gender, we must accept that they do not exist in a vacuum but inevitably interact, as Kobena Mercer described. We need to recognize that one’s unique experience cannot be determined by the color of one’s skin or the gender one identifies with. If we want to successfully engage each other in dialogue, we have to acknowledge the hybridity of our and others’ identities and the unintentional way that ours might inform our interactions.
We have to approach each other with love, rather than with aggressive and negative assumptions. We have to recognize that in these dialogues, our unique experiences might mean that we’re inadvertently committing a kind of epistemic violence against another, and we need to address the experiences that might be informing our perceptions of ourselves and our relations to others.
We go to a school that preaches love and acceptance, and while we might do this at an individual level, I think that we sometimes still see the world in segmented groups that are not only static, but are also inevitably separated from ourselves. This keeps us engaging each other from a place of judgment rather than a place of love. We need to turn that around.
In my four years here, I have seen this shift begin. We have recognized that we need to unite not divide, speak rather than fight. But this is just the beginning. It is up to you, the new leaders, to keep this trend going when the Class of 2014 graduates.