How to Take Your Activism To The Next Level: The Revolutionary Act of Talking to People
Updated: Jun 19, 2022
Nothing is more important to me than ending heterosexism and discrimination in America, as I do not want the upcoming generations to face the discrimination queer trans people continue to face in our present society. After winning our fight
to marry the ones we love with the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, why do queer teens face higher rates of violence than straight teens and are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide? “You can marry your girlfriend. Be grateful, and stop complaining,” my straight peers say when referring to discrimination based on sexual orientation. But, why then, in freshman year of college, after getting milkshakes with some new friends, did my new straight friend state with bolstering confidence, “You know… I could probably fuck you straight.”
I hope to end heterosexism and other systems of oppression by facilitating conversations with all of my peers and examining the intersectional disproportionality in our personal experiences. I recently had a conversation with my friend, who is a Black man, and we talked about the different strategies we use to navigate a primarily white institution (PWI). Sam explained how he code switches to make himself feel more safe and comfortable around groups of white people, and I realized that I use a similar technique. When I have to go to my business classes, which are overrun by white frat boys, I dress like them so that I can blend in and feel more secure walking to and from class. Both of our approaches mimic and reflect whiteness in similar ways. Sam used his “white voice” around white people while I wore my “white boy clothes” around the frat boys.
It is also important to note that Sam still has a very different experience around white people than I do since he is visibly Black. He cannot conceal his race the way that I can conceal my transness. However, my unique experience of camouflaging brings its own unique challenges. One day during practice, one of the employees at the school gym started calling names to make sure everyone
signed in. As she called out my teammates’ names, my heart sank; she was about to say my dead name in front of my entire team. I braced myself, but the tears already started rolling down my face. My ears were hot with anger, and I congratulated her on deadnaming me in front of everyone and ran out of the room. A few months later, Sam made a comment that I acted like the employee did that out of malice, which hurt to hear. Reflecting back on that moment, I know that she did not mean to cause me harm, but I was still harmed. Deadnaming someone is an act of violence, whether it is intentional or not. I explained this to Sam, he listened to me, and he understood. At that moment, he became a better ally and a better friend.
I wanted to be a better ally and better friend to him, so I asked him, in his opinion, what makes a good white ally. Sam explained that, sometimes, a good white ally does not get involved, especially when it comes to debates within Black communities. Letting your Black friend, teammate, or co-worker decide what support they need, if any, is key to being a good white ally. Good intersectional allies instill self-determination in their activism. They give agency to those who are often unheard and unseen. They ask their friend what they need, instead of assuming what they need. By raising awareness of similarities between different marginalized communities, we encourage mutual understanding and create a new wave of change in our communities.
I know that one on one conversations can only do so much in addressing systemic oppression. However, I hope that my story can inspire all those who are trying to be better intersectional activists and find the best strategies of navigating a world that was designed to benefit only a select few. I know
firsthand how scary and intimidating it is to start your activism journey. All of the petitions you are urged to sign. All of the black squares you were pressured into posting on Instagram. All of the mistakes you were afraid to make. It is an overwhelming process, yet it is important to always keep trying. Accept that you are not going to be perfect; you will make mistakes. Own them, learn from them, and move on. Mistakes and poor decisions are inevitable, so make a plan to manage the backlash before more poor decisions are made.
Although I expect criticism from those who do not believe that these systems of oppression exist or will argue that these conversations are not appropriate for the workplace, I am willing to manage this if it means that our society will slowly but surely be restructured to include all communities and allow people to be different and still belong to our beautiful, diverse world.