Awareness | Posted by Julie Z on 04/27/2010
Being An Ally
In December, I attended the National Association for Independent Schools’ Student Diversity Leadership Conference, which I blogged about here. This conference, which brought together high school students from across the country to talk about diversity, inspired a friend of mine and I to start a diversity club at our school. We had no idea how hard pulling this off would be.
While there were teachers at our school who had attended the conference with us and who completely supported us, our efforts at starting a club were completely ignored by the student body. We concluded that much of the disinterest had to do with the fact that our school is overwhelmingly white and pretty much conforming to stereotypes across the board.
Getting kids at our school to understand that we are all diverse is one thing, but we realized that these kids didn’t even understand the concept of being an ally. Not only did they not see themselves as diverse, they didn’t even understand the concept of supporting the diversity of others.
This frustration made me think about my experience at SDLC. Although I had always considered myself an open-minded person, it wasn’t until the conference that I truly realized my own potential for being an ally. I was reminded of a specific incidence at the conference that truly solidified this belief.
At SDLC I experienced being a racial minority, though I am the majority everywhere else. I met people who want to accept and who don’t understand the world’s fear of themselves and others. I met people of all different socio-economic backgrounds and realized that we could relate to each other on a deeper level, despite our differences.
At the end of the conference, every single one of the 1100 students present wrote a letter describing their personal story. We exchanged and read each other’s letters, then exchanged again, so that our letters became anonymous, entrusted in the hands of a perfect stranger.
A lower middle class Mexican girl wrote the letter I received. She wrote of how her friends from her neighborhood see her as white, because she attends private school, and ostracize her. Her white schoolmates see her as different and ignore her. Maybe nobody had hurt her verbally or physically, but caught between two cultures, she ended up nowhere. Lost, alone and silenced because of her race.
Reading this letter, as a white girl of higher economic status, I realized I could relate. While being white has afforded me an incredible amount of privilege, there are still things about me that are different from many of my peers, but because they’re not visible, I pass as the same. Although I could never experience what this girl described because of my white privilege, relating to this girl’s letter helped me realize that race is just a part of who we are, not the defining factor.
It was this letter combined with my remarkable experience at SDLC that made me realize toleration isn’t enough. People of racial privilege have to stop patting themselves on the back for letting people of other races merely exist. We have to accept – if we do, we’ll find that our lives will be so much richer.
I decided to never be like one of the people who discriminated against this girl because of her race. I’m committed to being an active “ally” or somebody that supports and fights with oppressed people in their demand for equality. No longer will I avoid somebody different than me at school, and no longer will I stand by as my school segregates itself.
Maybe we can’t recreate this series of events for students at our school. But hopefully being an ally, and showing our peers what being an ally looks like, can speak louder than our calls for alliance do.
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