I attend a weekly young adult discussion group at my church. My church is part of the United Church of Christ, which is a super hippie/liberal/progressive christian organization. We spend a lot of time talking about social justice. Several people have made comments about how they find it difficult to live up to their call to work for social justice. One person said that if he was a teacher or a social worker, he could feel OK that he was doing his part everyday, but, since his profession isn’t obviously social justice oriented, he feels like it is harder for him to contribute.
My lovely boyfriend got me thinking about these comments when he sent me two interesting articles yesterday. Both of them are about how “everyday people” or people, like my friend, who chose professions that aren’t directly about social justice that are making positive changes in the world.
The first article was about a man who really liked going to his local deli. Recently, a famous African American was accused of stealing at the deli and was searched by an employee (1). The man in question struggled with his decision to boycott the deli because the owner seemed like a really nice man who was truly apologetic, the employee in question was “a good man” who didn’t mean to be racist, and it’s a good deli. It was eventually his wife who helped him frame the event in the context of his family. If it had happened to his son, he would have no question about his loyalty to the deli. That thought motivated him to action.
The second article was about a white, female author who wanted to write a fantasy story that utilized Native American folklore because she was frustrated about how fantasy is dominated by European stories and traditions (2). Someone pointed out that her portrayal of another culture had unintentionally utilized stereotypes and had, in some cases, demeaned the other culture. Her response was to re-write her story with the help of the person who had criticized her. This story had already been published, by the way.Both of these people are not teachers or social workers, but they are making meaningful contributions to our cultural understanding and tolerance of racism and other -isms.
And there are more inspiring people in both stories than the authors. There are the people who had to the guts to stand up and to criticize people whose actions had been racist. That’s a really hard thing to do, and it is often frowned upon as being too uptight or unfriendly, even in my liberal communities. However, risking offending a person in a dominant social group in order to speak the unpopular voice of people who are oppressed and marginalized is powerful, needed, and impressive. It is something that everyone can do throughout their daily lives. It requires bravery, but bravery that millions of people around the planet show everyday regardless of their education or profession.
Since I brought up the topic that offending another person can be OK, I’ll end with referring you, once again, to The Social Justice League because she has already written a cool post going further into this issue (3). I applaud everyone who continues to wrestle with their part in working towards social justice and is willing to push themselves outside of the comfort of their daily routine.