Originally published on Navigating Through Spaces.
These past two quarters I had the opportunity to take two classes that allowed for critical self reflection: Inclusive Excellence in Organizations (IE in Orgs) and Critical Race Theory (CRT). These classes made me realize some things that I am ashamed of. But in realizing this, I feel that it is my duty as an academic and as someone learning to be an activist to be transparent in my growth.
Nearly three months ago I decided to go on a hiatus from all things social justice. I thought I was practicing self care in doing this but in reflecting back on why I decided to do that I have come to realize that I was running away from myself.
I am using this blog to publicly state that I am guilty of many things.
I am guilty of upholding a white supremacist system and perpetuating the stereotypes of the model minority myth.
I am guilty of using my privilege as a cis-gender male, an Asian American and Pacific Islander, and a temporarily able-bodied individual to walk away from issues of discomfort, especially around race.
I am guilty of using school and work as a crutch to dismiss myself from critical conversations on campus.
I am guilty of perpetuating anti-blackness; of being a racist, a sexist, an ableist, and an ageist.
And in confronting these identities I am publicly coming forward as having to struggle against these ideologies
EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. OF. MY. LIFE.
Everyday I face an internal struggle of addressing my privileges; of choosing my battles; of attempting to be part of the fight when in reality I felt like a fraud. Not an impostor within the academy but a fraudulent activist. I saw (and sometimes still see) racial issues through a lens of selfishness. I often times caught myself thinking, “what would I gain from participating in this” or “would this make me look like a good ally if I attended this event or spoke out about this issue.” In thinking this, I forgot that being an ally is not a self-proclaimed title. I was selfish in why I wanted to participate in certain events. For example, I was easily able to post my opinions on facebook but once someone commented, I backed away from the conversation, often times waiting for one of my activist friends to respond. In person, I was uncomfortable discussing the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and many others. I was able to have neutral conversations with people about these issues, but I was never able to dive deeper than making a general comment of “these are tragedies that are products of the world we live in.”
As protests spread across the US and hostility towards a legacy of racialized police violence, I continued to remain silent and admittedly, out of touch. At the pinnacle of student activism across the country, I decided to take a break from social justice to focus on school and work. Being involved felt ‘too overwhelming’ and my selfish ways did not allow me to sacrifice my precious personal time to address these issues. Instead, I practiced ‘self-care’ and decided that there were others who were better equipped to address the national crisis…after all, I was just one person.
So inevitably, I excused my silence and my self-imposed ignorance from conversations around the national crisis. Anxiety from grad school. Coming to terms around my gender identity as pansexual. My mental health issues. My immigrant status. I had reason after reason, excuse after excuse to fall silent.
In writing my racial autobiography for CRT, I was forced to identify the root of the issue – FEAR. In writing this, I feel tears forming as I am finally coming to terms with my discomfort about my own racialized experience and the shame I feel about not knowing the histories of my culture. I let my fear and the pain of my internalized identities to prevent me from participating in activism on campus and in my local community.
I was afraid to uncover some really deep messed up shit about myself. I was afraid of outing myself as a fraudulant activist. And most importantly, I was afraid to show vulnerability when discussing these issues. As an emotional person who is perceived to not have any emotions, I have felt comfortable in the privilege of sitting on the margins of society…allowing myself to pick my battles when it best suited me. In years past, I was applauded for being a chameleon in the face of adversity. I was proud of this…but more recently I have come to terms that I have allowed myself to feel comfort in upholding a system that perpetuates the dominant narrative of whiteness. In my silence, I practiced anti-blackness, color-blindness, and interest convergence – systems and ideologies that my IE in Orgs and CRT courses attempted to deconstruct. I contributed to reinforcing the message that race and racism were not worthwhile topics.
In publicly announcing this about myself, I am keeping myself accountable to disrupt these ideologies. So here are promises I hope to keep as I learn more about myself and my positionality within a racialized society:
- Do my homework and learn the facts and the timeline of events
- Check my privilege
My ideas of activism is undermined by racist academic norms and practices, isolation, lack of support, as well as the resultant fear and self-doubt. To others who remain too afraid to speak up, you are not alone. Ideally, I hope to make it clear that higher education is complicit in the silence and ignorance that surrounds racist police violence, and racism in general. We fail to provide students with the critical lens necessary to connect what they learn in the classroom with what is shown (or ignored) by the media. We fail to demonstrate the relevance of academic scholarship to the real world, and to take serious topics such as race and racism in the classroom. White students are not challenged to see their own racial privileges and how their actions, and often times inactions, contribute to the perpetuation of racism. Many students of color do not see themselves on campuses, in text books, in the media. This is in the midst of higher education’s role in perpetuating racial inequities, while producing a generation of ‘post-racials.’
Finally, this post serves to break my silence. I have once again learned the hard way that my silence does not protect me from racialized experiences within a predominantly white society.