A Dream Deferred
It’s been nearly 55 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his world-shifting “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. As a kid, the narrative I was taught in school about this speech led me to believe that racism and discrimination were eradicated all together with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, enacted just a year after King’s speech. However, in 2018 Americans still have vastly differing views on issues such as police brutality and racial profiling.
Race is such a hotly debated topic that whenever controversies arise, those that believe racism no longer exists often dismiss people of color by calling out use of the “race card.”
What the concept of the “race card” gets wrong, is the idea that people of color are ever able to escape the implications of our identities. For people of color and women alike, race and gender are not simply commodities that we use as an excuse to get us out of sticky situations. Rather, race and gender should be seen as an umbrella under which the entirety of a person’s experience is affected—including people who live at intersections of identity that have not traditionally been considered marginalized.
Perhaps the most recent example of this phenomenon would be the 2018 U.S. Open, in which a series of unfair code violations administered by the umpire set Serena Williams back during her competition. One of these point penalties came as a result of Serena smashing her racket, which many of her male counterparts have done without criticism. In spite of this double-standard, many tennis fans have reacted to Serena’s “outburst,” accusing her of pulling a “race” or “gender” card.
One would not have to dive too deeply into national statistics to find an astounding amount of discrimination that still exists in our country today. In 2017, women who worked full-time earned 20% less than men working full-time. African Americans in the U.S., though only comprising about 13% of the U.S. population, make up 25% of people killed by the police. These are a few examples of the systematic injustices present in the U.S. today, although a simple Google search reveals much more. In light of such statistics, it is almost impossible to imagine race or gender functioning as a “get-out-of-jail free” card when racialized and gendered oppression are so prevelant today’s in society.
Whether we want to admit it or not, race and gender affect the way people navigate the world. More often than not, people of color and women get the short end of the stick. People naturally function and relate to others based on their conscious and unconscious biases. This means that none of us, without careful and consistent self-auditing, are exempt from discriminatory behavior towards those who are different from us. So, what does it look like to become a better ally to those living on the margins of society?
What’s An Ally To Do?
1. Believe THE MARGINALIZED.
The situation with the U.S. Open is the perfect example of how quick people are to question a victim’s oppression rather than listening and believing their experience. People of color and women have lived their entire lives navigating their identities. When a woman speaks up about her experience, the last thing she needs is a slew of people telling her that she’s wrong. A more helpful and compassionate response is to listen to the person speaking up about their oppression. If you are still skeptical, it would be worth your while to spend time considering your unconscious biases.
2. Check your biases.
We have all been socialized through media, our various upbringings, and cultural backgrounds to think about people and the world in certain ways. Unfortunately, this often means that we may harbor biased opinions that simply go unchecked. While racism and sexism are often manifested consciously, they can also manifest themselves more covertly in the form of unconscious bias. The first step to addressing your unconscious biases is learn more about the way they work. This article explains the concept of unconscious bias in more detail and discusses ways to help combat unconscious bias.
3. Know your stuff.
And lastly, it’s important to constantly educate ourselves on issues of race and gender discrimination. It can be easy to ignore the realities, simply scrolling past hot-topic article headlines on Twitter instead of actually reading the stories. Challenge yourself to engage when you are skeptical and to become dedicated to learning more about issues of discrimination rather than remaining ignorant out of fear. For some of us, that might look like actually reading that article instead of scrolling past it. For others, that might mean following new voices on social media to gain new perspectives. Whatever your approach, it is important to be actively engaged in discourse surrounding race and gender if we want to be better allies.
We still have a long way to go before MLK’s dream is actualized. However, I am of the belief that with each individual who makes a conscious decision to be on the side of justice, together we arrive closer to a world where well-being and equity are accessible for all.
Celeste M. Scott is the Social Media Coordinator at The Good Trade. She is a freelance writer who, in her not-so-spare time, dabbles in film photography, podcasting and the occasional YouTube video. She is passionate about race, Internet culture and all things Drake. You can find her work on her website and Instagram.