“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
One of the worst things about coming home is seeing and hearing just how ignorant the people around me are when it comes to offensive and prejudiced language. Since coming home on Friday, I think I’ve heard at least a dozen racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or heterosexist comments made in regular conversation.
These aren’t blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or heterosexist people either. These are my friends and loved ones — people who are incredibly intelligent, loving, and compassionate. That’s why it saddens me so deeply to hear offensive language, stereotypes, and slurs being tossed around with no regard for people’s feelings or well-being. These people have the capacity to speak without offending. I don’t understand why, in the grand catalog of humor, someone would need to stoop so low to make jokes that target, objectify, and ridicule an entire group of people. They should know better…
Being basically the only minority I know in my group of friends (and the only semi-liberal queer feminist in my family), the burden kind of falls on me to speak up. Not saying it should be that way, but that’s how it always seems to end up, isn’t it? Naturally, I’m forced to be the representative of every oppressed, targeted, marginalized social group ever. I’m getting a pretty good idea of how Atlas felt. But, if I don’t do anything about what’s happening, nobody will. Everyone around me is completely content with the current social standards (though, I’d assume that this is the default setting for those in the favored majority).
It looks like I have plenty of work to do as a bystander. It might not make me many friends, but I’m through giving others my silent consent. In the past, my speaking out against offensive language with my friends and family has resulted in people resenting me, so I’m expecting the same kind of backlash moving forward. Around here, people treat “political correctness” like a dirty word. That mentality is part of the problem and really stunts my efforts to affect change where I live (it was much easier back in Portland, OR). People hear one word about social change and they just start to tune you out. It’s a good thing I have the rare gift of persistence.
If people really want to shoot the messenger, I don’t mind biting the bullet. What’s important to me is that people begin to think critically about what they say and how it affects the people around them. People have gotten way too comfortable using offensive language around me and I’m done sitting silently while they make my skin crawl and my ears burn. It’s time we started holding each other accountable for our words and actions. And that’s precisely what I’m going to start doing.
Prepare yourself, Utah. I’m comin’ for ya.
Have you ever had a conversation in which the person you’re talking to says something that you aren’t comfortable with? Something that you’re offended by, or you feel could be offensive to someone else? I definitely have. And it’s really hard to blatantly call someone out on things like that. But if people don’t realize that what they’re saying is offensive or hurtful, we can never expect them to learn and grow. Right?
Well, I propose we start a trend.
We all want to help build inclusive communities that celebrate rather than stifle diversity. We all want respect from one another, and we have a right to expect it. But sometimes people, even those who don’t have a single malicious bone in their bodies, say things out of ignorance or misunderstanding that can be hurtful or offensive to one person or another. This is especially true when it comes to talking about minority groups and stereotypes.
Well, I’ve come up with a little tool that you can use when having discussions with people about diversity-related topics in a respectful but critical way. It’s called CYP.
CYP (pronounced like “sip”) stands for Check Your Privilege. When you say “CYP,” you’re asking a person – without the use of public humiliation or anger – to rethink the way that they say things. You’re requesting that the person ask themselves Could what I’ve said offended someone? You’re also asking them to think critically about the advantages they have in our society. These advantages (or privileges) can change the way people view the world around them. They can also change the way people view other people, especially those who are different.
Here’s a good example:
A couple weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a friend from back home (who is a white, heterosexual, cisgender male). We were talking about being queer in a predominantly heterosexual, cisgender world. He said, “I’ve never seen any LGBTQ people treated differently just because they were gay. That doesn’t really happen around here.”
Enter the CYP. Note that this actually took place before I came up with the acronym.
I explained to him that just because he, a white, straight cisgender man, doesn’t see discrimination happening doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Being unaware of something doesn’t make it any less real. I explained that a big reason he doesn’t see discrimination against LGBTQ individuals is because of his privilege as a white, straight cisgender man. We live in a society where he is unfairly given an advantage over minorities, because of his majority “status” (for lack of a better word). And he doesn’t see how privileged he is because he has never been required to look.
As a minority, I am forced every day to see just how disadvantaged I am. This is something that my white friends never truly experience.
I see it in the way media portrays women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.
I see it in how my family treated differently by cashiers at stores because my mother’s accent makes her questions sound different from those of a white woman.
I see it in how people ask me if my sister is my daughter when they wouldn’t dare assume the same about a young white girl.
I see it in how police watch me a little more closely than my white counterparts.
I see it in how many times TSA has asked to search my bag instead of anybody else’s.
I see it in my family’s history.
In how my father’s family lived constantly straddling the poverty line because Latinos in the 40s and 50s were never afforded the same opportunities as their white counterparts, and as a result had to work twice as hard for half the gain.
In how my mother immigrated to the U.S. from a developing country, seeking a better life, but not being met with the kindness and opportunity promised to her by the Land of the Free.
I see it in the looks that I get when I tell people that I’m bisexual.
I see it in the way people ask me where I’m from, as if I could never be American.
These are just some of the things that a member of the minority faces on a daily basis. But if you’re a member of the majority, you don’t see this. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of it.
That’s where CYP comes in. It can be as simple as writing it on a note or whispering it in someone’s ear. CYP is a way of holding a mirror up to the world and getting people to think critically about themselves and the difference between their perspective and reality. All perspectives are skewed by experiences. But that’s no excuse for ignorance.
We can eliminate ignorance. Slowly, but surely. One CYP at a time.
Although I am a Committee member myself, I cannot ignore the fact that I have personal opinions on inclusion at the University of Portland. So, I “anonymously” submitted the following comments to them. It’s not so anonymous now that I’m sharing it with all of you, but I didn’t feel that sharing my opinions during the student listening sessions was appropriate.
Anyway, here is what I said:
I have several comments and recommendations for the University’s ad hoc Presidential Advisory Committee on Inclusion:
As a queer student, I have experienced both explicit and implicit discrimination. I’ve been called “disgusting” and “unnatural” by fellow students in class and the instructors ignored those comments. I was never protected from such insults, especially when they were made in Theology courses. I can think of several reasons for why instructors faced with this situation wouldn’t come to my aid: 1) instructors are not educated on how to deal with confrontational situations involving diversity or discrimination, 2) instructors do not feel comfortable voicing their own personal opinions on matters of diversity for fear of retaliation from the University administration, 3) instructors belong to the mindset that opinions, even those which are hurtful and discriminatory, should not be stifled or corrected in the classroom. There is a clear problem with any and all of these reasons. The problem shouldn’t have to be spelled out in black and white for an institution that holds to a moral and ethical code as high as the University of Portland. Faculty and staff need to be trained to handle such conflicts in and out of the classroom. In order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students, we should provide our faculty and staff with an education that prepares them with the right knowledge about diversity of background and identity. Poet Denice Frohman said this: “Did you notice that hate is alive and well in too many lunchrooms, taught in the silence of too many teachers, passed down like secondhand clothing from too many parents?” (from the spoken word poem “Dear Straight People”; find it on Youtube.) Faculty and staff should act as mediators in these situations, not let them get out of hand like they all too frequently do here at UP.
As a person of color, I do not feel like a fully integrated member of the University community. I have never met a faculty member who shares a similar Latino or Asian heritage as myself. I have no mentor to approach with questions like “After I graduate, how do I deal with racial discrimination in the workplace?” I cannot share my experiences with racial discrimination with a faculty member who truly understands what I’ve been through. When I bring up racial stereotypes in class, I seem to be the only one who can relate. I get stares from fellow classmates and hear whispers like, “Why doesn’t she just keep that to herself? It’s not relevant to us.” These subtle racist comments (microaggressions) are not only hurtful to me and other racial minorities, but also perpetuate the destructive mindset that race issues are irrelevant or don’t matter to racial majorities. It’s not just my problem; it’s everyone’s problem. Our world is growing closer and closer together. It’s time for us to understand that we are becoming global citizens. Diversity training needs to be a part of a student’s introduction to the University. Higher education should broaden our worldviews, not narrow them.
As a woman in a male-dominated major (business), I feel like there aren’t nearly enough female leaders to look up to at the University. I cannot personally identify with any of our University’s administrators, who are straight, white, middle-aged males. I absolutely believe in hiring only those who are qualified for the positions they are appointed to, but I also feel that the University should make a stronger effort to seek out women (including/especially women of color) to fill their positions of authority. We have such a strong balance of male/female students, but that balance does not extend to our faculty and staff. How can we say that we are making decisions in the interest of all of our students if we cannot truly identify with all of our students?
Although the following issues do not directly pertain to me, I feel that it is important to acknowledge them as well: 1) I do not feel that we as a University provide adequate resources for our non-traditional students (married students, veterans, students with children/dependents, single parents, students who work full-time, delayed enrollment students, etc.). We lack an office for non-traditional students. We also do not have specific resources like a childcare center for parents (which could also be utilized by our faculty and staff). 2) I do not feel that we have enough resources for our international students. While we do have an International House in Residence Life that helps to accommodate students from other countries who may have different home lifestyles, we do not assist them with many of the academic challenges that they may face coming to a North American university. Education is approached in many different ways, and we need to understand that some people learn differently than others. I have also witnessed subtle discrimination among students towards international students. Comprehensive diversity training for students would help to remedy some of this. I feel that it is also important to include “citizenship status” into the Non-Discrimination Policy, to show that our University does not condone acts of discrimination based on one’s place of origin or the country one calls home.
To end, I will leave you, the Committee, with this to keep in mind as you move forward in your process:
As a Catholic institution, we value service and social justice. According to Fr. Basil Moreau’s Philosophy of Education, “If at times you show preference to any young person, it should be the poor, those who have no one else to show them preference, those who have the least knowledge, those who lack skills and talent, and those who are not Catholic or Christian.” If we seek to follow in the footsteps of Fr. Moreau, we should celebrate those who are different from us, not drive them away. We must embrace those who have been overlooked by others. It is our duty as a community to protect and serve those who are less fortunate. We have a moral obligation to those people. We must extinguish fear and replace it with love, as Christ would.