A World I Would Like to Live in

When I was a child, I learned about the Holocaust in Hebrew school (for those of you don’t know- I was raised Jewish, though I’m not particularly religious at this point in my life). Besides the obvious horror and disgust at the atrocities committed during that time, I remember also being surprised at why the Jews didn’t just leave- move out of their country to safety. Cartoon videos like the Prince of Egypt and Rugrats Passover showed Jews refusing to deny their religion, practicing openly and facing persecution or death. I just couldn’t understand how you could stay living in a country where you weren’t safe. Where your leaders did terrifying things to its people.

Recently, I came to realize that we live in a remarkably similar time. It’s not (always) the Jews this time, though. There are different scapegoats. There are different targets.

I read about things like the Supreme Court now making the decision if firing someone for being LGBTQ is constitutional or Ohio (and many other states following suit) banning abortion before women even know they’re pregnant- and these are just the current hot button issues. This is above and beyond other abhorrent current events like what is being done to immigrants and people of color in our country. Some of these things can be attributed to President Trump, sure, but many of them have been going on for much longer and are rooted in deeper, institutional issues.

My friends, we are living in the time I described. A time when it is no longer ridiculous to liken our present situation to that of the Holocaust. When I can now understand why people didn’t just leave their country when these terrible things started happening.

I don’t want to leave my home; it’s the place where all my friends and family live, my job, everything I’ve ever known. Lucky for me, I’m a White, American citizen- not straight, but with a male partner. It means I have the privilege for most of these laws to not affect me personally.

But not everyone is so lucky. And I would imagine that many of them do not feel safe to speak out or feel like they have a voice.

Be their voice. Stand for human rights.

Because it’s not about politics. I think the biggest injustice we have done our country is equating human rights with politics. It isn’t part of the “liberal agenda” to want non-heterosexual people to get married or be able to work a job without fear of being fired based on who they’re sexually attracted to. It’s not part of the “liberal agenda” to want Black lives to matter just as much as my own. It’s not a part of the “liberal agenda” to want our children to go to school without fear of being shot or watching their friends and teachers be shot. It’s not part of the “liberal agenda” to want women to have just as much control over their bodies as men have. These are basic human rights. And it is not fair that because of politics and policies, we lack them.

So many people with privilege read the news and threaten to move to Canada or leave the country. I can understand that sentiment fully. We have the luxury of being able to detach and not care. What would this country, this world look like if everyone did care? If instead of detaching, we stood up for human rights?

That’s a world I would like to live in.

Share Your Voice

A few weeks ago, I received a document from a student to review before it was going to be published as a part of a Psychology Club newsletter. One of my students, an incredibly talented writer, brilliant, and passionate was the author. It was a very provocative article and addressed some issues that politics has made people very sensitive about: the government, Trump, race, mental health. I was nervous about its publication and talked to a colleague. This person is someone who I really respect- in general, but especially for her sensitivity about and passion for social justice. One of the takeaway messages I remember most strongly from that conversation was essentially this: Why am I more concerned with the majority? Why am I more concerned that majority members will have a negative response to this article rather than concerned that minority voices don’t get heard?

It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot. Racism and social justice issues have been on my mind a lot, largely inspired by the conversations and programs that BW has sponsored. If you’re looking to get started, I highly recommend Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? It is one of the most meaningful and significant books I have read in a long time.

In one of my classes today, we discussed the topic of aggression. During our discussion, the related issues of gun violence, mental health, and government spending arose. Usually in these situations, I feel external, societal pressure to be neutral. But what I realized today was that all I was doing was ensuring that the majority opinion was represented. And that concern wasn’t letting my students’ voices be heard.

So I did something that I rarely do in class- I shared my (partisan) opinion. I agreed with their frustrations about the lack of gun laws and government money being spent more on the military than on health care or education. I shared a story about a student in my class last semester who couldn’t afford her depression medication any more after insurance changes and stopped attending class because her mental health was affecting her so strongly. I shared my passion that students shouldn’t have to worry about how insurance is going to affect their performance in college. This story inspired another student to share a similar experience- her inability to afford her own medication and how challenging the semester had been because of it.

Sometimes, learning about bias and privilege makes me overwhelmed. I think that I can’t do anything to change people or society; it’s so broken, what difference will my small voice make? But you don’t have to change the world for everyone. It’s enough to change it for one person. I may not be able to change how the government spends their money or if guns are finally banned in this country. But I can change how my students feel. I can give voice to their stories and I can give them the courage to share their own voices with the world.

Don’t underestimate the positive effect you can have on others’ lives. Share your voice.