This piece is part of a series exploring the many manifestations of privileges and prejudices at Minerva through student stories. You can read the introduction of the series here or more student stories on race, gender, class, ability, nationality, or religious discrimination.
It is a Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires. Sergio, 21, is enjoying one of the many carne asadas that his family has Sunday after Sunday, almost without exception. These carne asadas pretty much encompass all the social interaction that Sergio has with his extended family. All his siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents get together to eat kilos of red meat, brought to their table every week thanks to the mass murder and animal abuse that the meat industry causes every single day.
Elisa, also 21, is having a delicious meal with her family at a fancy and pricey (the usual for her family) vegan restaurant in the most vegan-friendly city in the world, London. Elisa lives in a vegan family; she has never eaten meat or dairy products and has never wanted to try it since she knows about how bad the dairy and meat industry is for animals.
Sergio had no idea how meat-based and diary-based diets are so bad for the environment and for the animals that live a life of pain and misery. He only recently learned more and has tried to cut down on these products, but he still cannot refuse to be part of the carne asadas which have been such a big part of his life. It’s even harder now that he only spends a part of his summer breaks home with his family. Attending the carne asadas is the perfect moment to reconnect with his family and friends, it would be really hard to miss those. Is Sergio a worse person than Elisa?
As you might already imagine, the point of this article is not to discuss veganism. But I wanted to tell this quick (fictitious) story because I want to start this article with the following point: Everyone’s journey starts from a different place and therefore is different. Your starting point determines the distance you have to travel. As long as we keep moving forward in the journeys that are worth traveling, where you start does not make you a better or worse person, even though others might be miles ahead or miles behind us.
The journeys of focus in this article and in some that have recently been posted in the Quest are sexism and racism. I wrote this article to:
- Show my support to those who have been victims of racism and sexism at Minerva.
- Share my experience and points of view on the matter and hopefully impact at least a few of those who read it.
- Further stimulate much-needed conversations in our community.
I want to start with how patriarchy has shaped my journey. I grew up in a family with at least some (more than a few) patriarchal values. In my family, my sister has always been more protected, and subsequently restricted, than me and my brother. My mom did not want my sister to learn how to drive. Although she did tell my dad to teach her, she did not make it easy for her. She confessed to me that this was because she didn’t want her to use the car. Both my parents wanted either my dad, my brother, me, or my sister’s boyfriend to drive her to wherever she needed to go. They believed the company of a man was necessary to protect her.
My mom told me how for a long time she accepted that the housekeeping roles were hers to take. Doing so would make her a good wife. She also had to be the one to take us to school or to our extracurricular activities after school. Although my dad would also help with this when he could, she did not think that it was a role that my dad should have to take. As a woman, all these things were part of her responsibilities
For the first half of my parents’ marriage, my dad provided the primary financial support for the family. He had a business and it was good enough to support my parents and me as a baby. With time, my brother and sister were born and it became more expensive to maintain our household. Then, the business was not enough to pay off the bills anymore. Ultimately, my mom went back to work and little by little she became the financial support of the family. She became the head of the family. When I asked my mom whether she thought that becoming the head of our family (at least financially) meant that she would no longer have the responsibilities she had as a woman, she said no. She told me she thought she had to become Wonder Woman to be able to succeed professionally. She thought the only way it would be okay for her to go on that professional journey would be if at the same time she could balance it with the other roles she was responsible for, just because she was a woman. And she did. My mom became, and still is, Wonder Woman.
Despite having grown up with some patriarchal beliefs, my mom also instilled a lot of feminist values in me and my siblings. She always told us how women are equally as capable as men to perform any job. Women can be as good as men in any sport. They deserve the same respect no matter the circumstance. Furthermore, a lot of the beliefs my mother had about her role as a wife have recently changed. Five years ago, my mom started working on a project for improving the criminal justice system in Mexico. People working for the project realized there were many gaps in the justice system that were specifically harmful to women. One of them is that women who have been abused for a long time by their partners, due to the immense fear they have lived in for so long, end up killing their spouses because they are so afraid of losing their life or their children’s. These women were sentenced much more severely than men who committed homicide. The environment of severe abuse and fear they lived in was not considered in the trial. My mom’s organization decided it was necessary to implement intensive staff training on gender perspective. My mom was part of this training, which led her to realize that the environment she lived in is full of sexism. Since then, most of her patriarchal beliefs have been challenged. She no longer thinks she has to assume any role in my family just because of her gender.
In the last five years, I have also been more reflective of my values. However, I have also had friends, from a young age, who did not share these feminist values. I too, at the time, was not reflecting on anything. Instead, I was simply a recipient of the things that I was exposed to. Last year, I posted this on my Facebook profile. In that post, I recognize how I have been sexist and reflect on precisely this aspect of starting your journey at different places. The triggers of that post were the feminist movements in Mexico at the time.
Since then, I have little by little gotten more involved in learning about oppression and how to fight it. I have to admit that, at the time, I was pretty ignorant about how racism was still so present in our world. I thought that we kind of were in a “post-race” world, at least compared to how I thought our society was in the past. Despite telling and laughing, with my friends, at “inoffensive” (oh, how wrong I was) jokes about other friends who had darker skin than us throughout elementary, secondary, and high school, I thought that I was in a world where people weren’t that racist anymore. And yet we are still so so so far away from being “post-race.”
This is an example of how one journey can start in a very different place than another. My feminism journey started much further ahead than my journey on anti-racism, which just recently started after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and all the media attention around the subsequent protests.
In terms of my anti-racism journey, I had the opportunity to attend Precedent. That helped me grow and I wrote another Facebook post triggered by those conversations and what was going on in the media at the time. I also attended a discussion on “Racism in our Community” organized by Minerva students and again that helped me reflect and grow. All these things have helped me move forward in my journey. And that is the important thing, to keep moving forward.
Moving forward together: tolerating people, not oppression.
During one part of the discussion on “Racism in Our Community”, we talked about how to call people out when they are acting sexist or racist. We discussed how to address people with questions, trying to understand their perspective, them understanding yours, and helping others grow. Here I want to add that during discussions like these, it is important to be in the mindset of “I am trying to grow, too.” I believe it is easy to think that because we have joined a movement and started becoming more knowledgeable about a topic, we are more right than others and that we are “illuminating” others with our wisdom. This can easily turn into ethnocentrism. For those who, like me, did not know what that word means, according to Google, ethnocentrism is the “evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture.”
When we talk to people in the mindset of “let us all grow together,” we are more effective than coming at people telling them they are wrong, telling them their beliefs are flawed, and telling them that overall they are a worse person than we are. When we do the latter, we must expect people to become defensive. That’s because when we speak to people in the tone of “what is wrong with you?” they feel like we are attacking them, personally, not just the ideas that we are trying to fight. We have to attack racism and sexism, not people, especially not people in our communities. On the contrary, we want to team up with people against those beliefs that are sexist or racist.
After engaging in a discussion (thank you Nebraska and Alina) that touched on these ideas, I realized that I did not have any of that in mind when writing the comments I made on recent MiConfidant posts that expressed sexist ideas and “arguments”. I wrote a lot of responses with the following connotation: “You are so wrong, your beliefs are so flawed, you as a person are worse than I am for not realizing that, and you have no hope for improvement” even though I didn’t think that at all. Even though I am convinced of the ideas behind my comments, I really could have expressed them better. I was not acknowledging that we start our journeys in different places. I strongly disagreed with a lot that had been presented, and how it was presented, and I got really angry and let that shape the way I wrote. But I did not believe that the person who wrote it is bad, or that I was in any way superior to them, just lucky to have started my journey farther ahead and lucky to have been privileged in ways that OPs might have not.
But then I realized another thing (that probably had long been realized by those who were concerned about the nature of anonymous groups like MiConfidant): it is very hard to address problems with regards to racism/sexism when they are alienated from the people who hold those perspectives. Anonymity results in responding to beliefs and opinions, not responding to people, so calling out those points of view in a very strong way is the most natural thing to do for many who have long been affected by those beliefs or opinions. After all, we really should not expect the passiveness of the oppressed when presented with views that have been the reason for their oppression. And when addressing an anonymous person, it is really hard to understand their context and their starting point in their journeys.
Being loud is how we help people move along in their journey
This takes us to the following point: tolerating people does not mean tolerating oppression. The way we tolerate people and work with them is by understanding where they are in their journeys. However, sexism and racism should never be tolerated. It is important to call out and react radically to acts of oppression when they are happening. Action needs to be taken, and never passively, to fight racism and sexism. A good place to start is our community. Whenever you see someone being discriminated against, you must not tolerate it. We must stop those acts and be loud when we stop it. Otherwise, the silence that has for so long been there will remain, and the sexist and racist society benefits from that silence. And so we must always be loud, radical, and never passive.
When we are loud, we help people move forward in their journeys. Being loud lets people know they are not alone. It is hard to move forward on a journey if it feels like we are swimming against the current. When people are loud, we help others who have been moving slowly and silently. It is definitely frightening to go against what everyone in our group of friends has considered normal because in a way we feel like we isolate ourselves from them. But if we see others traveling the same journey, then we do not feel like that anymore, we are no longer alone. And so being loud is an act of solidarity. It means being empathetic to those who are behind in their journey but trying to move forward.
It is not within the aims of this article to prescribe how we must address every situation (because I could not possibly do so), but I believe there is a big difference between loudly calling out sexism and racism, and attacking people who have done something sexist or racist. Of course, there is a world of difference between someone who is expressing their racist or sexist beliefs in a discussion with classmates and someone who has sexually assaulted someone in our community. I think the first person deserves to be talked to as a person and have their beliefs challenged, while the latter deserves to be canceled, at least by the community. The assaulter should be immediately expelled. And if this happens, being loud is even more important. Saying the name of the person is important, being loud about what happened is important. It is important because the assaulter doesn’t deserve to be kept secret; we need to protect the victim and others from this person who has become dangerous to the community.
That said, I do think that “radical” is not mutually exclusive with “empathetic.” But this empathy has to come from both sides. If it does not come from one side, especially if it does not come from the oppressor, there is no truce and people will have to expect a much stronger, angrier, and outraged response. Otherwise, the one who ends up being ostracized is the person who is made fun of, the person who is abused, the person who is raped and not believed. And there is nothing worse than that. That’s why we must always be loud and support those who are loud, those brave people who speak up (like Kate did with her article). We all need to be part of that response against racism and sexism.
And I want you to know that, whenever I see it, I will be part of that response. I want you to know that even though there is still a long way to go in my journey, if you have ever been discriminated against, I am with you and I will fight with you.
If you are interested in writing a personal piece or a report for the Quest on this topic, we encourage you to apply to receive payment for your work in hopes of incentivizing more students to contribute and partially compensating those who do.