I had a conversation with someone the other day about racism in America, because, frankly, if I’m around a person (or group of people) for more than an hour, I will start proselytizing about social justice. It’s what I do.

But the more I do “proselytize,” the more daunting the whole agent-of-social-change thing becomes. I don’t know if it’s because I live in Oklahoma or if the lack of racial diversity in Norman, Oklahoma, where I am currently residing, has anything to do with it, but any mention of White Privilege or systemic racism and I get snide comments, complete apathy, or a roll of the eyes.

Suddenly, because I care about equality and about reversing the systemic socioeconomic stratification of our society, I am a “radical.” That title alone prevents me from being taken seriously at all by some leftwing groups and individuals and by most if not all “moderate” or right of moderate groups and individuals. 

Why does my unwavering passion for justice make me a “radical” when the very reason we created this nation was because “all men are created equal” and because a government should protect their “unalienable rights” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

(I get it that our dear Founding Fathers really weren’t talking about black people or Native Americans when they wrote those words but I think it’s safe to say that if they lived in this day and age, they would be. They were pretty progressive guys.)

The other day in class another incidence occurred whereby my peers surprised me by deeming me a “radical.” We were discussing—off topic, I’ll admit—the purpose of primary and secondary education in America in a small group of about five of us. Education in America is my thing—my obsession, as I’m sure you can tell if you read this blog. Therefore, when one of my peers said that the exclusive purpose of education was to prepare kids for college and/or the labor market, I jumped on him.

No, no, no, I said. The real and primary purpose of education in America is the ideological homogenization of students and the deliberate socioeconomic stratification of society based on class and race.

As soon as the words left my mouth, each of their faces contorted in this look of disgust and fury. They threw their arms up and lashed back:



"You’re a radical!"

"That’s a bit extreme…"

"You should probably leave the country if that’s the way you feel." 

I was slightly taken aback at how vehement—and unified—their responses were. We weren’t in a science or math class, where students don’t really study society and therefore probably don’t learn much about it unless they make an extra effort. We were in a political science class that studies religion and the constitution. These people are supposed to have some idea of the way the world, let alone this country, really works.

Why, then, should it come as any kind of shocking surprise that the world isn’t as neat and fair as we’d like it to be? More importantly, why is even a mention of this idea so outlandish and radical that the entire issue was brushed aside as irrelevant and unworthy of discussion altogether?

The lack of a critical attitude toward our society and the apathy so many people have for the injustices they know exist is disheartening, to say the least.

In moments like these, I turn inward—to my roommate next door who does understand or to my boyfriend who does understand—so that I can forget that there are so many people who just don’t understand and don’t care to. But this in itself is detrimental because when I go back to the real world and discuss these issues with everyday people, I’m just unpleasantly surprised and even more frustrated at how backward mainstream mentality is.

Happy Monday, everybody.

Mary Henson
4/8/2013 02:32:10

This is how I feel all the time!! I've stopped even trying to talk about it with people because they make me feel like a nut. My boyfriend and I had a conversation about covert racism, affirmative action, etc, and I ended up almost yelling at him. It's unbelievably frustrating when people simplify the navigation of our society by expressing that one must only be "motivated" or "driven" to get ahead. Anyway, glad someone else is on the same lonely page as me.

Brooke Myers
4/8/2013 09:39:58

Mary, I'm glad (and sad) to know you share my frustration. The whole idea that we live in a meritocracy is just kind of funny to me. I just want to know: Why isn't real life taught in schools--at any level?

Mary Henson
4/9/2013 06:50:31

That's a good question, with probably a lot of answers. I wasn't educated about the depth of stratification and injustice in our society until I got into my anthropology and sociology classes. My sociology teacher was probably someone those around us would call a "radical". But he made so much sense. Unfortunately, so few people get that kind of education, so they grow up thinking "slavery is over" and "we tried to modernize American Indians". NOTHING is taught in middle or high school about the obvious repercussions and still very present effect of a culture of repression (not to mention genocide) by the white majority. Our history and present day actions make us look bad, so its easier to sweep it under the rug and just act like everyone has the same opportunities, and personal choice is the dividing factor between success and failure. I apologize for these ramblings!


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