It's been a tough summer. For unions, for health care, for immigrant families, for entire religions and traveling residents of entire countries.
Not going to lie. It's been a tough 18 months.
Really not going to lie. It's a tough life. It's a tough world. Injustice exists everywhere, and always has.
There is always a struggle. For justice, for each other.
I first sought to struggle when I was in high school. By my friends and because of the music I liked, I became interested in punk rock. And if you were a proper punk rocker, you believed in the end of oppression (even if you didn't know what that really meant). An older friend in my 9th grade speech & debate class, who stayed involved in the local punk scene for many years, passed out "STOP RACISM!" stickers after a class speech she made. I put mine on my flute case and there it stayed until it literally crumbled. I had wonderful teachers in high school and even middle school, who taught me that Christopher Columbus was a genocidal maniac and assigned Invisible Man as AP reading.
I carried those punk rock ideals and early seeds planted with me into the my future. I spoke out about causes, joined on-campus protests against the Iraq War, shared videos about the evils of the diamond industry, worked alongside my friends in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights & recognition, and tried my best to live up to the high ideals I'd been imbued with.
However, there was a lot I was missing.
Even as I hit adulthood, I had not yet seen that there was more to the struggle for an equitable world than I ever really understood. I would mimic AAVE without blinking an eye because I thought I was funny. I would say wildly inappropriate things that I thought were just fine because, I couldn't possibly be a racist, right?
If you genuinely believe in the pursuit of liberty and justice for all, it is getting harder to turn on the news. Many of the advantages of living in the United States that are largely taken for granted are rapidly eroding, and we are seeing the tide turn on any progress that has been made.
We live in an inequitable world. I live in a country founded on the thievery of land from Indigenous people and the cornerstone plague of slavery. Moreover, I live in a country that feeds us the myth that we can make whatever we want out of our lives. The specific things that happen to us are, to some degree, within our control, but data clearly shows that the circumstances of our upbringing, our environment, and the biases around us affect us. I am definitely at a point in my life where I feel that I've not done enough to ensure justice & equal opportunity for others.
And truth be told? My feelings don't really matter that much in regards to the continual pursuit building a more just world. What matters is that there is work to be done, and I might as well be Some One doing it.
I know that there are a lot of folks who are demographically similar to me who feel the same way. You see terrible things happening (many that have been happening for a very long time, but are just now coming to light; some are part of disturbing patterns) and you feel helpless. It's endemic of white culture to care a lot but accomplish very little in the constant struggle to bend the long arc of justice.
So then. There's a lot wrong, specifically in the United States, and there is an increasingly large number of people at risk because of government policies. More populations are becoming more vulnerable in our current political culture, many more people are at enormous risk as the effects of climate change become more evident, and all of that is legitimate cause for outrage. So how do you turn that outrage into action?
1) Continually identify and challenge your own biases.
When you hear folks say things like, "I'm not racist, but..." it can give you an opportunity to give someone else a piece of your mind. But it should also give you an opportunity to check your own biases. We all have them. The way we perceive and interact with the world is the result of a constellation of biases. Some of them are harmless, like the supposed genetically predisposed bias against cilantro. Many of them aren't.
Most of what some call "politically incorrect" could easily be replaced with "actively harmful." Call that kind of speech what it is.
Think about your daily interactions, and your responses to things. If you identify them as potentially harmful to others, then take a closer look. Enacting change requires changing oneself, too, and continually readjusting.
I mean, teachers continually readjust their practices in accordance with changing technology, right? And musicians in particular all spend significant portions of their practice adjusting, tuning, and making lots of tweaks to make their playing more musical, right? If you can make adjustments in your use of technology or your instrumental practice, you can spend some time & mental energy making adjustments in your biases.
2) Understand that change starts with changing your community.
I saw this concept communicated well in an interview with Chris Rock, where he talked about experiencing less racism in his neighborhood as an adult than he did as a child. He credited this to living near some of the finest white people he had ever met. He hadn't changed — the people in his environment did.
Racism is not the fault of black people or other people of color. Sexism is not the fault of women. Homophobia is not the fault of queer people. Transphobia is not the fault of trans & gender non-conforming folks. Ableism is not the fault of people with disabling conditions. Religious bigotry is not the fault of practitioners of the religion.* And so on and so forth. The xenophobe's problems are the xenophobe's fault. It is their harmful bias that needs to be changed. People are going to be what and who they are. It is the holder of the bias alone who can remove that bias. After you consider the biases you hold, when you see someone in your community expressing extreme bias against a group of people, address it. Do something to challenge the way they think. You might be unsuccessful. But plant seeds anyway.
*While organized religions have notoriously been at the root of a great deal of oppression, from expression of bias to genocide, to blame modern, peaceful individuals for the actions of other people who pervert their religious beliefs is inexcusable.
3) Find a community to which you can contribute.
No one makes important changes by themselves. If there's a cause you feel incredibly passionate about, chances are that someone is already working to further the aims of said cause. That's what the internet is for, right? Help them. Become part of an established community. Don't just go in on your own and determine that you're going to save the world. Career activists know how things get done, and know how to take care of themselves and their fellow activist workers. Established organizations can help you to be the most effective at assisting others.
Concerned about the crisis of family separation at the United States border? You can support the Florida Immigrant Coalition, as they work on this crisis and the looming crisis of ending Temporary Protected Status of disaster refugees, and ALDEA, a pro-bono legal service in Pennsylvania that has been working for years to fight child detention.
Want to learn how to create more equitable classrooms? Subscribe to Teaching Tolerance; teachers receive lots of free materials and have the opportunity to sign up for regional workshops. Supported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance seeks to enable teachers to better serve all students.
Concerned about LGBTQ+ youth? There are so many organizations that you can support, some of which can literally increase the survival rate of transgender youth. Many of them are locally based, and one particularly wonderful organization in Orlando is the Zebra Coalition.
Worried still about the millions of people of Puerto Rico who are still rebuilding from Hurricane Maria? The Hispanic Federation exists to help these victims as they continue to recover.
Want to help reach out to victims of sexual assault & abuse? Volunteer or contribute to RAINN, which was notably helped off of the ground by my beloved Tori Amos.
You're probably not able to spend your entire paycheck supporting these kinds of organizations. Nobody can do everything. But everyone can do something.
4) Curate a community that will hold you responsible.
By this, I am not instructing white folks to ask Black friends sign off on everything you say. But when you notice other friends speaking out on social justice issues, affirm them, and talk about what you're learning. Find affinity groups. Discuss these things with likeminded people, and particularly people of your demographic group. Don’t expect people of marginalized populations to alleviate you of your biases, cleanse you of your justice-related sins, or labor for your personal benefit.
If you have personal issues that seem to keep coming up in your conversations about justice, and you have the capacity to do so, talk to a therapist. Therapy is lovely and your therapist (so long as you have a competent one) has to sit and listen to you, no matter what you complain about. Take the burden off of other people and pay a therapist.
Beyond that, find people similar to yourself and talk things out with them. If you have a question, find someone to ask. Again, isn't the internet the place for that? There are a lot more people who seek the same results and who will listen to you regarding these matters than you might think there are. Don't expect people of marginalized populations to do all of the work for you, but there are plenty of others like you out there. Don’t be afraid to ask.
And if you get called out? Listen to criticism. Reflect, rethink, and readjust. You're going to do something wrong in your fight. Allow it to be an opportunity to learn rather than feel you got burned, am I right? (Sorry, the pun was right there. There's a catchphrase in there that I haven't worked out yet.)
5) Cede control & amplify the voices of those most affected by injustice.
Your voice is important, but chances are, if you're speaking out about an issue that doesn't affect you directly as much as it will affect other communities, then your voice might not be the most important one. Pass the megaphone.
And while we’re at it here? Do your research, and your reading. The best resources for reading and discussing anti-racist reading has come from social media groups. If you are a Twitter user, I cannot highly enough recommend the chat #ClearTheAir, started by the brilliant Val Brown. #ClearTheAir serves to bridge the gaps in teacher education and equity in schools. So far, the chat has disseminated Troublemakers by Carla Shalaby (which should be required for pre-service & early career teachers), White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and will take on History Teaches Us to Resist by Mary Frances Berry.
If Instagram is your preferred social media platform, follow & engage with the #antiracistbookclub run by Britt Hawthorne & Tiffany Jewell. The group covered a foundational text for anti-racist work this summer — Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum.
And if you make use of these resources, be sure to support these creators. Subscribe to their media (if you enjoy podcasts, I also recommend Empowerment Starts Here by Dr. Angela Dye, and this particular episode) or support them financially. Ms. Hawthorne has an excellent Patreon page with a wealth of resources.
6) Use what talents (& advantages) you possess.
Incapable of hitting the streets to protest? Have social anxiety and cannot call your representatives? Incapable of hitting a nail straight on and finding yourself kicked off your Habitat for Humanity project? Worry not. There are organizations out there who need your help based on what you can do. Help with things that you're good at. Or just help with packet making and organizational work. It's not glamorous, but it is so necessary.
I don't teach History, so if I’m discussing social justice, I get creative and interdisciplinary. A few years ago, my themed spring concert was School of Rock. In one class, I pulled up the website for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on my classroom projector. That particular class was a small class of mostly Black students, and when I pulled up a photo gallery of inductees into the Hall, one kid in particular shouted out, "There are so many Black people in there!" Some students had little idea that rock & roll came from Black culture, simply because the topic likely doesn’t get brought up a lot in school elsewhere. (White folks, be honest: how many people have talked to you about that before?)
But that's my responsibility as a music teacher — to make sure my students don't just play notes in tune, but also understand how musical culture affects them and where the music they are surrounded by comes from. I have some understanding and enough research background to talk about how jazz and rock & roll are the product of African-American culture (and how both genres officially developed in the period of federally legalized racial segregation), so I'm going to talk about that often, and to as many students as I can.
If you have the physical & intellectual capacity to do work in the name of social justice, you have some advantage. Rather than shunning yourself for the advantages you have, use them, and use them for the benefit of others. If you've got a platform, bring up issues that matter. As Chuck D said when he appeared on Sonic Youth's "Kool Thing" in the early 1990s, "Let everybody know."
I love Kim Gordon, Sonic Youth, and this song, but this is also a great time to bring up another foundational article for those who seek social justice: Kimberle Crenshaw’s analysis of Intersectionality, a term she invented.
7) Be consistent.
Don't give up. Others have much harder fights than you do. You should enjoy your life, but know that even when you'd rather not, it's still important to show up.
8) Remember Rule #6.
Wait. If we're going by Ben & Roz Zander's book, this should be Rule #6, right? Spoiler Alert: it's a reminder to not take yourself too seriously. You are not a messiah. You are not a savior. I am not a religious person, but to paraphrase one of my favorite Bible verses that I learned about in CCD: when you do a good deed, do not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing. Though you may think yourself a social justice warrior, a term I proudly wear, the greater likelihood is that you're relegated to the social justice infantry. Your job is to carry out tasks as given to you by the people who need you. You are the ground game. You are the street team. You have to be able to post flyers and take orders. Support others and do things that will move them forward.
And be able to laugh at yourself, because that's what keeps us all going. If Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Barack Obama can make jokes at their own expense (and seriously, Obama is a master at this), so can you.
This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list. This is but a tiny scratch on the vast surface of injustice. The Work is never done, and you are never going to finish it within your lifetime, but you can contribute.
Don’t join The Work if your goal is to be photographed leading a protest. Do The Work if you believe in it, and if you are okay with unglamorous tasks, like securing permits, triple-checked media research & corroboration, scheduling social media announcements, obtaining craft supplies for sign-making, consulting with legal teams, and many other less obvious tasks.
You are never going to be The One doing The Work. Fictional worlds that put the fate of the world into the hands of a few (looking at you, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. etc. ad nauseum) are just that — fiction. Winning important logistical and philosophical battles requires many more people working together. Don't try to be Morpheus and declare yourself The One. No One is The One.
But you can be Some One. Some One doing The Work. I'll see you out there, I hope.
**Edited very extremely slightly for content on October 9th, 2018.