Everyone should make their profession speak for the silencedBy Marissa Cornelius | 10/20/2016 9:20pm
Recently, I decided to sit down with a friend and watch Ava Duvernay’s new documentary out on Netflix, 13th. The piece details the current systems of mass incarceration and criminal justice in the United States, and it explores how they basically operate as nothing but new iterations of systems meant to oppress people of color, just as we saw with slavery and the Jim Crow South.
The War on Drugs of the 1980s, and its 1990s successor, the War on Crime, two topics Duvernay focuses on, have done nothing but dismantle and destroy African American communities. The documentary makes clear that there is no one party to blame for the legislation that allowed this to happen; white leaders from the right and the left alike signed into being laws that would disproportionately police and jail African-Americans in order to maintain white economic and political supremacy.
I knew it would be heavy, and I knew it would sadden me, but I did not expect the feeling of complete despondency that overwhelmed me when the final credits rolled. I am an individual who is concerned with racial politics and who stays relatively informed of the injustices people of color face, but due to my white privilege, I had never been so totally immersed in the corruption of the systems we live in. The oppression of people of color is built into the political, economic and social fibers of our country.
As I sat in my reflective sadness, the only thought that bounced back in forth in my mind was “What can I do?” I slowly realized that in the face of such seemingly insurmountable issues, the only thing I could do was continue down the path I am currently heading: the one towards becoming an educator.
The knowledge that I will one day lead a classroom was the only fact that gave me any semblance of hope, any feeling of control over the situation. As an aspiring history teacher, I know that I will have the power to expose students of all races, genders and backgrounds to the historical and contemporary realities of oppression around us and how they, as future leaders, can participate in dismantling them. I can train my students in radical compassion, where they will learn to humanize and empathize with all people regardless of the bigoted rhetoric that surrounds marginalized groups. I can encourage and help them to succeed in fields like law, finance and politics, where they can truly restructure America to become a more equitable place. I can shape the future.
It is so easy to despair over all the injustice in the world, which include not just issues of color, but also those surrounding gender, sexuality, the environment, socioeconomic status and so much more. That is why it is so important for us as college students, who have the ability to alter the course of our lives with a click of the “Change Major” button, to create and hold onto our visions of how we will affect the world and bring about positive change. It is not just through education that change can be made, either; any field a student chooses, whether it be media, sports, science or law, can be made more inclusive. Everyone can make their profession speak for the silenced and everyone can perform their job duties with radical compassion and an emphasis on empathy. Humans build social structures, and thus, each individual human can shape the systems of our world. Once we begin and truly commit to this process of world-changing, we can unravel the fibers of our nation and weave an entirely new tapestry.
Marissa Cornelius is a junior majoring in secondary education. her column runs biweekly.