By Kristin Chang
Yes, it’s that simple.
Scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, the sheer amount of social media activism and awareness on Sarah Lawrence campus is visually impressive, but at some point we have to examine and ask ourselves: when and how does this activism become “ally theater” (a term coined by Black Girl Dangerous columnist and editor Princess Harmony Rodriguez)? Has activism become more an aesthetic or an image than a way of actually acting? So many white students share all the right links and write all the right posts. And yet, when there were three race-related hate crimes on campus — all within the first month of the semester — the aftermath left me even more disoriented and disappointed. I heard echoes of “this doesn’t affect me” or, when anonymous students wrote a letter criticizing the notification emails’ apathetic and coded language, echoes of “what’s the big deal?”
Meanwhile, when administrators set up events for students to discuss the hate crimes and the work that must follow, the same students (mostly of color) showed up time and time again. The white students who insisted to me that a conversation about race was what we really needed weren’t the bodies present. Once again, students of color shoulder the burden of this work. For us, showing up and sacrificing our time to address our own physical safety often isn’t a choice. The ability to choose is a privilege.
Even if it’s not possible for your body to be in the room at that moment, there are so many other ways to be present and active. Hold your classmates or friends or professors accountable for the language they use or the mistakes they make. It starts here: complaining about racism is not a substitute for calling it out. And insisting we need to stage a conversation isn’t the same as actually showing up to one.
Kristin Chang is a Staff Writer for EvenIfYourVoiceShakesSLC. She is from California. She studies languages, cries over poetry, and invents alter-egos-of-color for Wonder Woman. Read her previous contribution to the site here.