Awareness by Erica DeValve Those who dedicate themselves to raising awareness about systemic racism and social injustice do important work. There is a unique challenge in the area of social justice […]
Awareness by Erica DeValve
Those who dedicate themselves to raising awareness about systemic racism and social injustice do important work. There is a unique challenge in the area of social justice that doesn’t appear as prevalently in other awareness projects. It’s rare, at least in my experience, to hear people exclaiming “breast cancer doesn’t exist!” during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or “nobody needs blood donors anymore” during National Blood Donor Month. That would be ridiculous. However, without fail, whenever someone seeks to bring awareness to the systemic racism that plagues our society, they are met with outright denial. Awareness becomes such an important part of addressing issues of societal racism because so many people in this country deny, refuse to acknowledge, or are completely ignorant to its existence. For this reason, I stand by the belief that public demonstrations and protests are accomplishing something. They are confronting blinded individuals with the truth. They are making the reality of our experience unavoidable so that the privileged must wrestle and reckon with it, making it obvious that the claim “racial inequality doesn’t exist” has no leg to stand on.
While I advocate for the importance of raising awareness, and have experienced how empowering it can be to share my own experience, I also acknowledge that it is not always the job of people of color to educate white people of our history and experience of oppression. Black people and people of color have suffered immensely from the miseducation of mainstream society on America’s racist past. It is unfair to further burden us with the sole responsibility of correcting it. To take a step beyond awareness, would require white individuals to be intentional about educating themselves on the history of systemic racism and the ways in which it appears today — the criminal justice system and incarceration, residential segregation, the educational system, etc. In my own experience, a true understanding of these societal realities demanded action. I would expect the same should be the case for white individuals. That it would compel all of us to actively interrupt spaces that have become complacent and comfortable with the status quo, to promote black voices that point toward the realities of social injustice, to act, advocate and engage in ways that deliberately undermine the existing racial power structure.
As I continue to learn about EYEJ, I am encouraged to find that education and subsequent action, being important steps that follow awareness, are both represented well in the organization’s programming such as their Discussion Series, DiscussSocialJustice.com and the EYEJ Impact 25 Youth Council. Encouraging students to engage critically with various facets of social injustice through discussion and inquiry is a model that accurately employs the significance of education in movements of progress. A particularly valuable piece of this program is the opportunity students have to reflect and formulate paths forward for change. In including this piece, EYEJ encourages not just awareness, not even just education, but directed action towards positive change. It is a wonderful reminder that once we are aware, once we have learned what needs to be done, we should actively and earnestly seek avenues to accomplish it.
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Lead Ambassador for EYEJ