LA to Cleveland. by Jennifer Marer
Moving from the outskirts of Los Angeles County to uptown Cleveland is quite the change. Among these changes are the obvious: weather, food, traffic. Something that might not be as obvious are the changes in the political climate.
I didn’t really grow up in Los Angeles. I technically grew up in the county, but I didn’t actually live in the city of LA. Maybe if I had, these differences might not have been so drastic. I was lucky enough to experience a safe, beautiful area where opportunities flourished in our education system and the connections we could make. And on the weekends, we could still experience the other parts of the city we didn’t have to live with; going to the Santa Monica pier, eating at the newest restaurants, walking the streets of Hollywood. Cultural diversity in my suburban city is close to nothing. The average wealth of each resident is ridiculously high… And it is very, very liberal.
There are (of course) exceptions, as there are with every town. But a large group of students (myself included) walked out of school after Trump was elected. Feminists are everywhere. The LGBTQ+ community is active and strong. Debating racism and condemning certain choices made by other students (cultural appropriation on Halloween, for example) is a common conversation.
This sort of culture presents a lot of underlying problems despite its seemingly outward inclusion and acceptance. I am incredibly grateful and appreciative to have lived in a community that accepts me for who I am and shares my beliefs, but outward prejudice is not the only issue that needs tackling.
The most common complaint about my town was that it was a bubble. The majority of people were white and wealthy. Because of this, despite most of my town decrying the oppression happening in America, none of them had to actually experience it. They could joke about the ignorance of others while safely walking home without fear of police brutality, thievery of their own land, or their family rejecting who they are.
And this meant that the people of my town would recognize and denounce problems that were not their own. Bringing attention to others’ problems is not bad within itself; it only turns harmful when you claim the problems as your own or speak over the people you are trying to help. I personally found this extremely hard to grapple with; I remember holding a loud screaming debate with the white boys (and an Asian girl) in my English class over whether it was okay to say the “n-word”. I hadn’t realized that one of my friends, the only African-American student in the class, tried to ignore the argument so she wouldn’t be dragged into it. She had told me afterward that she was incredibly uncomfortable and often remembered and spoke about it as an embarrassing moment. I was so ready to educate others on their ignorance that I hadn’t realized I was speaking over and harming the only person in the room it actually affected.
There was also a tendency to preach to the choir. People would repeat their beliefs to those they knew would agree. Gay is okay, feminism is great, and reverse racism is not a thing, and if somebody argued with you, you would try to take them down in a debate or find people to make fun of them behind their backs. It was easy to immediately dismiss those who do not see your point of view and congregate with those who did. There was a lack of discussion, understanding, and developing new thoughts and ideas. To some extent, of course, discussion cannot educate people if they simply do not care or insist on staying ignorant. But more often than not, attacks were made too soon and too unnecessarily, and open education was squashed.
While there was a lot of preaching, there was not a lot of action. I almost hesitate to make this statement, because this is a very broad generalization. Yes, there were kids who stood up and made statements. Yes, there were countless protests full of people in support of oppressed groups. And I don’t want to discount small actions, like questioning a teacher on their refusal to use proper pronouns or filing a complaint about another kid’s racist language. But usually, people would criticize others without making waves themselves. After the election of 2016, my school’s Young Democrats’ Club stopped meeting. People backed the Black Lives Matter movement without really donating or showing their support. We weren’t active in local government.
People shouldn’t feel guilty about their privilege, but they should feel guilty about not using this privilege to help others.
It isn’t enough to be aware of the issues and hold the “correct” beliefs; it’s more important to put these words into action. And discussion and learning can be more valuable than winning an argument.
Moving to Cleveland, I was surprised (and eventually grateful) to see my thoughts challenged in ways I hadn’t experienced in California. And I was grateful to find EYEJ
, which allowed me to finally turn my beliefs into actions. By volunteering with EYEJ’s Discussion Series, I could use my privilege to start a healthy conversation with kids in the Cleveland area and listen rather than speak over what they have to say.
There are faults in every place you go to. I still love my hometown, and I’m extremely lucky to have grown up there. But while the suburbs of Los Angeles usually stay the same year to year, Cleveland is changing, and I’m excited to be a part of that change.
Case Western Reserve University Undergrad Student