Some non minorities who show up at social justice advocacy events don’t actually take the time to learn about the people they’re advocating for. They don’t know us. They haven’t been to our houses of worship, haven’t had a meaningful conversation with us, haven’t been to our schools, have never visited our neighborhoods (somehow our neighborhoods are always considered to be on the bad side of town), and generally can’t put a face to the names of our groups.
Black people? They’re the waiters at your favorite overpriced restaurant, the maids you hire for your houses that are comfortably situated in the best school districts. Muslims? They’re those people who dress funny that you have seen in the movies, usually in the middle of a bombing scene. Hindus? They’re the people who came up with curry, which by the way is only fashionable to eat if cooked by a white chef who studied in France. Jews? They’re conservative women who wear wigs, and families with a number of children that makes you uncomfortable. Immigrants? They make your tacos and talk funny. Their accents are good for laughs on your favorite sitcom. You see, there are no faces in your mind to mentally put with these names.
When I think of black people, I think of my lovely friends C and Z, for example. When I think of Muslims, I think of my amazing community of countless people across the world. When I think of Hindus, I think of some old friends that I haven’t seen in a while and another that I try to keep up with regularly. When I think of Jews, I think of a brave author I have on my Facebook, and an activist that I met online who I adore. When I think of immigrants, I think first and foremost of my wonderful Brazilian husband. When I think of the LGBT+ community, I think of several lovely souls that I know. And so on. And you know what’s so important about knowing real live people from numerous minority communities? It creates empathy. It also opens pathways for honest communication about the very real challenges facing our respective communities. And when those of you who are more privileged than not get to know those of us who are more underprivileged than not, you learn to see us as individual human beings with very real needs. You become better equipped to use your power to advocate for us.
How can you possibly advocate for people you don’t know and therefore at the end of the day don’t particularly care about? But once it becomes personal – once it’s about your friends and loved ones – you’ll come to know what we need and you’ll work hard to help us get it. Furthermore, you may be surprised to find that you, despite having considered yourself to be a social justice advocate, actually harbor misconceptions and perhaps even prejudice about us. By getting to know us, you’ll bypass the media and get information about our communities from those who know us best: us. You might be surprised to discover that our communities are neither secretive nor monolithic. We are composed of individuals – unique, diverse, and above all: human.
So, take the time to get to know us. Visit our community centers. Meet us online. Strike up a five minute interaction in the checkout line at your neighborhood supermarket. Listen to our music. Take an introductory language class to learn any one of the countless languages spoken by the world’s population. Travel! Get. To. Know. Us. See for us the beautiful, diverse people that we are. Thank you.