I made a half-joke on election night that friendship with me is not a democracy, but an autocracy. I’m the judge, jury and executioner. A mortal sin when I was 11 was if you were an N’Sync fan. Only Backstreet Boys’ fans could be my friend. These certainly weren’t my finest moments, but as kids, and even now, we all judge people and exclude people from our friend groups. One of my earliest memories of being excluded was when I was 10 and my mom and I moved to a predominantly black neighborhood. I remember trying to play with the kids around me, and being rejected because I was half-white. They would tell me that they didn’t play with Oreos (a term that can be a racial slur given the context). Of course this wasn’t my only time being excluded. I certainly wasn’t popular in high school and definitely felt the wrath of the “mean girls”. I went to college and law school and I once again was rejected from “mean girls” but also because I was “too black” and “too white” (an impressive feat).
I’ve been judged and excluded numerous times, but I think the reason the race exclusion sticks out so much is because it’s something I can’t control. It’s not a choice I made, but an inherent and integral part of me. I pride myself on the fact that, even though I’m in no way perfect, I’ve never excluded someone by something they couldn’t help or is so fundamental to who they are as a person, such as race, origin, sexual orientation, religion, etc. And luckily, I’ve always surrounded myself with friends that held those same beliefs and values. To not let someone in based on their race was always unthinkable.
While every person is guilty of excluding someone, we also all inherently want to fit in. I came to Kellogg and for the first time, I felt like I fit even if I was mixed. It was fun and exciting. We all want to feel wanted. Because of this, the first time I heard a comment that seemed racist or offensive I said I thought it was inappropriate, but then I brushed it off. It happened a second time and a third time and I had the same responses and actions. But on Wednesday, after the election of someone who has vowed to exclude mass amounts of people based on their race and religion, I couldn’t just sit by. The group that I’ve spent the last year and a half with, basking in this newfound acceptance, wanted to have a discussion to talk about the election. Others were asking me if they could join the group’s discussions and when I broached the subject with the group it seemed that they didn’t want these other people to join simply based on their race.
I don’t think these are bad people at all. Nor do I think they are racist. I want to make that very clear. Hence the bold. I recognize that people come from very different circumstances than me. Have faced things I never have and probably never will. But punishing the whole for the actions of a part is the foundation of everyone with racist thoughts and ideas. Someone of another race did something, so that whole group must be bad. No matter whether you are white, black, brown, pink or purple, I’ll never stand with that mentality.
I get that this was a very divisive and hurtful election season for many people. And there are always fears that someone may come in and demean your feelings or say something incredibly hurtful. But if people are reaching out and specifically asking to join you and support you during this time, why are you rejecting them? Why when talking about how hurt we are that we have a president that excludes people based on their race, would we then turn around and do that exact thing?
Also, I in no way believe that these views represent the group as whole. Once again, bolded for effect. That would be my “judging the whole for actions of the part” argument flipped on its head. I know for a fact that many people feel the same way that I do, and others have come out and told me in the last few days that they support me. However, I can’t speak to why if they feel the same, they don’t also speak out against it. There are times that a few others speak out, but at times I’m the only one. And it’s lonely.
I left the group on Wednesday. For people in the group, it probably seemed childish and dramatic. But for me it’s been building. How long could I pretend to be ok with comments I believed to be racist and offensive? How long could I put aside my values to “fit in”? I feel ashamed of myself because I didn’t stand up for what was right more often. Maybe I should have pushed the issue for discussion more. For some, I don’t think they understand how hurtful their words can be. But I still feel embarrassed that I was somehow a part of that. How do I justify my actions to my family?
I woke up Wednesday and unknowingly made the decision to stand up and refuse to be a part of something that made me uncomfortable. I’ve already lost at least one friend, with another saying they need to think about whether they want to be my friend. I’m sure there are others that I lost that haven’t said anything. It’s not something I’m happy about or wanted. But I’m ok with it. If someone can’t understand why I would leave a situation and rhetoric that hurts me on a deep personal level, then, in my mind, we were never friends.
Michael Jackson had a song called “Man in the Mirror”. It’s about starting the change you want to see in the world with yourself. I feel like I started on Wednesday. And I have no intention of going back.