The process of becoming involved in social justice usually goes like this: an event makes one realize that despite what they’ve been told about our “seemingly Utopian” society, things are still really messed up. Eventually we find ourselves getting involved in activities that we belief can help fixed this given issue. Perhaps after witnessing or experiencing a hate crime or discrimination, one will decide to take it upon themselves to start an advocacy group. Or maybe after hearing someone’s story, one may find inspiration and decide to join an existing cause. Sometimes the event that initiated this passion is big, even world changing. And sometimes it’s ever so small. In the beginning of my advocacy journey, that was me.
I first showed interest in community and social betterment before I even knew what that was. When I was about three years old, the church I was attending was trying to make the decision whether to remove a giant, beautiful tree from the middle of our parking lot. A vote was scheduled and members of the vestry were pushing to have it removed with not much opposition. Little did they know, their biggest obstacle was going to be me, a stubborn toddler with a fiery personality who really liked trees. Even though I could barely write, I handmade posters with little tag lines like “save the tree!” or “don’t cut down our tree!”. I even went as far as sketching up a little picture book about it out of spite during church one afternoon. One member of the vestry was actually head of the school board at the schools I would attend only a few years later. He was a tall man and intimidated some, but not little me. Although I cannot personally remember this, my parents tell me that every sunday, I would walk up to him and pull him over to the stairs leading into the parish. He would stand at the bottom, and I would climb to the top so we could be eye to eye. Apparently, I was VERY into equality even as a youngster. Intent on saving this tree that I had grown to love, I would essentially give him a speech about how he was single handedly destroying the environment and everything good in this world. It was a bit of a stretch but he seemed to buy into it, or at least pretend to.
Eventually it came time to vote and I was on the last leg of my little campaign. By this point, everyone in the congregation knew exactly who I was and what my opinion was on the matter. By the time the results came in, the vote revealed that the tree was here to stay. I was beyond thrilled. Although I’m sure me being an adorable toddler helped, proving to myself that I could make a difference, however small, could have an impact on my community set me up for a lifetime of activism.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit the tree, which I had not seen for a few years. And thankfully, it’s still standing. As I looked up at the tree, and thought back to all the events that made me the activist I am today. From saving one single tree to participating in the Women’s March on Washington, to becoming a published journalist.. How did I get here? I realized my answer was easy. Becoming educated in Sociology.
When I was selecting my courses for Junior year, I had one free semester that was not occupied by any required classes. At the time, I didn’t know anything about sociology but I decided to give it a go. Sociology is essentially the psychology of groups. Thinking about social justice, the main issues usually surround the historically negative interactions between different social groups or the oppression of one group over another. So as you can probably imagine, sociology explains this better than anything. In class, we discussed the massacre of the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda. On the surface, it just looks like two rivals involved in a struggle for power, but as you look deeper, it becomes obvious that the issue is tangled up with the region’s history of colonization, imperialism, and white privilege. Following the Belgian colonization of Rwanda, the European imperialists tended to favor the Tutsi tribe. As a result, the Tutsi were given positions of power over the Hutus, and intermarried with the Belgian. Eventually, the Tutsi demographic began to express mainly European phenotypes including lighter skin, and caucasian facial features. Now, the favoritism between the Tutsi and the Hutu was layered. The Belgian government now prefered the Tutsi for simply the reason that they were more “belgian” in appearance. Eventually, the Hutu had enough of being oppressed and a revolution sparked between the two groups. One thing led to another and eventually, there was a full blown Tutsi genocide that most Hutus considered to be reparations. When it comes down to it, this tragedy was the result of white imperialism.
This kind of perspective has helped me to realize how dynamic all of these issues are. It’s never one sided. There are always layers to it. And all oppression is connected. If I had not educated myself on the topic of sociology, I doubt I would have taken my advocacy this far. If you have access to a sociology class, even a free online seminar or lecture, I encourage you to take advantage of that opportunity, even if advocacy is not something you are currently interested it. It changed my life.
While I would love to go into depth about all of the sociology concepts I apply to information, this post would turn into a book if I went about doing that. If you have remaining questions, feel free to reach out and thank you for your attention.
Until Next Post,