"You will feel completely and utterly alone." This is what activist, author and TV host Marc Lamont Hill said to the mesmerized crowd in Hill Auditorium during his MLK Symposium Keynote Speech this past February. He was referring to budding activists like me. He was referring to the unmistakable feeling that you are the only one who cares, the only one who wants to make change. Sitting next to my dear friend and fellow feminist, activist, and advocate for change, I found Hill's words impossible to believe. I never felt alone because I surround myself with people who work consistently and persistently to create positive change at the University of Michigan and beyond. Our nights off consist of rallies, protests, and guest lecturers. We are all aware of how our words and actions affect those around us. We are activists, allies, and advocates. We are always together, so how could I ever be alone? I could not fully understand Hill's Statement until I came home for the summer.
The feeling set in almost immediately after returning home after finishing my sophomore year at the University of Michigan. Messages of intolerance and ignorance bombarded me from members of my own family. Messages like "I just hope when my boys go to college they don't get accused of rape" or "Hey, Armaity, what are the warning signs for gayness? If my boys become gay it's their mother's fault," "She's a ho," "You need to lose weight" and my personal favorite, "I'm tired of your feminist bullshit."
I try to reply with all the eloquence and knowledge and experience those two years of college has given me. I talk about how sexual orientation is an identity, not a problem. I tell them that 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted but the odds of a straight man being accused of rape are 2.7 million to 1. Sexual assault is a topic that is of personal importance to me because five of my close friends are rape survivors. One of these friends went through the reporting process, a painful and disempowering experience. A few weeks later it was found that she the authorities could not do anything because of "insufficient evidence." So even if your children are accused, rest assured there will be no consequences for their actions. I explain that if I do decide to change my eating habits, it is for my personal health and no one else's concern. I talk about insulting a woman for her sexual activity while applauding a man for his.
Then the "feminist bullshit" comment rears its ugly head.
Feminism taught me how to stand up for myself and for others. It continues to aid in my long struggle to love my body by telling me that I am more than my outward appearance. Feminism taught me that every person carries a multitude of interlocking identities that affect how the world views and treats him or her. It taught me that I cannot preach the necessity of human rights for all women but simultaneously turn my back on the injustices faced by my Black brothers and sisters. It taught me that my fight is not over until my Gay and Lesbian friends can get married legally or walk down the street hand in hand without being judged. It is not over until my transgender sisters can express themselves freely without threats of violence. I am a proud feminist, and everyone knows it, but does anyone understand? Does anyone care?
Sometimes I feel like I come from college speaking in a foreign tongue that no one at home can understand. Or sometimes it is as if I am in a room full of people but I am invisible. I cannot and will not contribute to their intolerance, but a crowded dinner party is also not the time or place for me to voice my opinions. So I remain silent, and drift into the background until I blend in entirely with the paint on the wall. No one notices because one person going silent does not change the mood of the room. One person can easily be lost in a crowded room. I finally understood Hill's words. I was completely and utterly alone.
Then I look over to my little sister who is staring out into space in the adjacent corner. I know that she has drifted away also. I realize then that I will continue to have these difficult conversations with my family, just not here. If they see how their words impact my sister and me maybe they will stop. I call up some friends from college and they too are bombarded by ignorance and intolerance. They too have to explain feminism and activism and social justice to their families. They have to sit through their parents skipping scenes with gay people on the TV because "that's just not right." They have to hear their peers talking about how Black people should just "give it a rest." They also feel silenced because of the masses of people who not only do not understand but also show little to no interest in strengthening their awareness. So this is for everyone who feels they are in a house, a school, or a community where no one hears you, no one understands you, no one cares, no one listens. You are not alone.
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