As fall arrives on campus, I think fondly of returning home for mid-semester and Thanksgiving break: my sweet doggo running around the crinkling leaves, my Nana’s Puerto Rican cooking filling the house, apple cider, and idyllic American versions of what happened when Columbus landed.
While I acknowledge traveling home is a privilege many St. Lawrence students have, it seems that the “holiday season,” and traveling home, now comes with a responsibility: an ally’s responsibility. By this I mean, with the greater experiences and intellectual pursuits that we have had on campus so far, it is up to us, who are lucky enough to afford to travel home, to share our growth with loved ones. But I have all too often sat at the dinner table, brimming with new ideas and critical thinking skills, to have them quickly deflated by relatives whose mindsets and word choice might not be so open or inclusive. What I include here may be a guideline for situations of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, political arguments, and other possible oppressive forms of thought.
- Be brave and start the conversation: As intimidating as it might be to call out family members and loved ones for blatant “-phobia” statements, it is one of the first steps allies can take in creating progressive change within a personal sphere.
- Respect is criticism: If someone really matters to you, you would want them to grow, right? Mental and ideological growth isn’t limited to the young generation. No matter what institution is supporting a loved one’s thought process, meaningful analysis of these ideas is how we dismantle the system that perpetuates these ideologies.
- Identify and acknowledge microaggressions: We frequently hear invalidating statements that are intended as jokes or are said in passing. Derald Wing Sue, PhD describes microaggressions/insults as “subtle communications that convey rudeness and attempt to demean one’s racial [gender, ethnic, sexual, religious] identity… microinvalidations are comments that intend to exclude or nullify the feelings or experiences of persons of color.” When you hear a microaggression, a conversation can start with “Hey _____, I noticed what you said was problematic. Can we talk about that?” As geeky as it sounds, it opens a dialogue that may have never been there before, and, as Chris Crass spoke about in his lecture a few weeks ago, awkwardness is the first step in moving towards actual change.
- Don’t assume you know the whole experience: When allies do their best to advocate for their beliefs, at times they may assume to know everything about the cause and the experience of those they advocate for. If you are not from the positionality of the cause you are rallying for, don’t assume you know it as the people experiencing it do. Know yourself and the privilege you have and how you can be your best ally self.
Happy travels and allyship SLU!