The following blog post was written by Celeste Allen, a youth participant on the 2012 Civil Rights Journey who hails from Scottsdale, Ariz.
On the first real work day of the Civil Rights Journey, the amazing George Friday, national organizer for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, led a workshop on race. We talked about how there are many types of oppression. Essentially, the power systems are built around white, heterosexual, upper class, Christian, cisgender males. If you don’t fit into that power base, then the systems of culture and government work against you.
In trying to understand what prejudice and oppression based on skin color might feel like or be like, I use the lens of my sex. On the third day of our trip, we visited the Tuskegee Airfield and heard one Tuskegee airman’s story from when he was visiting a prisoner-of-war camp. The airman was an officer in the army and he was serving his country, but because he was black he could only travel to certain parts of the camp. The white German prisoners were allowed throughout the whole camp. I can try and empathize with that story; I can feel emotionally how isolating that might be. However, when I make the airman female and the prisoner male, the story hits me on a gut level. I feel pain and outrage and humiliation, and I can feel my body begin to physically react by straightening my spine and raising my chin. The second reaction is, I think, the more valuable experience for understanding.
On the other hand, I have also become more aware of the differences between different types of oppression. George Friday commented that racism in a black/white or African American/Caucasian sense will always have remembrances of slavery. All the pain, all the ways in which people were told they were objects to be bought and sold, all the warped concepts of white superiority and black inferiority will forever be a part of racial relations in this country. I cannot understand the weight of that history, because I have only traveled through this world as a white person living in a majority-white culture. In the same way, no one of male sex can understand the legacies inherited by being born into a female body. And no one who has lived their life as a citizen can know on a gut level what it means to be undocumented.
However, we can all understand the power and importance of being free from oppression.
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