September 20, 2013

Examining Oppression: Talk About It

This is the second in a series of GLSEN Blog posts examining the impact of oppression in our schools and communities.

Talk About It—that’s the first suggestion in Considerations When Working With LGBT Students of Color, a resource for educators developed by GLSEN and the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Recognizing the impact of multiple forms of oppression that impact students, it goes on to state,

“Challenging all forms of oppression and empowering students and staff begins with recognizing existing issues of bias and facilitating open dialogue about how these biases affect others. Bringing these topics out into the open allows for healthy and productive opportunities for students and colleagues to ask questions, share their own personal feelings and experiences, and learn from each other.”

In this GLSEN Blog series, Examining Oppression, we are taking our own advice and bringing these issues “out into the open”. GLSEN’s work isn’t just about GSAs, policy, research and Safe Space Stickers but addressing the underlying bias and oppression that create such hostile school climates in the first place; it’s about education, conversation and collaboration.

Following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, our students were eager to talk, to ask questions and to share their stories. More than that, they saw the great value in dialogue and action, and even saw dialogue as action.

Cesar Rodriguez, a student from North Carolina, has seen an important increase in dialogue around racism lately that has also uncovered bias amongst some of his friends. He writes,

“People are beginning to talk about white privilege, racism, and prejudice for the first time. In a way, the verdict of Zimmerman has produced active discussion that is important, but it does show us another thing: privilege still exists and is very apparent. [Many people of color] are furious (I am furious) and my white friends all offer the same response on social media, ‘This is not about race at all.’”

Along the same lines, speaking to the many messages she’s received claiming that racism had nothing to do with Trayvon Martin’s death, Sabrina Lee, from Michigan, writes,

“I know that the George Zimmerman trial has elicited many strong responses, but I want to take a moment to examine other aspects that bred the verdict, beyond the emotions of loss. It’s well-known that Trayvon was just 17 and unarmed when he was murdered. This makes me wonder what kind of perceived threat provoked the fatal shooting, and each time I am less inclined to flee the touchy idea that Trayvon being black had everything to do with it. Same goes for the verdict. I wish it were otherwise. I wish it were possible to swiftly obliterate the institutionalized white supremacy in our society, but it isn’t.”

She goes on to say that, “the refusal to acknowledge the racism that runs rampant in our society perpetuates the very systematic oppression that facilitated Trayvon’s murder and the infuriating verdict”. For Cesar and Sabrina, we aren’t just talking about Trayvon Martin but all people who are oppressed in our schools and communities.

We must continue talking. And we must act. As Cesar puts it, “the world has a tendency to repeat mistakes and as a society we can choose to ignore or acknowledge these instances of error”.

TAKE ACTION!

Talk About It

Discuss racism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression with your friends, family and peers. How does it impact your life?

The Dream

Defenders are still in the Florida Capitol bringing attention to the need to repeal the “Stand Your Ground” Law, ban racial profiling and end the school-to-prison pipeline! Learn more about the issues and take action.

Jenny Betz

About Jenny Betz

Jenny Betz is the Professional Development Program Manager at GLSEN -- the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

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