By Talia Floyd
Most people on campus probably do not know me, have not heard of me, do not care about me, which is ideal. I am an introvert; I would not want them to. A very small percentage of people might know me as a student activist. An activist is “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.” I don’t love the connotations that come with it but technically the shoe does fit.
I am a sociology major so I have a pretty decent capacity for disheartening, horrifying, massive systems of oppression. But I do get tired of learning about the details of the wage gap, or how exactly to define sexual violence or what constitutes torture and how then to measure it. In some cases I do not really have the option to turn it off, turn away, hide from it. I am Black, I am a woman, I am female (to my knowledge, genes are tricky), I am queer. Some people might call me an “underprivileged youth.”
Other things I can more easily ignore: I was born a citizen of the US, I can eat a ridiculous variety of food regardless of whether it’s in season, I grew up in a house with a loving family, most clothes fit me because clothes are made to fit bodies like mine and bodies like mine are used to shame and hurt others into buying products they don’t really need. I can pretend like I am superior because I can read and write and make a halfway decent conversation, but the truth is that, these are things I was taught and not everyone has access to an education. I grew up with parents who went to college and helped me navigate the process. I got the kind of scholarship that prospective students dream about but could not access. I can shower as much as I want whenever I want. The water I drink is relatively clean.
I would prefer if men did not say gross or unwarranted things to me but I do not have the option of avoiding it unless I give up the internet and the outdoors forever. I do not enjoy being told that I am “bad,” “criminal,” “ugly,” “mentally deficient” because I am Black but I have no interest in trading in my body for one without that stigma. I want to feel sure that a date or a someone I think of as a friend will not sexually assault me, or at least if they do, there will be some worthy punishment. But to feel sure about either is naive. I do not seek out grabby hands but I cannot prevent being touched inappropriately; it happens without my permission. I want to have access to basic housing and healthcare because I am a human being. I want to live in a society that affords the same access to opportunity to every human.
Anyone who knows me knows I am from Baltimore because I am incurably and vehemently homesick. I love my city but it is deeply challenged. At home there is a deadly shooting for almost every day of the year. 318 fatal shootings in 2016. Row homes with peeling, lead paint poison children regularly. Thousands of dilapidated buildings are falling in on themselves and occasionally catch fire. The water gets shut off and people can’t drink, wash, cook because they are too poor to afford the privilege. Racially motivated housing policies against blacks from the past and present ensured all these. Baltimore is still deeply segregated. When faced with all these problems that pose huge risks to the world, to my home and to myself and my friends, I see a couple of options. I can ignore it and content myself with living a shorter less pleasant life in which my body is the currency which affords others privilege. Simultaneously I can become comfortable with a life of using other people’s struggles to propel myself forward. I can internalize it. Make myself believe that if bad things happen to me then it must be because I deserve it. I can try and believe that others are just inherently unworthy and vice versa so I can be comfortable with my privilege. These beliefs are at the heart of every ism, the need to distance ourselves from the other so that we, the responsible party for their pain, can absolve ourselves of guilt. Third option, I can try to change it.
There are lots of personal changes we can make to enact change: Call representatives, talk about problems, call out messed up stuff when we see it, try to shop and eat local. But more important is making strategic efforts with other people. When we meet with other people doing the same things and we talk about how we can enact larger scale structural change. Knowing there are problems is not enough to change them; that requires action, that requires activism. So yes I’m a student activist but you should be too because everyone’s life depends on it.