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Social Movements

May 30, 2011

Do social movements happen at conferences, charged email exchanges over email list-servs? At rallies and protests, for sure, right? Crowds of people, shouting slogans – voices rising in anger. Do activists carry around social movements wherever they go, every debate or discussion part of a larger conversation that an entire community of people could have if such a thing was feasible? Or maybe they happen inside people’s homes, over dinner, inside our bedrooms? Maybe they happen in what we write, how we think, who we talk to and what we do in our daily lives.

So what does it mean? To believe that what I think, what I do, what I eat, what I wear, who I have sex with and how – everything I am is part of something bigger – a larger social structure. That maybe if one cog and gets together with another cog, and another, then another – that eventually someone un-related to the original cog in every way will look around and mutter… but I thought everyone was male, light-skinned, rich, heterosexual, educated, English-speakers and respect “status”… is that how it works? Like some giant, un-knowable game of catch-and-run. Maybe. Perhaps.

I have a story.

I was telling a group of friends about these girls we knew who had asked me (without any malice intended), “why all the immigrants don’t just go to England instead of coming here?“. It was only after seeing me gape at her, speechless, that something clicked for her about my own immigrant background.

As we grow and move through life, we make mistakes. We say stupid things. We assume that our prejudices must be true and that these things that people say about those people are right. Or if they are not, it is acceptable to say them. It’s only after experiencing that glare, that sharp retort, or that awkward silence that we learn… These girls must have been making such statements their whole life, and the people who interact with them (white, non-immigrant) have never challenged them. When everything we say is accepted and even validated, it allows for a certain kind of ignorance to take root and flourish.

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