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Racism and The Pandemic

For my second SAMO, I wanted to learn more about the lived experience of Black people living in the United State. Systemic racism has plagued our society by putting Black people at an immediate disadvantage from the second they are born. For my third SAMO, I wanted to further investigate this current issue and see the implications that systemic racism has had on the healthcare industry. Specifically, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many people’s lives to turn upside, and at the same time, societal differences exacerbated.

While watching the news, I always hear about the dramatic differences in the percentages of death based on race.

1.4x cases, 3.7x hospitalizations, 2.8x deaths

COVID-19 Disparities in the Black/African American Community

These statistics disgusted me as both a student as a human being. I was confused at why one group of people were put in the position where they were subjected to be sick, hospitalized, and possibly die than other groups of people.

WHY ARE MINORITIES MORE LIKELY TO GET COVID-19

My first thought on this topic was why Black individuals are more susceptible to get COVID-19. My questioning led me to a webinar, given by Damani Piggott, MD, PHD, who works for Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, called COVID-19 Disparities in the Black/African American Community. Piggott listed multiple reasons for why Black individuals have a higher rate of infection. I highly recommend this webinar because it was really interesting and gave me an interesting insight to the medical side of the health disparities.

Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Socailization explain that, “it is not a coincidence that the United States is suffering from these results today; rather it is a logical outcome of our embracing the status quo, without thinking or challenging” (6). Since we haven’t taken direct action to change very impactful industries, people still act with the disregard for the change that we have made as a society to be more equal.

First, more African Americans hold positions that are considered ‘frontline’ or ‘essential,’ and therefore are put at a higher risk of coming into contact with someone who has Covid. These jobs in the foodservice, transportation, security, environmental management services, healthcare industries, put the people who work tirelessly to keep their jobs at such an uncertain time at a much higher risk to get COVID-19. 

Ability to work at home based on race: Asian 37%, White 29.9%, Black 19.7%, Latinx 16.2%

COVID-19 Disparities in the Black/African American Community

Secondly, Black people have an increased rate of underlying health conditions: diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, chronic kidney disease, and obesity. These facts are often overlooked by healthcare workers. When Black individuals aren’t assisted with the known fact that they can be susceptible to these issues, then that can be a recipe for disaster and can lead to death.

Third, I investigated how long standing social disparities continue to fuel health inequity. These societal disparities include income, employment, housing, food security, education, transportation, incarceration, access to health systems and services. In a medical journal, written by Leonard E. Egede, M.D., and Rebekah J. Walker, Ph.D, called Structural Racism, Social Risk Factors, and Covid-19, it mentions how Black americans have a higher chance of contracting COVID-19 due to the greater likelihood of living in inner cities with high population density. I recommend giving this journal a read. It isn’t that long but it has a lot of good information about the current implications of our world today.

As a student, I look towards all of this information and I am disappointed. I understand that I am very lucky to be in an area where I have the space to social distance with my peers and the education to teach me how important it is to stay safe. Now when I look at the news and see the high statistics of African Americans contracting COVID-19, I will understand the reasonings for that high number. Instead of jumping to conclusions like the rest of our country could be doing, by taking a step against biases and stereotypes, I researched and learned the true reasons why the numbers were so staggering and I learned that many choices people made were not up to them because they didn’t have many choices offered.

WHY ARE MINORITIES MORE LIKELY TO DIE FROM COVID-19

Next, I began to question why the death rates for Black Americans are so high as compared to Americans of other races. This question took me down the rabbit hole of healthcare inequalities that have sadly become so prevalent in our society. To first understand racism in the healthcare system, I had to understand the difference between racism and placism.

First, an example of racism in the healthcare industry, as explained by J. Nwando Olayiwola in a Ted Talk called Combating Racism and Place-ism in Medicine, is a Black woman being treated worse than a White woman in a hospital. While it can seem surreal to think that a doctor, a person who trained their whole life to help other people, would be so rash and result in hurting people. However, I learned that this mistreatment is actually very common.

– Black women are 3-4x more likely to die from pregnancy than White women

– Black individuals are 50% less likely to have medical intervention when experiencing chest pains

– If a Black baby is being treated by a White physician, they statistically have a higher chance of dying or experiencing complications

– A doctor is more likely to discount or discredit a person’s pain if they are Black rather than White

Next, is placism in the healthcare industry which is widely overlooked. Placism is ignorance of a person’s place on their health. Surprisingly, 80% of a person’s determinant of health is based off of where they live.

In the Ted Talk, Olayiwola explained placism while showing the true implications of placism on the real life expectancies of people in Ohio.

It was insane to see how places that are not that far away from each other have a huge gap in life expectancy. People who lived six miles away from each other had a sixteen year age gap in life expectancy. 


This information didn’t sit well with me. Ross Snyder’s, “The Person Sitting Next to You” claims that, “the person sitting next to you is a cluster of memories of the past and expectations of the future. He is really a whole colony of persons, of people met all during a life.” This literally illustrates the graphic above, just on a larger scale. The person sitting next to you, or more literally, a few miles away from you, is a “luster of memories of the past and expectations of the future,” however, those “memories” and “expectations” may differ dramatically depending on the location that one lives in, even if those locations are very close together.

WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP CHANGE THIS

It is horrible that some people have to put this lives at risk in order to provide for themselves and their family. Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Liberation, explains the process of liberating one’s self from their previous predispositions and allowing them to grow into a new and more informed person. Harro states, “Often the first part of the process … involves consciously dismantling and building aspects of ourselves and our worldviews based on our new perspectives” (4). Now that I had learned this new information, I had to take action.

I will be sure to use every tool I have available to fight the pandemic. That means wearing a mask, washing hands, social distancing, and getting vaccinated when possible. Our actions that we can take as a community can mitigate some of the impacts that the pandemics have on other individuals.

“Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly”

Martin Luther King Jr.

I learned the true implications that the lack of education can have on the health of Black individuals. Doctors are supposed to be here to help others and fix them. Since some healthcare professionals have not been trained on how to think twice when they see someone’s race or where they are from, we as a community can try to change that custom. We need to force doctors to do no harm and force them to think about it. Below is a suggestion from Combating Racism and Place-ism in Medicine where Olayiwola explained that if doctors had to physically check a button that they didn’t want to change a person’s medication because of her race then that would force them to make the conscious decision to be racist.

When choosing this topic for my SAMO, I knew the numbers were staggering, but I didn’t know why. This door I opened led me down a pathway that forced me to look into every part of the healthcare industry and see why Black individuals were put at such a disadvantage during this pandemic. I now will go into every day understanding how lucky I am to have the choice to come in person to school or to stay home because I now understand that some people want to stay home but can’t in order to pay the bills. Going into conversations in the future, I can now have an understanding of some people’s current experiences and empathize with them. During this pandemic we are all going through hard times and the only way to get through it is to work together. By doing my part by educating myself about other people’s current position, I am just taking a small step towards making society one force that will fight this pandemic together.

As an ally I need to be conscious of these inequalities and be educated in order to have a productive conversation when needed. While I understand that I can never truly speak for the Black community because I have never lived the same experience, I can do my best to educate myself and educate others on the reality of our world and do the best to change it.

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Letter of Concern

I regretfully have never been that into the environment or conservation movements. I knew that plastic was bad and garbage was being thrown into the ocean, but I never knew the true extent of this practice until I had to choose an issue for my letter of concern. For my lake presentation, I was assigned Lake Michigan as my body of water, and that is what brought the amount of pollution in the water to my attention. As I continued to research the extreme nature of this tarnishing practice on the water, I knew something had to be done. I chose to write to the Mayor of Chicago because I thought that they would have some power in controlling the topic of conversation towards this issue. I was able to brainstorm many ways for our community to join together and change our practices. Since I have done this research, I hope to live my life while being more conscious that my actions have on the environment. Also, I now will use my voice to speak out more when I see practices that are unjust. Hopefully, I will get a response and action will be taken to move forward with some of the suggestions I made in my letter to change the current harmful actions that have become normal in our everyday lives. I will be more of a progressive human being and speak out against injustices and fight for what is right.

Healing

  • Background from CamStock Photo

    “When love is unreliable and you are a child, you assume that it is the nature of love – its quality – to be unreliable. Children do not find fault in their parents until later. In the beginning, the love you get is the love that sets” (Winterson 76).

  • “When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, “The Devil led us to the wrong crib” (Winterson 9).

  • “Parent-child attachment has implications for developing healthy relationships later in life.

    LGBT youth may experience a disruption in parent-child attachment if they are rejected based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

    Parental rejection of LGBT youth negatively affects youths’ identity and health.

    Parental acceptance of LGBT youth is crucial to ensure that youth develop a healthy sense of self.”

    LGBT Youth and Family Acceptance

  • Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Socialization

    “Immediately upon our births we begin to be socialized by the people we love and trust the most, our families or the adults who are raising us. They shape our self-concepts and self perceptions, the norms and rules we must follow, the roles we are taught to play, our expectations for the future, and our dreams” (Harro 17).

  • “I was a woman. I was a working-class woman. I was a woman who wanted to love women without guilt or ridicule. Those three things formed the basis of my politics, not the unions, or the class war as understood by the male Left” (Winterson 133).

  • Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Liberation

    “Liberation is the practice of love. It is developing a sense of self that we can love, and learning to love others with their differences from us,” (Harro 8).

  • Via Ryan Sallans on Youtube

  • Via Shutterstock

    “We have to be willing to admit that we’re not capable of figuring things out alone” (Wheatley 2).

  • Artist Statement:

    At the heart of one’s socialization lies insecurity and fear.  The way a person is socialized can impact the level of their insecurity and self perception. If a person is raised in an environment that makes them feel like a nuisance or they are constantly pushed to be something that they are not, then that insecurity can play a bigger role in that person’s life, therefore causing them to be a less happy person. According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, if a parent rejects their child’s identity when they come out, it “negatively affects youths’ identity and health.” This therefore disturbs a child’s ability to construct the basic skills used to create lasting relationships in their childhood, and as they age to adulthood. This permanent impact of parent neglect can have chilling effects on the beliefs the child has on their identity and the hope they believe they could have for the future. Again, Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Socialization is an endless cycle that can be transformed at different stages of a person’s life. If a child is neglected so much that they lack the ability to love someone, it takes a very caring person to hold their hand and teach them the love that they were lacking all throughout their childhood. Although one may experience great loss and abuse, with love from others, they can always heal their wounds and learn how to love themselves again.

Uncovering Biases

I live in Northbrook which is a predominantly White suburb. While I was aware that people in different areas have lived a variety of experiences, I was been blind to the true nature of these differences and the reasons behind them. The North Shore bubble has inadvertently blinded me to the true nature of other people’s lived experiences and while I was aware of people in different areas to an extent, I still had much to learn. 

In the spring, the killing of George Floyd reignited the Black Lives Matter movement and a series of protests. My research behind the movement opened my eyes to a world of systemic inequalities that was hidden from me up to this point. My understanding of the historical and current experiences of Black people in America wasn’t enough, so for my SAMO, I delved deeper into researching the health and housing inequalities in America.

My family and I go downtown once a month with our temple to deliver food to the homeless. It is always so astonishing to me to see how many people are forced to live in tents on the side of busy streets no matter what the  temperature is. It also shocked me that out of the 40 or so lunches that we delivered most recently, we only delivered lunch to one White person. All of the other people who were put in a position where they were forced to live on the street were Black.

Going to the city and seeing the true extremities of what living on the street consisted of truly baffled me. My family and I always have a conversation about needing to help others and the sadness it brings us to see people living on the street. I felt ashamed to admit this at the time, but seeing people being forced to live on the side of busy roads made me very uncomfortable. I was ashamed at the discomfort I felt because I knew these people were human beings on the inside, they just seemed very different from me because of their lived experiences. However, I can take what I learned in CST from Margret Wheatley in Willing to Be Disturbed when she expresses that, “It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do curiosity and good listening bring us back together” (3). This instance shed light on the harmful implications of my implicit bias. Going forward, I now realize in order to change my bias, I have to see through the lens of other people, even when it is uncomfortable. However, it was my inexperience that pushed my “curiosity” and forced me to go to the city and have a hands-on experience with people who lived completely different lives that I have been living. By doing so, I was able to shape my perspective and not base my beliefs on preconceived judgments about who they were and “bring us back together” as human beings instead of having that divide based on lifestyles. I now can use what I have learned to be conscious of my biases when in future situations with people who are different from me.

This exploration led me to research the reasoning behind these housing inequalities and why there are such great disparities between Black and White people. I found a documentary on Amazon Prime called Owned: A Tale of Two Americas which explored the history of neighborhoods in America and racial zoning, which began as early as the early 1900s.  As a history nerd, I highly recommend this documentary, it was very intriguing. 

I first learned about redlining in my US History class last year. I learned about White and Black people living in different neighborhoods and the existing  economic disparities between the two. This documentary explained the beginning of redlining which began when the first neighborhoods were created. Levittown was the first mass-produced neighborhood which was built in 1947, however it banned Black families from living there. White families could now afford cheaper housing in a comfortable area, whereas Black citizens were stranded to fend for themselves. 

Before watching this documentary, I always thought redlining was an economic and cultural issue, so I was shocked that politics were involved. I discovered that the federal government actually helped enforce redlining and shape the divided nature of our country. The federal government was allowed to decide which areas were insured and which were not. The government only insured mortgages in more developed areas, predominantly White communities, and did not insure areas where more Black people lived. Since these areas weren’t protected by the federal government, banks refused to lend money to people living in more underdeveloped areas. In simple terms, White people were allowed to loan money from a bank (to buy a house, car, go to college), while Black people were not able to loan money from a bank causing a huge divide between races in the US.

A before and after of Cabrini Green when it was destroyed – Photo by Chicago Gang History – https://www.chicagoganghistory.com/housing-project/cabrini-green/

While there have been attempts to fix the housing divide, many have been overturned. On a past family trip to the city, we drove through a beautiful neighborhood that my mom said used to be a public housing area called Cabrini-Green. The city decided to build a series of apartments for people who couldn’t afford average rents to live in for a cheaper price. However, these apartments were later seen to be on ‘expensive land’ since it had a scenic view of the Chicago skyline, and this desperately needed neighborhood was destroyed in order to construct a more high-end area. This is claimed to be an act of systemic genocide because “when they uproot the neighborhoods, they uproot the communities living in those neighborhoods” (Owned: A Tale of Two Americas).

This discovery was shocking to me. I had researched the racial divide in Chicago before, however, I was disgusted to learn that the government deliberately destroyed people’s homes in order to make money. I will use this knowledge in future conversations, even more so in conversations about the racial divide in Chicago. Black families have tried to use government assistance to get proper housing and break the housing gap, however every time they tried to bridge that divide, the government pushed them down again. It saddens me that just my own beliefs cannot in itself change the government as a whole. However, I can use my examination of others’ lived experiences and lifestyles to further empathize with others and remind people in conversations that their opinion doesn’t stand alone. Everyone has biases, and since I have been taught to recognize my biases, I can help others recognize their own as well. This discovery widened my perspective because now I can see the government’s role in the societal divide in my own city. Although this is not the end of my research of recognizing racial biases and the history of racism, these skills will allow me to approach the world with a more open perspective. 

Many of these economic inequalities uncover the underlying reasonings for the health inequalities in our medical system today. The paper, Structural Racism and Health Inequalities by Gilbert C. Gee and Chandra L. Ford delves deep into the beginnings of structural racism.

Me reading Structural Racism and Health Inequalities – Photo by Alivia Klinghofer

The paper begins by defining structural racism. To explain it in simpler terms, it compares it to an iceberg; The tip of the iceberg is blatant racism, such as the existence of the KKK and saying derogatory words. Below the tip of the iceberg lies an even more chunk of ice that consists of even more dangerous and less detectable instances of racism which has allowed racism to still be prevalent in our world today. While people can pass policies that can change the ‘tip’ of the iceberg, such as the 15th Amendment which gave Black people the right to vote, there are still thousands of underlying instances that have continued the discrimination systemic racism in our country for over 150 years.

A movie I watched on Amazon Prime called Sorry Aint Enough allowed me to delve even deeper into instances of systemic racism (things underneath the “tip” of the iceberg) that have occurred despite affirmative action. This movie displayed a potential court case between Black Americans demanding reparations to be paid back to those individuals affected by systemic racism by the US federal government and the corporations involved. The prosecutors were demanding the the government and corporations tied to slavery be held accountable for their actions. Although the results of the court case weren’t disclosed in the movie, the countless arguments made by the prosecutors helped me understand the intensity of discrimination that occurred after 1860, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

The following were listed as claims in the debate:

  • The Black Holocaust in 1921 where thousands of Black Americans were killed in riots. 15,000 people were left homeless and forced out of the town.
  • The Red Summer during the summer of 1919 where 76 African Americans were reportedly lynched in 26 race riots.
  • The Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation despite slavery being banned.
  • The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments when African American males were used as laboratory animals and were abused.

There was one point the prosecutors made that really stuck out to me: there has been an economic gap for years. They need reparations for the debt that has yet to be repaid. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed which freed the slaves. However these newly freed people were left to fend for themselves. Without education. Without money. Without government assistance. 

This blatant disregard for the immediate disadvantage that Black people had compared to White individuals who had access to all tools needed to be successful for years prior made me disgusted.

As a student, I felt baffled because in school, I had learned about the Jim Crow Laws, but that was it. I had always just thought that was because the South was racist, but after hearing that all of these instances of systemic racism happened despite “government action” I now believe the government “acting” is a load of garbage. How could the federal government specifically neglect so many people’s well beings? I realized that this “government action” to change the “tip of the iceberg” was all for show and the government has yet to do any systemic change to change the root of the problem, which is underneath the iceberg itself. This realization completely shaped my understanding of how the government accommodates its citizens. I’ve learned one side of history in school. After my research, I now have been exposed to different situations and problems that the government has continued to neglect despite its continued harm towards Black communities.

Structural Racism and Health Inequalities” explains the connection between societal inequities and health inequities. W. E. B. Du Bois, an American civil rights activist and one of the founders of the NAACP, notes that, “the death rate and sickness are largely matters of [social and economic] condition and not due to racial traits and tendencies” (276). The paper goes on to explain the implication that job inequalities have on health outcomes for Black Americans. David Jacobs, explains in “Environmental Health Disparities in Housing” that, “Repeated hospitalizations for childhood asthma are correlated with children residing … crowded housing conditions, largest number of racial minorities, and highest neighborhood-level poverty” (9). The continued governmental neglect to provide proper housing for a huge group of minorities has created such an impact on their lives, not only on social health, spirals and ends up affecting their physical health and well being. 

I live in Northbrook, again, a predominantly White town and Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Socialization allows me to clearly see why I have yet to realize the unfortunate reality of the world. Harro states that, “by participating in our roles as agents, and remaining unconscious of or being unwilling to interrupt the cycle, we perpetuate the system of oppression” (19). Before beginning to go to the city with my family I had been unconsciously living in a “system of oppression” and contributing to it by not “interrupting the cycle” and recognizing the injustices. Now that I have learned this reality, my disturbance and shock will allow me to approach conversations with my friends and family in a productive manner. After now discovering the reality of the world, I will allow myself to act in a and use my voice and my privilege to benefit the world and make steps toward change. 

Margaret Wheatley engages with this question in her paper Willing to Be Disturbed as she states, “We’re comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we’d have to get engaged in changing things” (page 3). By questioning societal norms and societal inequalities we ourselves “raise questions” about the state of our world. Collectively, these actions help in “changing things” and allow for a productive transition to an equal society.

After embarking on this journey of research and experience,I will be able to approach the world with a new understanding of different perspectives. Many people say we live in the “North Shore Bubble.” Personally, I have always been defensive when I heard that term because I was unwilling to learn what that “bubble” actually encompassed. After doing this research I now realize that people who are Black have had a completely different history than those who are White and that history constructs a completely different socialization for an individual. Now understanding how a person’s history has such a significant impact on one’s socialization, I can understand my own socialization in a better way. Although my privilege as a White female has benefited me in my life, my history of being a minority has allowed my socialization to be constructed in different ways, not that one history or development is better than another, it is just different. And that itself is what makes humans different. Although my socialization is different from other people, I need to recognize the differences and not let those differences come in between anyone living less happy of a life than others. I can use this opportunity to push outside my comfort zone as a way to examine other peoples’ experiences and then use my knowledge to educate others and create a more equitable society. Even if I am just one person and my action alone won’t automatically change the world, I can use my newfound knowledge to educate others to help break down biases and that in itself will make the world better than it was before.

Understand Your Worth

My friend and I were walking down a street near my house one humid night last summer. Minding our own business, we laughed and chatted in jean shorts and tank tops. Some men in their twenties drove down the street and yelled, “nice a**” and “looking good ladies,” followed by a cackle of laughter by the other members in the car. Embarrassed and self-conscious, my friend and I ran back down the street to my house, immediately changed into sweatpants and a sweatshirt, and sat on the couch for the rest of the day.

As a 17-year-old, this was my first experience personally being sexualized by men, but sadly women experience situations like this daily. We live in a society where men have an overwhelming amount of power over women both socially and politically. Women feel pressured to dress the way that men characterize as “sexy” and “attractive.” In turn for feeling attractive and confident, women are attacked with unwanted comments from men. This leads to an unequal power dynamic and makes it hard for women to be their true selves without apprehensions.

I went to a temporary exhibit in Chicago called “Womanish” that was constructed based on female empowerment and self-expression. There, I was immediately immersed in a three-story building full of naked mannequins, bananas, and peaches which were labeled as “private parts.” First I was shocked and uncomfortable because I usually am uncomfortable when I see girls wearing little to no clothing. Socially, I have been taught that girls showing lots of skin are “whores” or “skanks.” I was so confused with why I was uncomfortable; I was in a room full of only women, embracing their femininity while posing next to the statues of naked women. I then understood that I was uncomfortable with this new environment because the women in the museum were embracing their femininity and bodies in a positive way. Normally, I feel so self-conscious about the way people view me, but in a room full of all women, I was empowered to be my true self without any social constraints. 

 I realized that in a room full of women, I could truly be myself. I noticed the different ways women were acting now that men were not around. The womanish museum taught women to embrace their bodies and femininity while bringing to light the problem that our society has set by letting men decide how women should act and be.

To further my research about the power balance between genders, I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Feminists What Were They Thinking?”. In this documentary, multiple women, who were involved in the feminist movement over a variety of decades, were interviewed about their lives and how they grew their feminist perspective. These women talked about how men assume the authority to be condescending to women in order to continue the unequal power dynamic in daily life. Lily Tomlin shared how she began to be a feminist what she left her childhood home. She knew that it was not right for men to be condescending to women, but she often found herself in situations where men would say rude or sexist things to her and she would “have the feeling to laugh it off to make the man feel comfortable.” I can think of countless times that I have brushed things off to avoid confrontation because, at the moment, I am shocked about what has been said. When those men yelled at me and my friend down the street, instead of confronting the situation, I took it upon myself to feel shame about how I was dressed.

 To understand why women feel this way, I researched the reasons behind the submissive tendency to not confront offensive actions from men. A Harvard Business Review Article teaches people skills that can be used to disrupt sexist conversations. In order to break out of the Cycle of Socialization, both men and women need to act as allies and work together to call out these offensive actions and dismantle the harmful prejudices. Even if disturbing this norm could lead to uncomfortable situations, calling people out and allowing others’ to change their perspective on how to treat people will improve society as a whole. The only way to break this cycle of socialization is to call out these inequalities which will create a wholesale change of the power dynamic. This can be done by calling people out for their actions and acknowledging their words aren’t right. If I am ever put in that type of situation again, I will acknowledge my worth as a woman and not feel shame based on how I dress. 

While researching the power dynamics between men and women, I had to connect the political aspect of gender inequality as well. A few days ago, Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President, was elected into office. While this is a monumental step for women and the role that women play in politics, there is still a gigantic discrepancy between the representation of men and women in political power. A study done by the Center for American Women and Politics found that the percentage of women holding political roles is under 30%. 

That means the people in power, representing the entire nation, are not truly representative of half of the true population. How can a group of people, with the majority being men, be in charge of making laws that determine what women can and cannot do? 

I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Reversing Roe” that talked about the political disputes about abortion in the United States. The documentary featured women from all over the country fighting for equal representation in the government. I believe that it is the woman’s right to choose what is best for her body, but what seemed crazy to me was that the people making these decisions were men and not women. 

In CST, we are continually asked the question of “how do individuals or groups initiate change when society’s assumptions and biases result in injustice?”. Through my explorations and the Cycle of Liberation by Bobbie Harro, I learned that the core of this cycle is self-love and self-esteem. Women need to have the confidence, not just in a Womanish exhibit with only other women, but everywhere in their lives, to be and love their truest selves. Seeing women like Kamala Harris in positions of power shows me that I have the power to do anything a man can do. My SAMO experience taught me the importance of self-love, and from this, I will be able to work on my self-esteem in order to secure the core of my cycle of liberation and work towards gender equality.

Listening to Understand

Finding the third space requires a person to look outside of what they assume to know and have civil conversations with others in order to completely understand their own and others’ perspectives. While these conversations may be uncomfortable, it is important to listen to others who have different views than you to expand your own perspective. If one does not make an effort to understand others’ perspectives, then they themself will not grow into the most knowledgeable and well-rounded person. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explained in her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” about how when she was a child she was only exposed to books that featured white children in Europe; she was never aware that African children, like herself, could be featured in picturebooks because she was never exposed to that type of literature. It is important for people to read, listen, and hear from people who have multiple different perspectives in order to get a holistic view of the world. In order to construct an individual perspective, a person needs to be aware of other people’s needs and livelihoods. With this more well-rounded perspective, a person is then able to understand the complexity and difference of someone’s lived experience instead of jumping to conclusions based on their singular story.

In a time when our country is extremely divided, I have adopted the efforts of finding my third by having very difficult conversations with my peers about politics. I hold liberal views, so when I have conversations with some of my conservative peers, I find it frustrating to listen to their perspectives. Nevertheless, engaging in civil conversations have allowed me to learn so much about different political perspectives and myself. Even though I disagree with many of the arguments made about the pro-life movement and private health care, I have been able to find my third by cementing my own perspective, after hearing and understanding other ideologies. My new beliefs were based on a more holistic mindset of political beliefs instead of just my own. 

My brother and I having a conversation about current events
Picture credit: Alivia Klinghofer

To find your third space, you need to listen to others and come to your own conclusions about a topic. Once you find your third, the only way to make an influence on the world is to take action and share your knowledge after coming to that realization. Sisonke Msimang claims in her TED Talk, “If a Story Moves You, Act on It”, that “listening is an important but insufficient step towards social action.”  She continues to teach her audience about how you need to fight for the world to change by educating others about what you learned to help them find their third. Many societal injustices are normalized because people don’t talk about them and just accept the reality. Simply having a conversation can ignite social change by acknowledging injustices in the world and demanding justice. 

“You need to fight for the world to change by educating others about what you learned to help them find their third”

These conversations begin a series of widespread change. Lucy King talks about how one disturbance to the social structure causes a disturbance to the whole social system as we know it. In her TED Radio Hour interview with Manoush Zomorodi titled “Finding Another Way”, she told a story about a swarm of bees living in a beehive next to a herd of elephants. For their whole lives, they lived in constant tension but accepted the realities of their lives. It took just a tiny stone being lightly thrown at the hive to cause the bees to swarm out of their nest and for the elephants to charge away. Finding your third is so important because just like the bees, one disruption to the cycle of socialization can spark a domino effect of change. Even if these conversations are uncomfortable and cause heated, yet civil, debates, they are imperative to creating positive social change and allowing others to have the information in order to find their third. It would be too optimistic to claim that every political conversation in our country will end with a conclusive agreement. This is because everyone was raised with different values and principals which structured their minds to have beliefs about separate issues. Ross Snyder attempts to equivocate all humans in his paper “The Person Sitting Next to You”, by saying, “the person … is really a whole colony of persons, of people, met all during a life”. These people that we meet make up our personalities and are the basis of our assumptions and opinions. We are born without any preconceived notions about the world, so our families, friends that we meet, and the information we are exposed to shape our opinions. When I have political conversations with my peers, I understand that every person has been raised with different morals and under different circumstances. I now use this sympathetic view when finding my third because I don’t only take in my lived experiences with my perspective, but the experiences of others. When having these conversations with others, one must acknowledge and be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is going to agree with them.  Nevertheless, listening to people you disagree with is imperative to understanding others’ perspectives and truly finding your third.

Philosophy of Learning

What we learn in high school shapes students into well-rounded citizens and proactive learners, but the education system today isn’t structured to teach in the most effective way. Steven Wolk wrote in his essay “Why Go To School?” about the inefficient ways that the curriculum prepares students for life tasks. Wolk suggests that “our schools … use critical and moral inquiry as a way to shape individual identity.” Taking the curriculum away from outdated textbooks that have repeated the same lessons for years, teachers should structure their curriculum to the needs and learning styles of their students. Instead of learning about shapes and angle measurements in geometry, the teachers should structure their math class in a way that students can clearly see the correlation between what they are doing and how that can be applied to their lives.

I often stare at my homework and ask myself, “When will I ever have to use this in my life?” Truthfully, I most likely won’t have to use the majority of what I learn in school during my life. By the time I entered high school I knew my strengths and weaknesses; I liked to write and I loved history, but I wasn’t so good at math. I knew I wasn’t going to become a doctor or a mathematician. The number of hours that I spent struggling through math problems that I forgot by the end of the year is appalling to me. If the school system allowed us to choose our classes based on what we were interested in, students would be so much more prepared for their futures because they would have more experience in what they wanted to go into from a younger age. I’m not saying we should stop having math classes, but the traditional math classes that students take may not be the most beneficial for every student’s future plans. Maybe there could be a class that could be offered for students who might not want to go into a job that requires a lot of math expertise. This class could teach about the economy, the stock market, and how to manage your money as an adult. These classes would still use the critical thinking skills that are used in math, except they would be used in ways that the students could see be relevant to their lives in the future.

Ashley McCall speaks about restructuring the curriculum so that it caters to the needs of each student in her article “What If We Radically Reimagined the New School Year?” McCall advises that teachers should “structure student’s learning around their lived experiences.” If we structure the curriculum about student’s direct experiences, then they would find more connections to the information and become more interested in the content. This could be done by integrating current events into discussions or activities such as the election and the coronavirus pandemic. The curriculum should be structured to the needs and interests of the students to prepare them for life outside high school