Stuck in a classroom, I sat silently as white people dominated a conversation about race, controlling the narrative as they have done for centuries. Hand after hand went up, and not one belonged to a minority.
Before I knew it, my white peers had transformed the conversation from a discussion about racial tensions into a rant about the exclusivity of minority communities. Instead of addressing the systemic problems that push minority communities to create safe spaces, they complained about feeling uncomfortable in these places, ignoring the fact that these spaces were not meant for them. This talk opened my eyes to the ignorance of my peers and showed me how white privilege shelters white people from the discomfort that minorities are forced to endure their entire lives.
Georgetown University is a predominantly white institution, which is why my experience in class is not uncommon for students of color on this campus. To prevent such experiences in the future, students must intentionally seek to become allies and address racial issues and tensions. To build true allyship, it is vital that students stop treating racism and sexism as concepts that should be ignored and rather start listening to the voices and learning about the realities of marginalized communities.
Georgetown touts community in diversity as one of its coveted Jesuit values, yet students on campus fail to actively work to acknowledge their differences and increase their cultural understanding. When students on campus talk about community in diversity, they talk about how humanity transcends race, enabling them to not see color. In promoting this philosophy, they inadvertently stifle minority voices that try to speak about their experiences with racism by turning a blind eye to the color of their skin.
When students say they do not see color, they are saying that they have been privileged enough to not have to worry about the color of their skin. However, I did not have this privilege growing up post-9/11 as an Indian American. Rather, I was painstakingly reminded of my skin color with every passing second. To many, my skin color made me un-American. I was taught to be ashamed of my skin color, as if I had chosen it. When my peers ignore my skin color, they not only ignore the reality of racism, but also delegitimize my experiences of oppression that are rooted in the color of my skin.
As a woman of color, however, I am often doubly silenced. Just as my peers attempt to avoid conversations about racism, my own community has suppressed my voice due to my gender. For women of color, this pattern is familiar. We have been taught to silently endure oppression; we are expected to remain strong through hardships yet are also deprived of any platform to utilize our voices. More often than not, the conversation around oppression has been controlled by men from our own communities, who fail to acknowledge that women are forced to endure a synthesis of racism and sexism, thus burying our experiences.
As an incoming freshman, I searched for a space in which I could talk about my experiences without being silenced. I found Georgetown University Women of Color, a community that brings together women of color from different backgrounds. With these amazing women, I learned that although women of color are pressured to be strong, they don’t need to be strong alone. Moreover, we deserve to have a platform where we can tell our stories without being scrutinized, one where our own voices are empowered and in control of the narrative.
Women of color should not have to fight alone. We deserve true allies in the Georgetown community who uplift our narratives rather than suppress them. Students should attend events where women of color control the narrative, actually making an attempt to listen to our voices instead of merely checking off the box of a diversity requirement. By doing this, students can understand others’ perspectives while simultaneously showing people of color that their voices and experiences are valued.
Allyship is not a status; it is a lifestyle that involves listening to others’ narratives in an attempt to further educate oneself and those around them. But most importantly, an ally is someone who stands in solidarity with marginalized groups instead of sitting in silence. Allies work to ensure that no one can hide behind a veil of ignorance and discount the harsh realities that minorities are exposed to their entire lives.
Rimpal Bajwa is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. WOC Wisdom appears online every other Thursday.