We all say things that we don’t mean sometimes. Sometimes that even means saying something that you realize later is not nearly as near to equality as you think you are. What do we do when that happens? Should we ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen? Should we be embarrassed by it? No, I don’t think so. A much healthier and helpful thing to do would be to talk about it. After all, talking about prejudices is the best way to combat them.
A few weeks ago I was shopping with my son for school clothes. My son is not a person concerned with style. In fact, I would say that Benedict is quite the opposite. He prefers his clothes to be rather plain; he likes jeans to be blue, straight legged, and to fit around his waist. We went to a number of stores, and had a hard time finding jeans that were in his size and style preference. I was quite frustrated, and Benedict was not happy to be shopping at all. He prefers me to just buy him clothes, but his senior pictures were coming up and I really wanted him to try things on this year.
We walked into a store in the mall and saw some of the most decorous jeans I have ever seen. The associate came up to us and asked if we needed help. I asked where the men’s jeans were and the associate told me that we were on the men’s side of the store.
The words that came out of my mouth shocked me, and I will not live them down for quite some time. I responded, “What guys actually wear pants like these? They look like women’s jeans.”
Yes, I said that. Me! The English and Women’s Studies major. The woman thinking of completing a Master’s degree in Social Responsibility. I know that every person is unique and different. I know that everyone is allowed to wear whatever they want, and I have fought for the rights of people to do that exact thing. How did I let those words slip from my mouth?
When I think about the exchange now, I realize that my own frustration in trying to find plain jeans meant that my lens was focused upon that being what I needed. That lens made me see every other pair of jeans as not being “normal” for my needs. I wonder how many times our lens/focus doesn’t let us see that something is an option for someone else. Our own normalcy becomes what we believe to be “normal”. When we open ourselves up to the possibility that other people can have a different view of normalcy, we can begin to be a better ally to social justice!
Here are a few tips and hints for when you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, when you say or do something that you know isn’t cool…
- Don’t ignore it! This is probably one of the most important things that we can do. As discussed at the beginning of this post, realizing and conversing about issues of injustice is one of the best ways that we can start to break apart the systems of inequality around us.
- Think about it…A lot! Think about why you said or did what you did. Think about who was, or could have been affected by your words or actions. Think about your own privilege. Why did you feel like those words or actions were okay?
- Talk to someone about it. Talking to a like-minded individual about the situation can really help you break down the complexities of it. Sometimes this is really hard, because you do not want a like-minded person to think that you are something that you are not. In reality we are all here fighting the same fight. By talking about the situation you are able to understand it better so that you can help prevent it in the future.
- Pay attention to your language. Of course, after learning a great lesson, we should apply it! Being more cautious of the things that you say or do in the future is a great implementation of your knowledge.