I am a prime example of how society fails its kids.
I grew up in Mount Airy, one of the most racially diverse neighborhood in the United States. I went to Quaker schools for all 13 years of my education and was a leader in multiple diversity and non-violence clubs. I have interned with non-profit organizations that fund artists who do social justice work. I was not allowed to play with water guns, because they trivialized violence. I could be considered a poster child for social consciousness.
And yet, I look over my shoulder when a tall, black man, wearing a hoodie, walks behind me.
Despite knowing that dress indicates nothing about one’s sexuality, I still categorize men into gender and sexual binaries when first meeting them.
Despite learning about the daily prejudices that differently-abled people experience, I still stare when I see someone with Cerebral Palsy refusing to eat.
I recognize that I am a privileged, third-generation college student, but when I find out that my peer came from a rural farming community and is working her way through college, I wonder for a moment how she could have been accepted into the same world that I was.
I am not abdicating responsibility for my prejudices. I acknowledge that I commit micro-aggressions. At the same time, I have been conditioned by societal views, the media, and by my own privilege. These systems pervert even the best intentioned of us.
Bobbie Harro diagrams the “Cycle of Socialization” as a system that we are born into. For me, it was a world where oppression and stereotypes already existed. I was then socialized by the people around me during “First Socialization.”
I received mixed messages while growing up. My parents did not enforce gender norms, while the people I often interacted with had more traditional views of how boys and girls should dress and behave. I dressed like a boy, had short hair and played soccer instead of continuing with ballet. Even at my progressive Quaker schools, some kids teased me. I was breaking the mold of how a girl is supposed to behave, and therefore had to be punished.
The next level is “Institutional and Cultural Socialization.” I was taught these inadvertently, through the structures I was exposed to. Most of the lawyers my mom worked with were white and all of her bosses were men. There were very few minorities – if any – in the administrations of my schools. When I watched the news, an overwhelming majority of crime was committed by young, black men. At least, that is what the media broadcasted.
At that same time, my church community was recovering from the trauma of being excommunicated for accepting gays and lesbians. Even though this taught me the importance of acting with integrity, it also exposed me to the reality that many otherwise good people can act with ignorance and fear.
“Enforcements” are used to punish those who deviate from the norm and reward those who maintain social expectations. Like everyone else, I internalized negative messages projected by the media, language, song lyrics and institutions. The results of this socialization have, for me, been white guilt, misperceptions about people who are different from me, and my own participation in systems of inequality and a simple lack of awareness.
So I have two options left in the cycle: I can choose to question what I have been taught and reject the systems, or do nothing and continue in the cycle. Thanks to my education and my family’s values, it has been possible for me to learn about what makes the system continue and for me to challenge it.
It is uncomfortable to recognize our own bigotry, but as someone in a position of relative privilege, I have a responsibility to recognize when I misstep and try to repair damaged relationships. Even though I have been raised and conditioned by people who are themselves on the cutting edge of social consciousness, I have to autonomously be aware of how I contribute to systems of oppression, because no one is sheltered from socialization.
This is an abridgement of a paper Emma wrote for her Social Justice Narratives class at Connecticut College.
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