High school has been a process of learning and being exposed to new concepts in so many ways. Just this year, I joined an initiative through my social studies teacher's organization Teaching Cleveland called the Teaching Cleveland Student Challenge, whose focus this year is addressing the issue of race in the greater Cleveland Area, and I've been exposed to perspectives I've never even considered in my life.
On top of that, I'm taking a human rights course with that teacher and learning all about America's racial history and human rights issues on a global scale and becoming familiar with issues that I didn't even know existed. With all of the human rights issues occurring going into 2017, it seems as though it's getting harder and hard to make change, but more and more necessary.
November 9th, 2016 was a hard day. There was a thickness in the air, like something needed to be said but no one knew how to say it. I saw so many strong women break down in fear or sadness or disappointment or betrayal. That day I wore a pin that said, "my country doesn't care about me," and several girls read it and nodded or agreed because they understood. There was no hope in the hallways that day. And we heard, "get over it," as if it was over, as if it was the Indians losing the World Series and there was always next year, as if it was only one night, as if it would disappear with the next big headline.
That Wednesday I mourned, and that Thursday I mobilized. I talked to my friends, I made plans to brighten the halls again, because I know nothing but how to spread joy. I made posters on bright paper with facts and quotes from five brilliant women who made history in the 2016 election-- Tammy Duckworth, Ilhan Omar, Kamala Harris, Kate Brown, and Catherine Cortez Masto-- with the bipartisan intention to show women that we can make a difference in a world so adamantly stacked against us.
Of course, my plan to brighten the halls wasn't very well-thought-out, I guess, because I broke the rule that you can't put posters up on painted walls in my school, so they were taken down. And though I know this was a pre-existing rule that had nothing to do with the content of my posters, I was incredibly discouraged by this and I didn't put them back up, even on the walls they were allowed to be on. That Thursday I felt unstoppable, but I was stopped.
I've never felt as stoppable as I did in 2016. I went through rejection and loss and disappointment and a whole lot of pain. But no matter how stoppable I feel, I cannot let myself be stopped. I have to keep pushing.
This year, through Human Rights and Teaching Cleveland and all of the social activism I have taken part in, I've explored the racial identity of my peers, of my city, and of the world I live in, and I've even considered my own racial identity and learned how my whiteness has affected my worldview in such a significant way. I was born in a world that, for the most part, accepted the way I look. Being Jewish, queer, and overweight, I have faced prejudices, but nothing that could compare to the harsh reality of being black in America. I am so, so privileged. And because of this, I have been confronted with the importance, not simply of learning new things about the world around me, but of unlearning the toxic ideologies and tendencies of my ancestors and of the society I live in.
When you're white, it's so easy to be unaware. It's so easy to keep living with the problematic thoughts and tendencies you grow up with. It's so easy to never learn anything and it's so easy to sit on your ass and look away when things are bad for other people because it doesn't affect you. I'm all about learning new things but I think the biggest thing white people need to do is UNLEARN the old stuff. You can be taught about race issues but never absorb any of it because of your preconceived notions and stereotypes. Unlearning is a process you have to go through by yourself and it's not easy. It's damn hard to get rid of what you know so well but you'll never change if you don't do it. Only once the current generation unlearns what the old generations taught us can we ensure that the next generation doesn't have to go through that because they'll learn it right the first time. Teaching is not enough because you can bring a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Learning is not enough because building is unproductive when you're building on a faulty foundation.
In 2016, I pushed harder than ever to make change and experienced push-back in ways I never had before (except for that one time, in 8th grade, when I ran for student council president and kids tore down my posters that was pretty eerily similar, wow), but I kept pushing. Even if I didn't change anything huge, I may have been able to brighten people's days just a little bit.
In 2017, the year I graduate high school and move on to bigger, better things, I will continue to learn and unlearn and to reach out and touch the lives of those around me, and for that reason, I will be unstoppable.
Attached are the posters originally posted in my school, along with a poster I made with the intention of being hung in teacher's classrooms to spark meaningful conversations. Teachers-- I encourage you to print and post any of these in your classrooms. Thanks!