Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the discussion of privilege and social justice. How do we aim for more awareness
Flickr credit to: Anton Khoff
in a country that chooses not to be? Admittedly, it can be and is rather frustrating to meet people who don’t know that racism still exists or feel that women have earned sexual assault. When you turn on the news, or read a new headline online – all the oppression is maddening. So the people who had dedicated a great deal of time – if not their lives – to combatting ignorance are justifiably angry. Or just plain frustrated.
To a certain extent you would think more people would be on board, that more people would just know so that we can move forward.
But not everyone knows.
There’s a lot in life that many people – myself included – will never experience. For much of my existence, I didn’t know about child abuse or its survivors until I made a friend who helped enlighten me. I have learned that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before she turns 18. How more than 60% of pregnant teens are sexually abused as children. That 90% of abuse toward children is committed by people the child knows (relatives, family friends, etc).
With over 39 millions survivors of sexual abuse living in America, this should be something that people should be enraged about, ready to fight against. And yet – nothing. I would say that victims and survivors of child abuse are one of the most silenced, and marginalized members of our society.
But I can’t forget that I became aware of child abuse through friends and memoirs I have read. I can’t forget that I became aware of how pervasive rape is by attending Take Back The Night at my all-women’s college. I realized how powerful fat shaming had become by reading stories of women who were severely neglected by hospital doctors.
We learn by asking questions, by trying to understand where each person comes from. 1 in 3 women in the United States is raped, but that number might not mean anything to you until you’ve met the survivors, until you realize the extent that women suffer at the hands of a callous judicial system – 15 of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail.
And while all the statistics I listed here are readily available to you on the web, how many people would go out of their way to research it? Many men and women dedicate their time and energy to education, fundraising and volunteering to help spread awareness and yet many people remain ignorant. Disinterested. Or worse – indifferent.
Ignorance is much like a sleeping virus – you don’t know you have it until something triggers it. Then, you are bombarded with all this new information and an eagerness to learn.
And at this juncture we have a problem. The crossroads of where knowledge and experience meet YOU. You don’t know that you don’t know, so you ask questions. Maybe you’ll face rejection or insult. People saying that privilege has made you ignorant, and that you need to educate yourself. And yet here you are – attempting to educate yourself.
In a world where people continue to suffer daily at the hands of oppression, disinterest and hate – lack of knowledge is unacceptable. And yet there is it. In a world where numbers mean nothing until it personally affects us, the urgency for compassion can’t be ignored.
The need for both compassion and patience for those who “know not what they do (or say)” is overwhelming. We literally can’t have discussions with just ourselves or the people who support us – that is not progress. Even though it can be (and at times is) painful to talk to people who have no idea the kind of suffering many endure, to completely shut down is detrimental.
Some people are angry and belligerent – putting their ignorance on full blast. Some people are unassuming and timid in their ignorance. But no matter what – we must come from a place of compassion. If not for them – then for ourselves. Anger will stall the debate, and impatience will turn away those honestly seeking to learn.
I think it’s time to stop holding people’s ignorance against them.
“To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.”
Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881)