Section: Opinion

Tired of hearing about ‘social justice?’ Keep listening.

A week ago, four guys were driving down Wiggin Street while I was walking back to my dorm. They said nothing to the guy walking a few yards in front of me, but as they passed me, the driver rolled down his window and yelled, “Hey, show us your tits!” They did the same thing to another woman behind me. My instinct was immediately defensive. My backpack is usually big enough to be used as a weapon, but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t help. Even though it was the middle of the day and the sun was out, I felt cold. What would I do if these men pulled up next to me, or next to the woman behind me? Did I have enough time to call Safety?

I have no idea if these men are affiliated with the College. I hope they aren’t. And of course, they could have just been making a dumb joke. While there’s probably not much we can do about private citizens driving down the street spewing vitriol, I bring this up because I’ve been noticing something I’ve dubbed “social injustice fatigue.” This is when people, usually not a part of the group affected by a particular brand of oppression, express how sick and tired they are hearing of the need for equity for all, or hearing about the details of institutional racism, to name two examples in a long list. Getting catcalled, though trivial compared to other social justice concerns, reminded me that inequality is far from over.

I’ve seen it happen in myriad ways, during conversations in person and in posts on Yik Yak, both on campus and at home. As the facility of disseminating information about social injustice has grown, more and more people are able to access it, and perhaps that’s where this comes from. What happened reminded me again of how the “Kenyon bubble” is perhaps more like a net: It has holes and frayed knots letting people in and out. Because of this fluidity, and because the world is changing so fast, I wonder how some are willing to say they’re done hearing and learning about these issues, because they theoretically “already know about them” and “just want everyone to be equal.”

It generally falls to activists, in whatever form they may take, to educate the people around them about social issues, due to a generally inconsistant level of education about them in American society. Feeling tired of hearing about oppression and how it’s still prevalent seems menial in comparison to those who are living it each day, knowing they’re suffering due to ugly problems mostly out of their control, and the insidious ways our society has managed to maintain the status quo under the radar. Saying one is tired of hearing it is, at its core, a mechanism for silencing someone, and thereby continuing the cycle of systematic oppression.

This is not to say you’re a bad person if you’ve done this. Everyone can grow and change, especially at college. But  letting people speak their truths is an essential part of creating change, and our community has to be open to hearing it. Disengaging for a couple of days can be OK, of course, especially if the news is tough to handle and process. But flipping an off switch and deciding that one knows everything already, and needs no more information is weak, and we can do better.

Gabrielle Healy is undeclared from Fairhaven, Mass. Contact her at healyg@kenyon.edu.

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