During all of my time at this prestigious institution, the discourse about social injustice has always outweighed the activism. And in one instant this week, I realized just how much that reality matters to me.
I’m currently in Washington D.C., where I’m studying with Stanford in Washington (SIW). I recently saw on a local news channel that a woman named Sharmeka Moffitt had suffered from third degree burns on over 60% of her body. Some reports claimed that Moffitt had been burned by members of the Klu Klux Klan; Moffitt reported that three hooded men attacked her and then etched “KKK” on her car windshield.
I returned to the SIW house ready to share the news with other students. When I did, some students acted completely surprised, asked why it had not made national news, and then immediately returned to eating their grilled salmon, rice pilaf and assorted desserts.
I could not help but question everything around me at that moment. How many women would have to burn in order for people to respond? Do we honestly believe that one provocative question and a moment of silence will put an end to the innumerable injustices that still exist in our society? While the details of the Moffitt case are now uncertain, I have nonetheless been left questioning our approach to injustice. Consequently, I have spent a good deal of my time here at Stanford in Washington grappling with the many sociopolitical issues that have somehow escaped the presidential campaign agenda, escaped Stanford’s agenda and ultimately may have escaped this nation’s agenda.
I find it hard to ignore that of the children born in 2001, one in every three Black youth and one in every six Latino youth will be incarcerated.
I find it hard to ignore that 75 percent of this generation will be unable to qualify for participation in the military due to their “inability” to demonstrate reading proficiency.
I find it hard to ignore that after 600,000 American deaths in the Civil War, 3,437 lynchings of Black Americans since the Reconstruction, and dozens of deaths during the nonviolent civil rights struggles of the 1960s, 9,000 African-Americans are still murdered each year. And 93% of those deaths are caused by other African-Americans.
I find it hard to ignore that less than two years ago, UC San Diego students hung a lynch rope from a light fixture on campus, imitated what they considered “life in the ghetto” and called many Black Student Union members a wide array of racial epithets.
I find it hard to ignore that a child dies of poor sanitation every 20 seconds.
I find it hard to ignore that America is number one in number of billionaires – and number one in number of those incarcerated.
I find it hard to ignore that of 234 American cities, 53% prohibit begging and 40% prohibit sleeping in public places.
I find it hard to ignore that in 2009, over 6,600 hate crimes took place based upon race, gender, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity.
Booker T. Washington once said, “Success may injure individuals, institutions and countries more than poverty.” I am of the belief that many of us, already positioned on our various paths to success, may rely too heavily on the success of the change agents that came before us, that we somehow may in fact believe that all the work has been done.
We are content with three-minute, 30-minute or three-hour round table discussions about race, class and privilege and are thus satisfied with conversations that many times present no new information, to the same old faces that always engage in these conversations. Consequently, we revel in our success while we are poor in change, poor in action and poor in dedication to the issues that could ruin this century.
Many talk big and act small.
I am afraid that this generation will stagnate and ultimately regress by resting complacently upon the literature and legacies of the many 20th-century leaders who actually acted upon their beliefs after spending nights discussing the crippling issues that pervaded society.
I am afraid that after all of the work we do here, we will think we’ve pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps and lose sight of the fact that so many don’t have boots in the first place.
I am afraid that we have become so critical of resume building that we now masquerade under guises of social activism and service.
I am afraid that this generation will only have conversations and, even worse, only those that are comfortable.
I am afraid that we will return to our communities, return to our “usual” surroundings, and forget about the “unusual” circumstances of those who are homeless, in poverty or serving time in prison.
I am afraid that we will get caught up in the suspended realities that Stanford culture creates and fail to recognize the prevalence of race-based, ethnically based, gender-based, faith-based and orientation-based discrimination.
I am afraid that we will be too busy to remember victims, honor survivors and become advocates.
I am afraid that we will be a generation that says everything and does nothing.
Work is the foundation of a life of meaning. If we don’t do the work, we leave nothing of significance behind. What work have we done? What work are we doing now? What work are we going to do to fight the many ills that plague us on a local, national and international level?
I leave you with one more quote – one that sums up my critique of Stanford approaches to social issues:
“It’s not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out where the strong man stumbled or where the doer of great deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena. Whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. Who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again. And who, while daring greatly, spends himself in a worthy cause so that his place may not be among those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I don’t want us to spend our lives being critics when we can fight in the ring, when we can put our leadership, abilities, even our very lives behind our rhetoric to fight injustice. We can overcome this enemy of injustice with the weapon that can truly have the most impact: real action.
I hope to return to a campus that is as dedicated to action as it is to discourse.
Jessica Anderson ‘14