Rose Lamberti is a student with a strong interest in women's rights.
I was 13 years old sitting outside of Good Life Fitness at a mall near home waiting for my brother to come pick me up when I first felt threatened by the hierarchy. A black pickup truck with heavy-duty construction tools in the back passed by where I was sitting. The window rolled down, and a young man who looked about 30 years old at most poked his head out. The smirk on his face as his cold eyes looked me up and down made my heart stop.
“Hey pretty lady—need a lift?” he asked, following the query with a wink. I did not say anything. I sat there in silence, shocked. My mom used to tell me stories about her own experiences like these, but I never thought they would happen to me. He laughed as I just stared at him in disgust, and then he motored off.
That was the first time I felt helpless, voiceless, and weak as a woman.
American psychologist Tara Brach explains in her podcast, Freedom From Othering: Undoing the Myths That Imprison Us, the levels of the hierarchy. Gender, sex, race, and class are all categories that determine our place in society. She says that when the U.S. Declaration of Independence “stated that all men are created equal, it wasn’t for women, it was for men. It was about equality for whites, but not for blacks or American Indians—they were considered humans of a lesser type.”
What I have noticed since I was young is that the white male has been considered the higher power within society—they have been considered to be the “stronger ones.” When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, it was one of the happiest moments I remember as a child because I thought, “Hey, maybe this is when the world starts to change for the betterment of society.”
Obama was the first black president of the U.S, creating a change in this societal hierarchy that Brach was talking about, which people all around the world found inspiring. The thing about change, though, is that people who are privileged view equality as oppression against themselves; they see equality as a threat to the power their privilege has over others.
When Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S., it was as if society took a step back. Trump has expressed racist, homophobic, and sexist remarks during his campaign and throughout his time in office. His administration has done everything in its power to try to erase Obama’s accomplishments. Trump has acted as a figurehead of the patriarchy and continued to give voice to individuals who express views and opinions of oppression. During Obama’s presidency, I knew there were people who had racist, sexist, hateful beliefs, but Trump’s presidency has given these people a way to express themselves at a higher level of power once again.
That day at the mall, I felt my lowest because that afternoon made me realize that even though I live in suburbia, these issues that I see on the news every day can affect me too. But that’s the thing that made me feel the most pain about the entire subject of oppression—it was like in order for me to care and acknowledge it, it had to happen to me. As we discussed in my social justice class, we’ve been exposed to news broadcasts every day talking about these horrible events—like the refugee crisis or the Rohingya genocide—so much that we’re numb to it. We have the mindset )and I have even heard in the halls at my school) that “It’s not in Canada, so who cares? It doesn't affect us so why should we care?”
Why Should We Care?
That’s a good question. It all goes back to social responsibility—raising your voice for those who do not have one. Take Colin Kaepernick for example—he knelt during the national anthem not to be disrespectful but to demonstrate that our democracy has been injured by the continued racism and oppression we see in the world even today.
A peer in my English class once told me that he believed “Kaepernick never experienced racism; he makes millions as a football star.” This led to my explanation of social responsibility once again. Kaepernick used his platform, the NFL, to show solidarity against racism and oppression for everyone—not just himself. He raised his voice for those who could not.
The thing about the town I grew up in, Oakville, is that it's a very rich and privileged neighbourhood. What I have noticed over the past three years is that the kids I go to school with are only seeing these world issues from their perspective. The hierarchy that Brach is talking about is something that my peers and I have grown up with. What I am seeking to explain to them is that in order to understand the world, you need to see it from everyone’s perspective.
How would you feel if you were hated because of the colour of your skin? How would you feel if you were told that you belong in a kitchen and not a seat in Congress because of your gender? What if you were told that you should "go back from where you came from” because of your ethnicity or religion? Painful, isn't it?
As teens, we are told to have fun when we're young, but that doesn't mean we should be ignorant and dismissive of those less fortunate who are discriminated against on a daily basis. We need to realize we are the next generation, and we cannot keep quiet anymore. We need to eliminate this hierarchy and make sure everyone has equal opportunities despite our differences.
What I hope people realize is that the world is a scary place. Staying in our safe bubble of privilege will not do us any good in our lives, and we cannot continue to keep our voices down when we see something going wrong.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.