by Juliana Rose
Racial Justice Intern at YWCA Missoula
YWCA Missoula’s motto, “Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women,” describes in a nutshell the work the YWCA has been doing for years. Now however, the organization is taking a step forward in furthering its goal of eliminating racism with the Racial Justice Initiative.
The Initiative is a program that strives to make YWCA Missoula a leader in racial justice work through education and awareness.
This is where I come in. My name is Juliana, and I am the new intern on the block. I also have the distinct honor of being the first intern for the Racial Justice program. My job is to expand the program’s visibility and reach through social media (check us out on Facebook!), as well as provide opinion pieces in newspapers across the state. My goal is to get conversations going about issues of racism in our communities and within ourselves.
We all know racism is bad. Yet, racist behavior still occurs, often in subtle ways that we don’t realize. We’re taught to recognize obvious racism like hate crimes, foul names and blatantly racist personalities. But the sneaky kinds of racism that pop up in every day social situations are harder to identify, let alone stop.
Coming into this internship I had an interest in social justice issues, but racism wasn’t really on my radar. Yet, as I spend more time listening and learning, I see more and more indicators that racism isn’t a thing of the past. I feel myself becoming more aware of comments and jokes that I never before noticed.
It’s not something that’s been easy to think about, let alone write about. The comments I hear aren’t coming from strangers. They are friends and family – people I like, because on the whole, they’re pretty good people. But now I have questions like: What’s the line between joking and promoting racist stereotypes? When do I say something? When do I let it go? Am I being too sensitive? What am I saying that’s not OK? These are hard questions as I realize that this is not just something with which I now work, but fill life all around me. Socially, it’s impossible to escape.
So how do I take this new awareness in my own life and turn it into something positive? Well, first, I share my experience on the World Wide Web; I am a product of the technological era after all. Then I realize that being aware is the first step to making change. If I’m not ignorant to what is going on around me, I can begin to contribute to changing the situation.
Now that I’ve begun to see patterns and problems I can start conversations. I can make other people aware – people like you. Maybe a week from now, you will be having a conversation with a friend and something inside your brain will give you a little nudge as your friend says something that strikes you. You’re not quite sure why until you remember that YWCA blog post, and you wonder, Was that a racist comment? If you think about it for a bit, you’ll probably be able to tell whether or not it was.
This pause, this momentary reflection, is important. It’s the first step to becoming aware of the racism that hides in places we don’t think to look. But start looking. Take a look at the news, check around YouTube, and keep your ears open when you’re talking with friends. Realizing there is a problem is the first step to solving it.
Cross-posted with permission from YWCA Missoula