A PSA: Combating Ignorance in a Divisive World

I find that being an intersectional feminist in the real world is exceptionally difficult because you can’t correct every racial slur and every sexist comment. Speaking to ignorant people is as productive as speaking to a wall; I actually think you would find that speaking to a wall is far more tolerable.

I am a person who is very selective about who I keep close to me, and as a result, I don’t have anyone around me who is discriminatory in any way. Last month, however, I started my first retail job. I have had an influx in the amount of people that are around me and it has been a struggle.

I have dealt with my fair share of ignorance so I am perfectly aware of how infuriating it can be trying to talk sense to the senseless. When I first encountered this behaviour, it was a non-black person using the N word — I was extremely confused but I said nothing. This also would bring up the discussion of whether it is my place to say anything, seeing as I am not black, but that is for another time.

I’ve had customers make racist remarks and treat me as if I were not educated at all because I’m just a brown retail worker who doesn’t know enough. I have never encountered this type of behaviour before, or perhaps I was oblivious to it. I went to a private high school and when I wore my uniform I was treated well, but now I don’t have a well-marketed high school name that proves that I am worthy of respect — now I’m subject to stereotypes.

I work with people who are qualified to be managers, public relations specialists, musicians, marketing specialists, future paramedics and engineers; all intelligent people who haven’t been given any opportunity to pursue their talents and dreams. They are, however, treated as less than equal, and I often feel helpless in that I cannot help them.

It can be difficult not to start believing that these behaviours are normal, especially when they are put so subtly and consistently. I think that even if we aren’t fighting people directly about certain issues, we can contribute a positive influence by expressing that we are uncomfortable with this kind of behaviour.

I cannot say that I am an outspoken person, and perhaps that is why I don’t want to challenge anybody. I suppose if you are brave enough to argue and still have civil relations with the person you argued with, then go ahead and please let me know how to do that. If you are a bit more timid like me, try mentioning that what was said sounded insulting and suggest an alternative, but in all honesty, I’m still working this out.

It is my truest belief that we cannot change people by just encouraging them to speak in a politically correct way. The most effective way in which to make a difference is to change the social landscape — whether this is through media, or even just discussing issues with your friends and family so that they too may become more aware.

It is also important to be aware that we cannot change strangers; it is unlikely that a stranger will care about your opinion, so don’t be hard on yourself for not getting every person you’ve met to become respectful of others. It is our duty to ensure that the people we love are going around with the information they need to be as respectful as possible — what they do with the information you give them is not in your control. You can control what you share, but not what people take from what you’ve shared.

No matter what we do, ignorant people will follow, and we shouldn’t have a fight with all of them because that would be exhausting — and if you are working you will probably get fired. Instead, all we can do is make sure we are respectful and inclusive.

The world just needs a few good people and a domino effect will happen. We all unintentionally adopt traits from the people around us and they do the same, so progressive thinking can be adopted as well. So go out in the world and be the most empathetic and kind person you can be!