One night over dinner with my family, we heard someone on TV in the background mention the Bill Cosby cases. I looked up from my plate and saw officers escort a stumbling Cosby through a crowd and said something along the lines of, “I’m glad the justice system is working for now.” I was optimistic. What followed was a long conversation about the legacy Bill Cosby had left behind, how it was a shame that these events came back up when he had done so well for himself and so much for our community (the NBC theory). Basically, it examined everything except the criminal charges he was facing. The phrase “I don’t really like this whole radical thing you’ve gotten into,” was uttered. I left the dinner table feeling frustrated and drained.
College has opened my eyes to a lot of things in the past few years, and nothing more so than the reality of race in this country. Just like that kid from The Shining seeing dead people, I see race almost everywhere. And while this has not made me angry enough to shun everyone who does not look like me, it has changed my perspective and my tolerance of certain things (cultural appropriation and harmful language, for example). In high school, I passed off certain events as harmless that I would never accept now. I was the shy, quiet, but still intelligent girl and I blended into my family dynamic fairly well. Since I came to Emory I have become less shy about being more vocal about many issues and current events through my writing and conversation. In my opinion, it is a positive change.
Even though these changes have helped me see the world in new ways, I do sometimes worry about the strain they have placed on my relationships with my loved ones. Many of my relatives have views that are nearly opposite to mine regarding race, gender, sexuality, and several other issues. While my conversation with my parents ended respectably and we bounced back to a happy family dynamic fairly quickly, this conversation has made me question how comfortable I am being so vocal when I know my own family will not always agree with me. I would not even call myself radical, but that is my label in my family. Am I willing to risk losing the love and respect of the people I hold closest to me?
I know I am not the only one who experiences this on a regular basis. I have talked to dozens of Emory students of color and students whose identities conflict with the values of their families. Some students dread holidays because it means they will have to be immersed in an environment that is ultimately harmful to them. Many of these students, my peers, have to make painful decisions as to how much of themselves they will hide just to make it through the holidays. This decision is completely up to the individual and everyone should feel comfortable enough to express themselves in their family environment. I believe it takes work on both sides to learn how to have real dialogue, be open to new ideas and perspectives, and not be afraid to learn something from every conversation.
Ashley Graham, Lifestyle Editor