It was the second week since everyone had moved in and I was hanging out with a new group of people in efforts to make some friends for the semester. We were having a game night at one of the older students’ apartments. We played Quiplash, an online game included in a Jackbox Party Pack where everyone submits answers to fill in the blank questions and they vote on which one is the best. The game was going well, everybody was laughing and having a good time and then it popped up on the screen.
Right when the “n-word” appeared as one of the answer choices, the room filled with shock-induced laughter. Without a single person of color in the room, it was a forbidden laughter fueled by the idea that they wouldn’t get in trouble for laughing. I sat in the back of the room appalled by the group’s humor, yet I remained silent. The laughter died down and everyone casted their votes. Laughter filled the room again as the results were revealed, showing all but two votes siding with the “n-word.”
I laid awake in bed that night as I replayed the incident repeatedly in my brain, my restlessness fueled by guilt over my cowardice. “Why didn’t you say something?” I thought as I internally interrogated myself. I had just sat there as a room full of white people dismissively laughed off the derogatory term that has been used to discriminate against Black people for centuries. Even though I didn’t laugh or vote for the submission, I was just as bad as the person who submitted it and those who found it humorous despite the horrific suffering associated with that word.
Most people have been in a situation similar to this one, oftentimes reacting in line with the rest of the group or remaining silent like I did. It is difficult to speak up and go against a group, but that isn’t an excuse to let your peers commit racist, sexist and other harmful acts to society. In order to move towards a more equal and inclusive society, we have to not only hold ourselves accountable for our actions, but our peers as well.
This is important to do all the time, though it is especially pertinent currently when personal accountability, or rather lack thereof, directly affects the health of an entire population. Somebody who is not wearing a mask in enclosed spaces or not following COVID-19 guidelines is endangering the health of everybody around them and should be called out for their inconsideration.
By requesting that they follow the guidelines, you are potentially saving countless lives, and you should never feel bad for holding others accountable. Oftentimes, people will ignore COVID restrictions because the people around them are too, but do not be pressured into risking your health or allowing others to risk theirs. Not only is not adhering to the guidelines set by health professionals and scientific experts disrespectful to those who have lost family members to this virus, but it also just continually drags this pandemic along, making it even longer before we can get back to how life was before the virus hit.
Along with calling people out who ignore safety guidelines, it’s also extremely important to stand up to your friends and family on their racist and sexist tendencies. Political correctness has been turned into an insult recently, used by insensitive people to bash anybody who corrects them on their inappropriate behavior.
Casual racism and sexism that might’ve been quietly dismissed a few decades ago are no longer tolerable and standing up against discriminatory acts should never be criminalized because of people who are uncomfortable with equality.
Small acts of discrimination that don’t necessarily seem racist or sexist on the surface are called microaggressions, and it is important to detect these acts when they are committed and call them out. An example of a microaggression would be telling a Black person that they are well spoken or that they speak very clearly. While this may seem as an innocent compliment, it is indicating that Black people inherently speak less intelligently than white people, enforcing a stereotype that has existed all throughout American history and was seen often when white actors would play Black people during the Jim Crow era.
Another example would be following up a compliment with “for a girl” or any other characteristic. By including those few words at the end, the compliment turns into an insult on an entire population of people, indicating that they should behave differently because of their characteristics. These small actions still have large impacts and they should be called out when they are used.
When you correct somebody on their actions, more often than not they will become defensive and call you soft or too sensitive. In reality, it is immensely courageous and strong to stand up to somebody, especially when you are in a group setting or with friends and family. It is important to rise above the intimidation of correcting others in order to shift society to a more inclusive state and to do so in a kind, non-insulting way.
With that being said, there will undoubtedly be times when you fail to stand up to indecencies around you. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. As long as you learn from that experience and use it as motivation to correct others when you find yourself in a similar situation, you are doing your part to change the world for the better.
I deeply regret not standing up to the group that used the “n-word” for humorous purposes, and I would go back and change how I acted that night in a heartbeat if I could. Unfortunately, we cannot go back and erase our mistakes. We can only learn from them and better ourselves so we do not repeat them.
As John Powell says, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
Ben Goldberger is a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He can be reached email@example.com.
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