Speak up outside the classroom, implores Spidey fan

By Richard Raya

Last year, I was at an off-campus house party, and fools were hella drunk. Craziness, right!? True, most of us have been to an off-campus house party, but if you haven’t read my last couple of pieces, then it’s important that I reiterate that I’m a fluffy little dork whose chief vices are cheeseburgers, superheroes and Flash games. That’s about as dangerous as it gets. Parties in general scare the unagi out of me, and the one pertinent to the story at hand had beer, older kids, bad music, cynicism and a front yard. Needless to say, I was quaking in my little ill-advised evil hipster boots. I was lonely and bedtime was fast approaching. I just wanted to snuggle myself and watch The Karate Kid. I was darting around the house, looking for a way out, when, while passing through the kitchen, I heard something that caught my ear, a snippet of a drunken conversation, at once lazy and quiet but also subtly contentious: “Something-something-white privilege.” My ears didn’t prick up because I was in an American Studies FYC or because I’m Chicano, and I saw here an opportunity to play every race and pretentious education card I had in my deck. True, I love throwing down in matters concerning race and social justice, but as a fresh young man at a shindig with a bunch of educated Mac upperclassmen, I knew I’d probably be outclassed in a battle of wits and rhetoric. It was actually to this end that I stopped and turned around, looking for the source of this conversation; I wanted to see how Mac kids, the real pros, threw down when it came to white privilege and whatnot. The scene: three or four drunk little fluffy fracks seated around a kitchen table, sipping on a couple of Full Sails. A few other gangly hipsters hung around, tallboys dangling from their fingertips, nodding in assent and/or in time with the beat. One of the sleepier looking seated guys raised his bear and addressed the gathered throng. “I just really don’t believe in it, man. I don’t get it. Like, I’m supposed to feel bad about how some white people used to own some slaves? I never owned any slaves. I never took anything from anyone, man. It just doesn’t make any sense.” There were some murmurs from those assembled and silence from the drowsy and the dissenting. I glanced back and forth, sort of just thinking. I disagreed with the guy and was surprised that someone at Mac, an institution I had placed a lot of faith in upon deciding to attend, would feel like that. Then again, people’s beliefs are their own prerogatives. It’s funny how sometimes sobriety can instill more false courage than intoxication. Even though I knew that reasoned rebuttal rarely works on the drunk and that these guys probably wouldn’t remember this conversation in the morning, I also knew that I had a response for this guy, and I really wanted to share it. I cleared my throat and spoke up. “Well—I don’t think that’s really the point, of the concept. You know? I think it’s more that, you know, injustices and inequalities remain through the generations, both for people and for, like, I don’t know, institutions, like banks and courts and stuff. And odds are if you, as a white person, ever has an interaction with one of these, an institution or individual or whatever, you will be carrying or benefitting from that. And not that it’s any one person’s fault. It’s just there. And it just makes things less fair. You know?” The guys at the table blinked, acknowledging my presence. Then they responded, and I responded back. The arguments weren’t the strongest or most eloquent, but we were all talking, exchanging ideas. Much to my surprise and delight, at the end, Mr. White Privilege nodded thoughtfully and said, “You may have something there. Never really thought about it that way.” The point of this story isn’t to relay a goofy experience of freshman-me at a party, or to gloat about winning an argument, or that we all have to believe in white privilege just because I do. Rather, I want it to illustrate something I’ve learned through experiences where I’ve been alternatingly naive, nosy and even brave. If you have something you can share with others, a service or perspective, you’re never really “off duty.” There may be times where you want to speak up but don’t because people are drunk, or too old, or too stubborn, or you just don’t want to be a bother. Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it. But it’s possible to foster conversation and disagreement without being a jerk about it. I’ve been a pedantic little punk at parties, dueled misogynistic nerds on Yu-Gi-Oh Online, and even confronted family members. Each of these experiences, small victories as they may be, have felt far more rewarding than anytime I wrote a strong essay or made a pithy point in class. I know many of us at Mac want to spread social justice in our eventual careers, but we don’t have to put our role as agents of change on hold until then. In short: we all have opportunities (I would argue even responsibilities) to affect justice and incite discourse not just in some vague future, but daily, among those we love and in the communities we are a part of. That’s where we feel it most. refresh –>