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Educating Others Is More Than a 'Job'

Between the Lines

When you accuse someone of something, you have to prove your allegations. When you want to change the status quo, you have to convince people why your new way of thinking is better. Whether you think your conclusion should already be obvious to people or not, you have the burden of proof.

That’s why I don’t understand antagonism towards those who ask to be educated about racism, sexism, and all the other “-isms” that afflict marginalized people. In the past few years, we have made great progress against these social problems, even taking into account all the backlash against it. But many of the people who want their voices to be heard for things to change are abandoning their roles. They write books titled “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” and articles titled “Feminists are not responsible for educating men.”

It’s understandable if someone is being insulting or threatening. No one should feel obligated to stay and deal with them. However, I’ve heard some people say, “It’s not my job to educate you” or express similar sentiments—less as a legitimate defense against trolls, and more as a cop-out when engaging with curious, well-meaning people who happen to not have marginalized identities. I think this is the most self-defeating strategy that marginalized people can adopt.

It’s easy to say, “It’s not my job to educate you.” That statement is true, after all. But just because it’s not one’s job doesn’t mean one shouldn’t do it. Talking to a possibly skeptical audience is an opportunity to hone one’s positions and to genuinely convince someone. Yes, it’s hard, exhausting, and often futile. But the alternative—not doing anything—is much worse.

If you don’t take the opportunity to teach someone else about your identity, you just give it away to Google. Now, the Internet can be a starting place for learning. For example, when applying for jobs, one often looks up a company beforehand to sound informed during an interview. Similarly, when one want to learn more about others’ experiences and beliefs, one should do some research beforehand. It’s easy enough.

But the Internet is also littered with misinformation and deception. Even in instances where that’s not the case, an online article or YouTube video can never replace the experience of learning from a human being. For those saying that people who don’t share your identity can’t understand your experiences, at least sharing them is better than driving others down Internet rabbit holes.

One argument of those who say “It’s not my job” is that they have already educated people too many times, said the same things too many times. So they accuse people of not having learned already. But people who in good faith ask you to help them understand are not an “oppressors,” even if their “privilege” has shielded them from previously having needed to have these conversations. Why quibble over people's pasts when you can help them develop the educated opinion you want them to have? They won’t get there any other way. Yes, maybe conversations will fail. People might be too naïve, or get too defensive, or reveal that they’re uninterested in what you have to say. But you won’t know until you engage.

People who complain about educating want to skip steps. They want to wake up in a world where everyone already understands and doesn’t need to ask. But we don’t live in that world yet. It has to be made. Those who are in power clearly won’t enact change, so we have to change things ourselves. And we are going to need allies.

This doesn’t mean you always have to be the spokesperson for your marginalized identity. As a former teacher used to tell my class with increasing frequency after President Donald J. Trump was elected, you always have the power to decline to have the conversation. No one’s always ready to answer hard questions and get personal, especially around painfully personal topics. Ultimately, we’re all human beings who are allowed to say no just because we don’t feel like talking today.

But if you opt out of a conversation, then you have to accept the consequences. Namely, you can’t get mad when it turns out that people still do not understand that which you wanted them to grasp. If you were in a position to change things, and you didn’t take it, it’s not their fault.

No, it’s not your job to educate. It shouldn’t be treated as one anyway—quite literally, it’s not something you do to pay the bills, even though it may not excite you. It’s something you do because you want more people to understand your views, to create a more equal world. It’s what you, as a marginalized person who wants to change things for people with that marginalized identity, are in a unique position to do. Educating people is your prerogative.

Dare I even call it a privilege?

Michelle I. Gao ’21, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Weld Hall. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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