Why It's Important to Speak Out Against Ignorance
by Ejin Jeong
“Why are you calling Caitlyn Jenner a ‘she’? It’s an ‘it’.”
In that moment, my classmate’s derogatory comment had triggered half of the class’ mouths shut. Our English class is very small; twelve students who sit within close proximity to each other around a Harkness table. Two other students who shared the same opinions as him, would nod and continue to crack jokes about how “beautiful” Caitlyn Jenner was in their nasal high-pitched impressionist voices, lips seeping with hatred.
Shock filled my mind. Immediately, I blurted out “that’s not okay” in a held back voice. I could barely process the two surprising events that had happened:
1. Someone had actually said that out loud.
2. I was the only individual who said anything against it.
It was obvious that I was not loud enough. Unfortunately, I was too shocked to prevent these three students from spitting out their transphobic statements. Throughout the school year, I have stood as a singular defendant against the many homophobic and transphobic words that carelessly surrounded me. This was in no way the first instance in which the small clique of students in my English class have chosen to not refrain from speaking harmful words.
A couple of weeks earlier a girl had commented about Caitlyn Jenner, saying “God made you a man and you should stay that way.” I immediately had spoken out, saying that it’s not okay to say things like that in the classroom, only to be ignored and met with no support or back up from my peers nor my teacher. I am no particular supporter or fan of Caitlyn Jenner, but what stops me, is the thought that someone in that class could possibly be transgender or gay. The fact that there are incredibly harmful words being said poses a possibility to hurt someone’s feelings in the classroom.
As a sixteen-year-old high school student, I am at many times disregarded for being “too political” or “too opinionated”. Just a couple of weeks ago a classmate in my English class complained to other students behind my back on how I voiced out my opinion too frequently. This opinion was derived from several moments in the class room in which I would point out why Donald Trump would not be a good presidential candidate (see racism and misogyny) in response to the clique of three students who have openly have supported Trump’s racist policies towards Syrian refugees and Mexican immigrants.
This very opinion was derived from when I would remind those three classmates that calling transgender persons “it” and “disgusting” was not acceptable. This opinion was derived from when I rolled my eyes when a classmate vigorously bashed on the reinforced Gun laws, and said that the shooters had purchased their guns illegally.
This opinion was derived from when I made the classmate stop talking when she discussed how an influx of Muslim refugees would somehow “increase our chances of getting shot.” In 2016, one would imagine that making homophobic and transphobic comments in a classroom would be entirely unacceptable. Unfortunately, when the adults are kicking their feet back and choosing to turn the other cheek to the hateful words that are spit out of pursed lips, it’s up to the peers to speak out.
It’s not easy to speak out when you’re standing by your own. But believe me. It is worth saying something in the moment because you will regret not saying anything later. Without people who speak out, there will be an increased tolerance for hatred. This is 2016, and it’s the right thing to stick for what is the right thing to do. Even if it’s difficult to say something, it is definitely worth approaching an adult to handle the situation. The classroom should be a place of tolerance and equality, not a battlefield where students are afraid to even be themselves because they don’t want to face hatred. The small act of standing up against a homophobic, racist, or transphobic statement, that’s just a step towards equality for everyone. By speaking out, you are letting those people know that it is not okay to say harmful and ignorant words in a classroom setting.