Pull up a chair. Sit down.
Come take a peek inside my mind and heart for a second, see if you can feel a little of what's brought me to this place after six years of trying to find my own voice.
See, I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana- home of voodoo, Mardi Gras, zydeco, blues, community, mind-numbing racism, and horrifying chauvinistic violence. My culture- the part of me I draw on for strength- is Native American, African, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Chinese, and European all blended into one distinct entity unlike any other I've seen so far. My culture is warm and vibrant, open and giving, a melting pot that blends all cultures into it 'til you can't tell where one ends and the other begins; but it's also a culture steeped in ignorance, where the people who claim it as their own discriminate and hate on those they adopted their traditions from. Taking a step back and learning of all the different cultures that mixed together to make this amazing fabric of tradition gives eye-opening insight into where the roots of Louisiana truly sprout from and how they uniquely mesh together. However, most Louisianians never get the chance to do this. To talk of Louisiana is to talk about a poor state. Louisiana has the kind of poor where people who have nothing will open their arms wide to give you everything, as well as the kind of frustrating poor where you feel trapped in a black hole because you have nothing else and know you will never have a chance to get anything else. This is the kind of poor that also brings a different habit of its own to the front, namely that of thinking "I may not have much, but at least I ain't black/Mexican/white trash/etc.."
This is the state I come from, where by the age of fourteen the majority of girls I knew- including me- had been either abused, molested, or raped (usually a combination of two or all three) and now at the age of twenty-four the majority of my former classmates are married or have had a couple kids already. Sometimes it's both, and those are the lucky ones. A handful even have degrees. For the most part, though, women are looked on as existing solely for men, so why would they bother with a degree? We're taught young that we're good for sex, and we get knocked up young to keep us from education, which in turn strengthens chauvinism and perpetuates the ignorance that allows these perceptions.
This is my home, but I'll be damned if you ever find me moving back there. My experiences from that place haunt me strongest of all my memories, but they also motivated me to apply to a Women's Studies/Ethnic Studies major to find an outlet for them. I don't have a strong academic background in Women's Studies to support my application, nor have I taken a multitude of courses to convince me a dual major with Ethnic Studies is the way to go. All I have is 24 years weighing on me, driving me crazy the longer I keep inside the memories. Memories like having my best friend sob to me that her cousin molested her at gunpoint and how her uncle beat her while her mother quietly consoled "It's okay, honey, he's just drunk" weigh my soul down. Memories like how I was called a dirty wigger in school and by one of my stepmothers for loving rap music and black culture (which is really to say loving Louisiana's culture) undeniably color my world view. The look in the eyes of the girl I met in the halfway house that explained to me without words what it meant to be poor, black, and female in the South when I told her she was beautiful haunts me when I look at our society. My own conversion to Islam and experience of being pushed to the fringes of popular perception simply because I wear a scarf on my head pulls me to explore the roots of my culture and act on the belief that knowledge and tolerance can work to drive out hate in any place. All I have to support my choice of a dual major in Women's Studies and Ethnic Studies is life experience and the absolute conviction that things aren't right- but that they can be.
To me, America is a vibrant mixing of people and cultures from all backgrounds and walks of life struggling to survive, co-exist, adapt, and evolve with each other, in spite of each other; Ethnic Studies is the study of America for me. Along with this, growing up from child to woman in this environment has led me to see the great strength that women from all different backgrounds possess, as well as notice how they are disproportionately taken advantage of and discriminated against. This is what brings me to Women's Studies, to find some cameraderie in all the things I've experienced and to take a chance at working to make things better. These realities weigh on me- some days heavier than others- dragging me down the longer I keep them to myself and do nothing to change them. They drag me down but propel me forward at the same time, driving me to do something to change things for a future hope that how things are now isn't how they have to be.
How dangerous is Hope? One might as well ask how dangerous Love is. This isn’t referring to the fantastical notions of “true love” popularized by the superficial film industry as distraction. No, this is the kind of Love Tariq Ramadhan calls for in his appeals to humanity, for it is quite completely, naturally, dangerously, human. Dangerous and revolutionary, for how radical is a Love that asks for nothing in return other than to be? How painful, too… It exists as dangerous and revolutionary in a “modern” world that has decayed, clutching claws reaching out from multiple areas to grip at its head and turn it with a longing gaze towards those who glorify war, violence, and fatalistic “survival of the fittest.” What place can Love have in forced constructions such as this other than to break those gnarled talons in order to gently allow society’s head to come back around and tenderly rest its gaze on those previously disenfranchised and left for dead? How revolutionary, to continue to turn past the histrionic megalomaniacs of history to look for the foundations of humanity! Embedded in this form of Love is Hope, for it exists wherever there is the desire for communal uplift and harmony.