Seated at the wooden benches at the open-aired area at my favorite vegetarian restaurant, a group of six students and I waited for food and the commencement of our anti-oppression readings discussion. I was nervous and excited for the topics of privilege, intersectionality, systems of oppression, and allydom. Talking through them allows you to learn so much from yourself and the experience of others. Talking through them can be emotionally charged, vulnerable, and assumptive. Needless to say, expressing the ways we have been oppressed and the ways in which we perpetuate systems of oppression is not the stuff of casual dinner conversation. It is however, a critical conversation for relationship building, for understanding the identities and experiences we bring with us in our interactions as human beings, for building a common ground for working together, working for justice.
The discussion commenced and flowed. It was informed by the immortal voices of McIntosh, Hill, Edwards, and Hooks. It came to life through our internalization of these readings, our understanding of how they reflected past experiences or informed future aspirations. It was intimate, honest, supportive, and challenging. There was active listening; there was building off of each other’s contributions. It was interspersed by acknowledgements of a shared space together—the restaurant cat choosing a lap to occupy, a request for the passing of an unfamiliar dish. It was human and cathartic.
After two hours in feeling engaged with each word spoken, in feeling more alive myself, we walked back to the office together. We stopped for a favorite Thai dessert (chocolate balls!) and skipped from patch to patch of the pavement not completely submerged by the day’s rains.
It felt like some barriers were crumbling. I felt closer, and more capable of seeing into the complex lives of each student and understanding their contributions to a shared learning space.
Is it a single turning point? Is this the pivotal component to achieving my goal? Unlikely. But its certainly one of many instances which, if adequately reflected upon, may help get there.
Drops of water turn the wheel, singly none.