The point of acceptance, I’ve found, is not so much blatant and uninhibited understanding, but a willingness to learn. It’s rooted in the foundation that as human beings, we are always evolving our consciences to make ourselves better people.
I attended an event Thursday at the Ohio Union. The guest speaker was Aamer Rahman, a comedian of Bangladeshi descent who was born and raised in Australia.
In his piece titled “The Truth Hurts,” he talked about hard economic, social and political constructs the world faces today with sharp wit and a cunning nature. There were very few moments where the room was not filled with an uproarious cackling, from myself included. I sat in the very back of the room, hoping to catch a better glimpse of the show as the fly on the wall, pen and notebook in hand, taking down quotes from the piece that I thought might resonate with my audience at The Lantern for a full story. But the story that I sought to find was not the story that I left with.
His jokes were hysterical. Timing was flawless, and the whole room at each punch line would break into unexplainable fits of laughter that seemed to echo into the whole room and shake its core. It didn’t matter what content he spoke of, we all laughed. While speaking of stereotypes, white girls, Muslim haters and terrorist propaganda, he seemed to make the room feel more at ease with just a few sounds into a microphone.
So then why was I starting to feel so queasy? I had reported many stories before, most not as fun as this one would be. I looked down at my notebook at the questions that I had prepared for Rahman for afterward, and I started to panic.
Now before I continue, I should probably mention some important details. I’ve always been the kind to recognize my privilege in regards to race. I am more ethnically diverse than I come off at first glance, but I do still realize that the basis of my roots are European, meaning that no matter what, I’m still a common white girl.
But even without that mention, I shouldn’t have felt uncomfortable in that room, listening to him speak. I’ve been diversified my entire life, and I know what it’s like to feel like the one who is alone, so why was it so hard now?
Then it hit me. I took a look around the room. I was one of a handful of white people sitting in the crowd, and I was beginning to notice some jokes were starting to go over my head. They were going over my head not because I didn’t care, but because I didn’t know. How could I report on this story if I hadn’t lived the struggles he had? How could I possibly tell it without understanding that backstory? How was it fair to my readers for me to just ask this man what his favorite color was, and then leave, further perpetuating the “uncaring white person” stereotype? These were the kinds of questions that ran in my head as I started to feel my palms sweat with worry.
So I didn’t stay for my interview. I ran. After I got back home and started to breathe again, I realized the driving force behind what I had just done. I immediately felt regret and shame, a shame that I had put upon myself in solidifying my thoughts. Of course once I was thinking more clearly, I realized that all of those questions I had were redundant and unnecessary. They were built subconsciously in a part of my brain that at that moment I couldn’t control.
I should have stayed and talked to him. I should have made it a point to get to know more about him than the things he was talking about on the surface. I should have been willing to swallow my pride and go through an uncomfortable situation.
What I learned from this experience of fleeing is that the same pit-of-my-stomach-left-out feeling that I got sitting in the crowd for just 20 minutes, is how most people go about their lives every day.
We are so inclined to assume that living is easy unless provoked specifically, but most of the time judgment comes without warning. I’m not saying that in this moment I felt judged. I’m saying that in this moment I felt more empathy and understanding of what privilege really means than in any other.
I implore you to learn more about your own privileges, and challenge yourself to feel the discomfort. Being at such a grand and diverse university such as ours comes with a ticket of acceptance that I believe every student should carry with them in their back pocket at all times. If you are unwilling to use that ticket, you should really start to think about the mark that you want to leave on the world.
If Aamer Rahman ever does read this, I want him to know that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I let my brainwashed social anxiety get in the way of coming to you and learning more about you. I’m sorry I perpetuated the very ideal that I laughed at just moments before I left. And I thank you, for reminding me that even though I know I’ve come a long way, I am only human, and still have a lot to learn. We all do.