Student activists are NOT staying silent

Learn from these students who have something to say

Serena Lum, Editor-in-Chief

With the recent heinous murder of George Floyd, there has been an insurgence of activism focused upon the Black Lives Matter movement. People have been posting all over Instagram, drawings of Floyd, famous quotes, ways to donate and videos showing police brutality. This, rightfully so, has resulted in many, many reposts and story shares. 

While that, in itself, is not a bad thing, there are some students who think it simply isn’t enough. Three students in particular have been using their platforms on social media to make a difference.

Graduated senior Gemma Pleas filmed a video, posted to her Instagram (@gemmapleas) to address the importance of actually speaking up.

“If you’re getting educated but then you say nothing when one of your friends says the n-word or someone makes a joke that is extremely racist and inappropriate, you’re not helping the situation either,” Pleas stated in the video. “Because when your family and friends say whatever racist stuff like that, and you don’t say anything, it tells them you’re okay with what they’re saying, and it normalizes that behavior and it perpetuates the same racial system that has continued in this country for decades.” 

Pleas has been actively signing petitions, calling and emailing daily, donating and educating herself on Oregon’s own policing policies.

“I saw a lot of posts about getting educated, but few about how to actively apply that education to their lives,” Pleas explained. “Many don’t understand that without condemnation, the people who say harmful, racist rhetoric through high school GROW up to be racists. Sure, in school it is just a comment you cringe out and recount to your friends later, but later in life, it translates to vehement support of systematic racism and policies that support it.”

This is not some hypothetical to which Pleas is referring. Casual racism is alive and well in Lake Oswego, despite the few “woke” people who practice performative activism.

“I have gone to Lake Oswego Schools since 4th grade and KNOW many non black students [who] openly make harmful racist jokes, consistently champion racist rhetoric in the name of ‘devil’s advocate,’ or say the n-word,” Pleas continued, “I also know very few students who consistently condemn these actions. I wanted these students to know that if they were going to claim to be advocates online, they had to be held accountable at ALL times, not just on the Internet.”

Similarly, junior Barbara Chen has been posting on her Instagram story (@barbarachenn) her opinions on the current sensationalization of this movement.

“First, I’d like to clarify I’m speaking as an ally and in NO WAY am I trying to speak for the black community,” Chen defined. “Yes, posting and tagging for a chain may bring awareness to BLM, but at this point, the majority of people know what BLM is. If you’re not taking action, you’re not actually helping with the problem, you have minimized BLM to a chain/challenge that is being done because someone spoon fed you the words you should say if you have morals.”

This references the chain that encourages people to tag 10 of their friends for various reasons such as 10 people you know won’t break the chain or 10 people who will demand change.

“It’s become an action to relieve your own guilt or to prove yourself rather than actually trying to help with the problem,” Chen continued. “There are MANY organizations and petitions you can direct attention to, instead of a hashtag that doesn’t create action.”

Another graduated senior Laura Catlin has been using her platform on Instagram (@lauracatlin17) to call attention to the institutionalized racism in our government. In a poem called “Make America Great Again,” Catlin listed off many instances where America has failed its people, with examples of discrimination against black people, Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, the LGBTQ+ community and more. 

Beginning with the line “So what time are you referring to with ‘again?’” and ending with “Maybe you’re referencing the time of the creation of our country, and from then on, when aunty and all minority groups were deemed lesser, or subhuman, or invalid, or vermin. But that’s just a guess” Catlin certainly made a statement.

“I made the connection between our current administration and Trump’s whole overarching message of ‘Making America Great Again’ and then I was kinda like, you know what, I have heard this ridiculous slogan far too many times,” Catlin explained. “I got to the point where I felt I needed to say something powerful and captivating about the consistent failures of America and atrocities we’ve committed against minorities to completely debunk America becoming great ‘again,’ since it’s provable through history that we have never been great, starting with America’s foundation through genocide.”

This poem came to light as a response to the murder of Floyd, Catlin citing this resulting in her attention drawn to police brutality against black people in America, particularly because the government is at fault for this.

“People also tend to believe ‘ignorance is bliss,’ and therefore just ignore information that fuels tension within the country,” Catlin continued. “It just makes me incredibly angry that people still support a president that is so obviously pro-white and has no regard for the lives of minorities. Racism [is] still being perpetuated by the goddamn government.”

“To truly be an activist is to educate yourself and fight for what you believe in. Right now, I believe that if you already haven’t learned about the BLM movement this is a perfect opportunity for you to learn,” Chen added as a final note. “This does NOT mean use black people or other minority groups as trauma porn, and ask them specifically why YOU should care because that’s your responsibility to keep yourself well educated and aware. Google is a perfect way [to] educate yourself and to learn the facts about why this movement is so important to many.”

“Please educate yourselves with factually correct information regarding the anti-minority sentiment in this country and please understand you can make an impact, no matter how small it may seem. Black people are dying senselessly, and it’s important that we call attention to and act against corruption and murder at the hands of our own government, the government that’s meant to be protecting its people,” Catlin concluded. “It might be easier to stand on the sidelines because we have PRIVILEGE to do so and not worry about going outside and being shot simply for wanting to go on a run or wearing a hoodie, but it is so necessary that we use whatever power we have to stand behind those who don’t. We need to be allies.”

“Check your black friends!!!! At least for me, this situation has taken a huge toll on my mental health. I have become really anxious over the last few weeks. Many of us have been fighting this struggle for years, which is, frankly, really taxing. On top of fighting for justice, we are also grieving over seeing countless of our own killed, on national television no less, and it’s really difficult,” advised Pleas. “Please please get involved, and STAY involved. Make written commitments about what you’re going to do to KEEP accountable and check back monthly!! This may end for you, this fight may get resolved or fade away, but ours, Black people’s, will NEVER end, so your advocacy shouldn’t either.”

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