This article was written by Lauryn Reynolds, Jenny Xu, and Larry Huang.
Lauryn: I went to school right outside of Baltimore, so the chaos that ensued following the death of Freddie Grey seemingly happened in my backyard and as a result became a central topic of conversation for the following weeks. Hearing some of my peers’ opinions and realizing that many of their views stemmed from ignorance is what created the initial spark for my desire to pursue advocacy.
Jenny: “Asian people benefit more from white privilege than white people do.” I look around the room at the other interns, who look uncomfortable but say nothing to our peer. After all, they are just as unfamiliar with the Asian experience as he is. I am in a Senate office and no one in the room looks like me; I feel frozen to my seat and cannot bring myself to say anything.
Larry: “You really run GUCD?” People are consistently shocked that I, an Asian non-US citizen, could be the chair of GUCD. Just like Jenny, my voice is undervalued in conversation on racial justice. My opinion always comes with an asterisk as immigrant who’s also a political leader. That’s why I know it’s so important for my unique voice to be a leader in advocacy.
Having diverse leaders take charge of advocacy is undoubtedly the most effective way to ensure that a great diversity of issues many of which impact different marginalized groups, are being addressed. Being a member of a marginalized group carries with it a certain degree of saliency because it is inherently a part of who you are. You cannot simply deny it whenever most convenient. It is easy to post a hashtag on your profile, but it is much more difficult to help organize and work towards making tangible change. That drive to create change is far more likely to be present if the issue at hand is personal. An individual may then act as a catalyst within the group as a whole, encouraging them to get out and share their perspective. For example, if someone identifies as part of the LGBTQ community, issues such as gay marriage will be especially relevant to them. While the majority of liberals would agree that gay rights are human rights and should consistently be fought for, the passion that one feels as an ally cannot compare to the passion felt by the oppressed.
As a black woman, police brutality has made Lauryn at times feel personally victimized and unsafe around police. Her sharing those feelings regarding law enforcement today is likely to carry more weight than hearing about police brutality from someone not traditionally threatened by the phenomenon, such as a straight white male. Enabling people to put a familiar face to an issue is typically more effective in urging the public to fight for a cause. Though the issue may not affect the person directly, they can still see the impact on someone they care about and identify with, which will strengthen their initiative to get involved.
Simply put, having diversity means having diverse perspectives. However, people of marginalized identities are more than just their marginalization. A gay person on a committee is bringing more than just their “gayness” to the discussion, and the ideas they contribute are not the collective contribution of the gay community. People are shaped by their experiences, not their labels. Jenny is a gay Asian woman and sees the world through the perspective of one – but not through the perspective of every gay Asian woman, nor the perspective of the gay Asian woman.
As a bisexual woman, Jenny’s sexuality and race are often erased and undermined by the media and the ‘model minority’ myth. She experiences catcalling, groping, and normalized objectification in ways Larry never will, yet women are criticized as being overly sensitive for speaking out against their own dehumanization. These factors contribute to the reality that she is very familiar with feeling invisible and having to fight tooth-and-nail to be taken seriously. As a result, she’s grown to be outspoken about her convictions. She simultaneously balances this assertiveness with intentional sensitivity to the fact that others may feel invisible without her knowing. This duality is what defines her, but it cannot be attributed to any single social identifier.
Diversity in advocacy goes beyond the benefits of having nuanced, diverse perspectives. A truly diverse advocacy effort champions marginalized communities. The only advocacy that matters is that which comes from diverse perspectives, is led by diverse voices, and highlights diverse stories. For example, none of the three of us are Dreamers, yet we are advocates for Dreamers. That means it’s our job to highlight the stories of the Dreamers who are comfortable sharing their story. At our very first GUCD meeting this semester, we signed letters in support of DACAmented Georgetown students because it is their story that matters! It is why Larry, as a non-citizen, can share his story and issues with American immigration system, but why he encourages others to take the lead on issues such as abortion, the wage gap, or gun violence. Reminding policymakers and voters of the human life that is impacted by our policies is the most effective and most thoughtful advocacy.