Urban Retreat was weeks ago and I’m still suffering withdrawals . Unless you have been to retreat, it is hard to explain the energy, the amazingness, that is a roomful of youth activists and their mentors all working together to find better ways to be make the world more wonderful. I was going to write a review of it, but you would have to literally become an empath and feel my feelings to understand.
The only downfall of retreat is that reality seems a lot sharper when you get back. If I’ve learned anything about advocacy, it is that rarely are you dealing with monsters. Take Luke Skywalker and Dark Vader: Was Vader truly evil? No. He was just deceived into joining the dark side by the Emperor. BUT LUKE DIDN’T GIVE UP ON HIM! It’s hard to believe that Dark Vader is not evil when he’s killing rebels, just like its hard to believe that the people refusing to see why not legalizing gay marriage is a violation of human rights are not evil, but rarely, very rarely, are people just pure evil.
I mean Hitler, obviously, but then again I didn’t know him personally so even that is subject to contestation.
When you go to Urban Retreat, the whole weekend instills in you this very real sense that change CAN happen and WILL happen and the world WILL be better. This mindset is very thrilling and builds a reservoir of hope that is very useful to drawn upon whenever the good fight is getting one down.
Yet, when you are in this mindset, this THE WORLD WILL CHANGE BECAUSE WE’RE AWESOME mindset, it usually becomes (for me at least) THE WORLD WILL CHANGE RIGHT THIS SECOND BECAUSE WE’RE AWESOME. My carefully cultivated patience with those not-evil people who are stopping me from making the world awesome is suddenly very thin. I cannot comprehend why they cannot comprehend that THEY ARE WRONG. I try to make it a habit to always keep in mind where people are coming from when I debate with them, but when I have spent so much time with people who are ALL coming from the same place, suddenly IT IS SO MUCH HARDER.
The fact that I go to an HBCU has exacerbated this when it comes to race. The fact that racism is pervasive and is instilled in our culture, our school systems, our politics, etc., even if it is not as blatant as it was fifty years ago, is something I now have a hard time believing is not universal knowledge. I didn’t even really comprehend it fully until a few months ago (and I come to a better understanding each day) but being here, surrounded by people who are having the same revelation, suddenly I expect the entire world to know it, and fix the problem. Now.
Then reality hits.
Sometimes I encounter not-evil people who say ignorant and hurtful things, who are stuck in prejudicial mindsets, and who unknowingly perpetuate a culture that is inherently cruel and I expect them to jump from that to fixed in mili-seconds. We can go from A to Z without including the rest of the alphabet. Rome shall be built in a day. No waiting! Ever!
The reality is cultural advocacy is both the slowest and the most effective advocacy that exists because it focuses on individuals. It focuses on changing good people’s hurtful mindsets and creating a culture that promotes equality and human decency. Completely revamping culture, however, is not a microwave process. It’s a slow cooker process. The food is infinitely better BUT IT TAKES TIME.
You cannot save the Emperor. He’s evil (like Hitler). But we can try to save Dark Vader. When cruel people do cruel things it is to be expected (though strongly disparaged).
When good people do cruel things it is unacceptable.
Slowly but surely, we will put a stop to that.