Allyship in 2018: I Can See What You Can See

Words by Justin Zagorski and Kokayi Nosakhere

 

By now, most Americans are painful aware something is drastically wrong in our country. From what angle on the political spectrum you or I land, last week was brutal. The act of repeating the sheer statistics is depressing.

 

On Monday, November 5, the voting masses of America withered the last day of 2018 midterm congressional campaigning.

 

On Tuesday, November 6, a massive turnout happens. Almost one out of two persons who can vote choose to vote. 98 women are elected to the congress, including four prominent millenials.

 

On Wednesday, November 7, the Oval Office returns to dominance of the news cycle by accepting Attorney General Jeff Session’s resignation and verbally attacking CNN’s John Acosta.

 

On Thursday, November 8, all hell broke lose. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell and broke three of her ribs. We woke up to another mass shooting, this one inside a Thousands Oaks bar. Acosta lost his White House press badge. Fox News personality, Tucker Carlson is protested outside of his home.

 

On Friday, our attention turned to California and the movie-scene inspired forest fires which erupted there.

 

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Once we are centered, we must choose to become brave enough to share our peace with others.

 

News Cycle Overload

The news cycle is overwhelming. Some days, it is difficult to determine which is the lesser of three evils: 1) the actual substance of the news cycle, 2) the emotional reaction among the American people to the news cycle or 3) the divisive, personality-driven interpretation of the news reflected in the news cycle?

 

“How do you cope?” Alaska Grassroots Alliance leader, Joni Bruner, asked this question earlier this year. The campaign and election of Donald J. Trump blindsided a number of liberal-leaning Americans. The dominant story of America is continual progress. We look at the technology in our hands, like smartphones, and can see without a shadow of a doubt that the machines are evolving, surely so are we, who are inventing and using the machines.

 

So, where are all of these racists coming from? The education provided through public schools doesn’t prepare the average American to discuss opposing political views without the conversation deteriorating into an “us vs them” battle.

 

The non-political person, who is just trying to live and not be crushed economically themselves, is looking at the social fabric of America and wringing their hands, begging for answers.

 

Begging the Question: What Do I Do?

Let me see if I can articulate the confusion of those whom the social climate is radicalizing.

 

“Why is this happening? In [public] school, the teachers taught us education is the way to change society. Remember, Dr. King? He showed love. He protested nonviolently. He explained his position in terms that he thought those who were so triggered by his existence could understand that he was not a threat to them. All he wanted was to live in harmony with him. America changed, right? We progressed to Barack Obama. We voted for, as country, Black man to be President, not once, but twice. I was so relieved to see, in concrete terms, the change in the country from lynching Black men during Dr. King’s lifetime to electing a Black man as President. That is undeniable evidence of change.

 

I’m White. I know I am not a Nazi. I know I did not grow up with any Nazis. Or, better yet, if I did, they did not reveal themselves to be Nazis, until now! When I was growing up with them, they were wonderful people. I have no idea where these overtly racist arguments are coming from? We swam in the same waters and came out totally different.

 

The worldview of a Southern White man or woman is so far from my own worldview, I don’t even know why my neighbors are leaning toward these ideas. They confuse me. When I talk to them about regular things, they come across as warm, very mature persons. However, when we speak on politics, they echo the arguments, not the exact words, of the people that I view as holding racist ideas.

 

How do I change their minds? I don’t know what to do other than retch in disgust at the lack of humanity coming out of their mouths. I don’t want to hurt them or risk my own life trying to convert them, however, when a conservative identifying person reacts negatively to the existence of another human being, what do I do?

 

I was taught we are individuals. We are responsible for our own growth and change. That doesn’t look like that is happening in society.

 

I am doing what I was taught to do. I voted! Politicians are supposed to make the best decisions out of the options available. That isn’t happening. It is scary to think that my neighbors want local and national businesses to pollute the environment, women to accept being raped, Black men to adjust to being the national scapegoats and the erection of a border wall to keep poor, yet courageous, brown people from entering the country.”

 

The need for a way to cope with the awesome realization our society is not going to improve without an effort from the individual on the grassroots level, isn’t unique to the newly woke, or radicalized. Justin Zagorski felt this same confusion six years ago.

 

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At 29, he is a part of the millennial generation. In the popular mind, he is supposed to be past all of the acrimony. His generation are the enlightened ones, represented by ever more tolerant and accepting thought leaders, like Jaden Smith. Like David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and the Parkland Shooting survivors, he is among those who are supposed to save us from ourselves.

 

That’s what he is doing. He serves inside of Anchorage’s YWCA, as the Social Justice Program Manager. Because Anchorage views itself as a national model of a multicultural oasis, conservatives might mistaken Zagorski’s work as repetitive, or unnecessary. Alaska is red. In defiance of the mainstream media’s broadcasted stereotype, a Republican run state can boast creating three of the most diverse neighborhoods in America.

 

The counterargument is heard as: “How is that possible, if we are racist? Or Neo-Nazis? Please stop with the hyperbole! Disagreement does not equal hate. Maybe you need to look at yourself instead of projecting onto us! It’s okay to be White. It is okay to be Republican.”

 

I Can Feel Your Confusion

“When I began graduate school in Seattle,” he writes, “I joined a movement I didn’t really know existed: the Social Justice movement.”

 

This was in 2014, when Barack Obama’s presence in the White House was challenging the dominant culture’s psyche.

 

“There were so many opportunities to learn about social justice, my own identities, and to engage in activism,” he writes. “I felt responsible, compelled, or driven to do as much as I could. Overtime, I realized that in many ways, I was not only showing up for others, but also for myself.

 

Social justice became the focal point of my career, personal life, and ambitions. While I was something to the effect of a guidance counselor for college students in my formal role, there were plenty of ways to incorporate social justice work along the way. I found myself pondering what it would be like if I could attain a position that focused specifically on some component of social justice.

At this point, my career in higher education spanned from 2012 to 2017. While employed at one university in Washington and two in California, I engaged in many formative social justice experiences, attended many conferences, and participated in institutes. However, this also means that my contributions to the movement for social justice have been limited to about six years.

 

Last year, we transitioned from Washington State back up to Alaska to allow my wife to pursue a more fulfilling career in fisheries science. At that point, I did apply to positions within Anchorage’s two universities, but I ended up at YWCA. I saw the job postings for the Social Justice Program Manager position and YWCA’s office manager. I applied for both.

 

I work for an organization that focuses all its effort on social justice. The mission is to eliminate racism and empower women. This is a dream position for me. I get paid to be a fulcrum for change.

 

I didn’t think I would get an interview, for two reasons. There are still times when I don’t think my social justice resume is very impressive. Also, I always wonder if I, as a white person, should be leading these efforts. There are surely many talented people of color who would enjoy this position. However, I also think it’s nice sometimes for people of color to not have to do all of the work. This dynamic is just something I have thought about a lot throughout my career.

 

The second reason I didn’t think I would get an interview is: I don’t identify as cis-gender woman.

 

To my surprise and honor, I was offered an interview. Being offered this position was gratifying to say the least. Originally, I’m from a small farming community in the Midwest U.S. where few people even know what social justice entails. It’s been a long journey along a short road.”

 

For those of us struggling to absorb the acts of injustice CNN blares daily, Zagorski is a shining light. His existence provides an intangible, emotional and psychological salve. He gives us the glimmer of hope our more conservative brothers and sisters can grow and develop – in the right environments. And, he has a glimpse of how to create those environments. He can teach us how to cope.

 

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Justin Zagorski, Anchorage YWCA’s Social Justice Program Manager

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