“Feminists are men-haters. They just want special treatment.”
“Environmentalists are all liberals.”
“They’re illegal aliens! They should go back where they came from.”
“English is America’s language—stop putting Spanish on products.”
“Was Obama even born here?”
“Stop asking for handouts. It’s not the government’s fault you’re poor.”
“Well if you’d stop breaking the law, you’d stop getting shot by police, wouldn’t you?”
These sentences all touch—with the subtlety and compassion of a wrecking ball— on very specific and incredibly delicate issues. I cringe even typing them, and shrink a little inside seeing them on my screen. And yet, every one of these sentences are sentences that I have said in the past.
Obviously, college has changed me a lot.
Growing up in a very small town in rural, white, Christian America, I was not exposed to many perspectives about the world. Growing up in a military home exposed me to even fewer than that. The military lifestyle demands a black-and-white view of the world, as such contrast is the only way to function on the battlefield—and consequently, in the home.
To be clear, I never felt particularly impassioned by these views, nor did they ring as truth in my heart— I didn’t actually dislike the aforementioned people, but when you’re only given limited information, how are you to know better? It’s so easy to have strong opinions on people you’ve never met: illegal aliens are all dirty criminals, Obama was a secret foreigner controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, poor people just want to “mooch off the government,” and feminists are just godless women who show their kneecaps and want to usurp good Christian men’s authority. These were just facts of life to me.
But I’m not writing this story to shame rural America, the military, Christianity, or anyone for that matter. Rather, I’m confessing these things to show the potential in everyone, and why journalism can stop ignorance, one hungry student at a time.
My first experience with journalism that I can clearly remember was not a good one. I was around eight years old, dressed in my Sunday best and standing in gritty sand that was crunching underfoot as a I paced back and forth beside stacks of assorted military gear. It was my father’s “ship-out date” for his second deployment, at the height of the Iraq War. The sky was appropriately gray and moody as families lined up to give last goodbyes—babies screaming, kids clutching pant legs and spouses clutching arms even harder.
My family of six was gathered in a corner, hardly making any sound besides our muffled sniffling. We knew the drill. Look stoic (hide the tears), give a brief hug (don’t think about it being your last), and wave goodbye to the back of the bus (pray they’ll return in the same vehicle, and not draped in a flag). This was normal.
What was not normal was the camera I found shoved in my tear-stained face, as a local reporter asked me ‘how did I feel about my dad leaving for the second time in my young life?’
I recognize now that it must have been a very new reporter who had probably never encountered a stoically sobbing child before, but it still horrifically tainted my view of journalism. (Especially when my classmates told me “How cool it was” that I was on T.V, when all I was watching T.V. for was the ticker at the bottom listing dead soldier’s names. The news always was faster at finding soldier’s identities than the military was at alerting families.)
Thus, my only exposure to journalism was one horrific beginning followed by years of terror, making “the media” synonymous with ever-present death in my mind. Besides, the only news channel I ever watched—which need not be named— told me that “the media” was evil, that liberals were lying to me and that Muslims were taking over America. Based on my very limited experiences with all three of those groups, this seemed perfectly true.
So that was how I grew up, with less of a malicious dislike for others and more of a prideful ignorance forged by the vacuum of misinformation.
And then I entered college, and you can imagine how that went. Everywhere I looked, there were people I was told were bad. Hippies, artists, feminists and activists; people speaking dozens of languages and practicing endless religions. It was an endless stream of differences and it was shocking, particularly because not a single one of them seemed bad.
Was it possible that what I was told was the truth was actually wrong?
Within the first week of classes my views were challenged. I met a young Muslim woman at a coffeshop, and instead of taking over America, she gave me extra whipped cream because she liked my shirt. I met a DACA recipient, and instead of being a “dirty criminal” or a “rapist” like someone influential once said, he excitedly told me about earning a degree in criminal justice so he could fight for immigration reform. Weeks later, I met a young transgender woman who, on the first day that she chose to come to class wearing a beautiful skirt, was shaking so badly that my immediate reaction was to gush over her outfit and offer her a seat.
It was then I realized that I did not truly believe what had been told to me, and that none of these people were who I had been led to believe they were. So what did I believe?
Ironically, my limited view of the world, forged heavily by my military upbringing, is also what urged me to learn more about the world. The need to serve and protect runs deep in military culture, and this stood at odds with what I had been told the world was like. How am I to serve and protect if I cannot care for those whom I serve and protect?
I determinedly set out to learn more— “know your enemy” and such, although the enemy was quickly turning out to be my own understanding. I joined clubs. I met people. I attended rallies and demonstrations, and then I traveled the world and met more people than I ever thought possible.
Whether by accident or a twist of fate, this all inadvertently led me to journalism, and it lit a fire in me. I felt like someone had found me in the dark and handed me a torch. My passion for justice and my deep empathy for people—which had, until now, been dictated by those around me–finally felt like it was free to make a change. I had found my calling, and I suddenly felt invincible.
I met people who had nothing, yet dedicated everything in themselves to causes. I spoke to people who I never thought I would agree with and found common ground. I prayed with people over losses, cheered on others at victories. I cried over every police report of another young woman raped, marched with those advocating for change. I stood toe-to-toe with people armed with hatred and I locked arm-in-arm with those fighting for love. I learned from mistakes and reveled in every bit of good I could bring to someone else.
Journalism has changed me. It has given me a sword with which to wield my passion and fiery determination, and a tool to cut through misinformation. I’m not ashamed of what I used to believe—although they are indeed shameful beliefs—because without those beginnings, I would never be where I am now.
It hurts, sometimes, sure. Sitting among the people I used to think in tune with and speaking against their hatred comes at a cost. But the cost of truth doesn’t even come close to the cost of silence, and I truly believe that there are no naturally hateful people out there: just people who were never given the information to grow.
Feminists aren’t men-haters; they just want equality. Environmentalists are just people who believe in saving the world for future generations, regardless of party. Immigrants are so much more than the spiteful label of “illegal aliens”—they are people running from and working for things far beyond anything we can imagine from our privileged seats. English is America’s language—as is Spanish, Chinese, French, Italian, Cherokee, and any other of the 400-plus languages spoken here. Obama was born here, and that subtle racism is still racism. People who are asking for handouts are often going through more than they will ever say—be kind. And sometimes, the world is not nearly as black and white as you thought it was.
Henry Luce, a famous magazine journalist, once said “I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world,” and this quote perfectly encapsulates what journalism has done for me these past four years. The only way to combat hatred is love, and the only way to combat ignorance is information. I hope to be that guiding voice in the future for others who grew up like me, and together we can leave the world a little better.
So as a note of thanks:
These past four years and this newspaper have given me so much room to grow and I will never be able to full express my appreciation to everyone who gave me a chance (including you, the reader.)
Thank you to my instructors, who saw a spark in me that I never even saw, and fed it into a wildfire. You gave me a purpose when I needed it most.
Thank you to my editors, reporters and designers, who allowed me to lead you despite making so many mistakes along the way. I’ve learned so much from you, and needed your friendship more than you know. Thank you for making this such an amazing experience.
And lastly, thank you to my readers for letting me learn from you and with you. Thank you for giving me grace, thank you for letting me stand beside you in solidarity, and thank you for trusting me to hand you the truth.