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Sam McLellan and company in “The Book of Mormon” North American tour.
Review | ‘The Book of Mormon’ brings side-splitting sacrilege to the Benedum Center
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • March 1, 2024

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Sam McLellan and company in “The Book of Mormon” North American tour.
Review | ‘The Book of Mormon’ brings side-splitting sacrilege to the Benedum Center
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • March 1, 2024

Opinion | We need to talk about the real emotions of speaking up as a minority

Opinion+%7C+We+need+to+talk+about+the+real+emotions+of+speaking+up+as+a+minority
TPN File Illustration

“I thought doing the right things made you feel strong and proud not sad and angry.” This is a text I received from my mother after she confronted ignorance and xenophobic comments in the workplace. She told me that while she was in the break room, two women were having an offensive conversation, spewing false arguments about immigration — they asserted that immigrants were only coming to this country to be homeless and take up space. They argued that immigrants don’t love their kids if they are bringing them here to live on the street, and that if they truly loved them, they would keep them back in their home country. 

Time and time again, minorities face uncomfortable environments in which ignorance fills the same room we stand in. We are often told that standing up in the face of targeted ignorance is an invigorating experience and what comes with it is a feeling of empowerment and pride for standing your ground and holding true to your identity. While I am not arguing those feelings don’t exist, they are by no means instant for all of us, and that is okay. What we actually feel prior to the empowerment are those feelings of guilt, anxiety and fear when standing our ground. 

My mother is a proud immigrant from Guatemala. She came here with my 20-year-old grandmother when she was four years old, and their trip here was nothing short of a battle. They lived in a basement for many years, and my grandmother had to learn English, hold a job and raise a child by herself. There is no doubt that my grandmother did whatever she could to bring my mother to this country and make a life for them that was stable and hopeful, and she did just that. 

To my mother, hearing these words was like a punch to the gut. While she is usually not one to confront ignorance face-to-face, especially in the workplace, she knew that she could not let this one go, so she spoke up. My mother told these women that the mere fact that they have no idea what it’s like to leave one horrible place to go to another that isn’t much better illuminates their privilege like nothing else. While what my mother said was true and powerful, she felt nothing but anxiety and guilt. She texted me the words “I feel bad.” The woman who was offended felt bad for speaking up for herself, for her mother and her family of immigrants who deserve to be here as much as anyone else. However, what my mother felt most in this experience was alone. 

All too often, minorities are faced with feelings of guilt and anxiety after confronting ignorant behavior, especially in professional and educational settings. 50% of employees, in general, are hesitant to speak up at work — as for minorities, that hesitancy only increases, due to the vast amount of pressure we have on us in the professional environment. While this is not the case for all, it is a common experience for many, especially those who are using their voice for the first time. Condemning ignorance often feels as if we made a mistake by putting the other person in an awkward position or making them feel bad, and as a result, any feeling of pride and empowerment is instantly clouded. Not to mention, the overall experience of having to tell someone that what they said is offensive is another harsh reminder that there are still people in the community who have a problem with you and who you are. 

Another worrisome aspect is how your response will be translated. There is a common theme of people of color feeling the need to conceal their identity in their workplace — a third of people of color feel like outsiders in their predominantly white corporate surroundings. A large portion of my mother’s anxiety came from the unknown of how these women would take her response. Her speaking up meant these women would know she is an immigrant. Would they twist her words and advocacy to get her in trouble? Would they ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen? All of these are valid worries; we often fear that we will face repercussions when it comes to being honest about difficult issues that directly affect us. Whether it be through a blow to our reputation in the office, or a false narrative developing after the issue occurred, these fears can be all-consuming. 

While it is extremely important to speak up in the face of ignorance, no matter if it directly affects you or someone close to you, it is equally important to make it known to those who are new to utilizing their voice that the experience can be daunting and painful. My mother felt alone in this feeling, when in fact she is not. The first time I spoke up in my predominantly white high school, I was rattled with anxiety about how I would be perceived or how my advocacy would be taken. We need to continue the conversation about the real feelings that come with using your voice, so other minorities don’t feel alone in the emotions that come with self-advocacy.

Grace Harris has a passion for social justice and advocacy. Her email is always open to more ideas— [email protected]

About the Contributor
Grace Harris, Staff Columnist
Grace Harris is a freshman political science major from the suburbs of Chicago, IL. You will most likely find her doing copious amounts of reading in Cathy or fangirling over Taylor Swift. She has a passion for social justice and advocacy. Her email is always open to more ideas—