HECUA classrooms

An Open Letter from HECUA student Ashton

a pencil sits on a field of white paper, surrounded by pencil shavings.

HECUA programs offer students a chance to think deeply about the issues that matter most, and we’d like to share a piece of that experience with you. This semester, students in our Inequality in America, Art for Social Change, and Making Media, Making Change programs are writing a series of blog posts on a topic of their choosing. We asked Inequality in America students to consider a theory or reading that intersects with their lived experience. Making Media, Making Change and Art for Social Change students will offer a window into their creative processes, and describe how what they are learning guides their art. Over the next few months we’ll publish a number of these powerful reflections from our students. Please share them widely! You can find all of the posts by searching the HECUA classrooms category on our blog.

“An open letter to the oppressed”

by Ashton Millet, HECUA Inequality in America student

Dear family,

Too often the oppressed in our society are overlooked, unheard, and misunderstood. I am writing today to tell you that I see you, I hear you, and I understand the struggle. As a young black man from Louisiana, I have seen struggle and systemic oppression firsthand. In this letter, I hope to give a voice to and help you get through the everyday struggle. I wish to bring you some sense of security knowing that you have a friend in me, standing by your side. I want to show that there is hope. If we stick together we can create the change that we wish to see.

Anybody who hopes to solve a problem needs to know where the root of the problem comes from.

The black community has been subject to racist stereotypes since our forefathers were stolen and put on slave ships. Racism didn’t stop when slavery ended in 1865, nor did it stop after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. No, racism found its way into housing practices started by the federal government. It infiltrated police forces around the country. Throughout modern history racism has crept up in the media, in misrepresentation and stereotypical depictions of black people. People from all backgrounds have bought into many of these stereotypes. Systemic racism has stacked the cards against us. We have had the rungs of the latter for upward mobility taken away from us one by one. Often citizens within our society either don’t see it or willfully ignore it.

Much of our oppression begins with the education system. This system contributes to white supremacy. The lessons that are taught often enforce white supremacy from the time we enter until we get out. The sad part is that our own people buy into white supremacy without even knowing it. We buy into stereotypes about ourselves. I have on occasion fallen victim to the skewed representation of people of color in our history books myself.

The education system doesn’t stop at feeding our children ideas of white supremacy. Our system keeps students in poverty and makes students who look like us more likely to go to jail than go to college. Every child in our community should be given the opportunity to receive a quality education. It shouldn’t be luck that decides whether a person has the opportunity to succeed or not. We shouldn’t give up on young people who society marks as “bad”. These young people are our future; we need to do more to invest in them. To limit the damage that has been done we must work to inform ourselves on the true sources of our oppression.

America as a whole, and more specifically Minnesota is often perceived as the best. Throughout the country, the Twin Cities are seen as politically progressive, with a good overall quality of life. That said, the Twin Cities have seen their fair share of racism. We can look at the neighborhoods that have been forgotten and oppressed by society like North Minneapolis and the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul. These neighborhoods saw the price and number of homes drop once most of the white residents left. HUD, together with the Met Council designated these neighborhoods as racially concentrated areas of poverty. These neighborhoods have in the past been looked over for investment and community based development by those in power. The lingering effects from this systemic oppression can still be felt today. So, there is still work that the Twin Cities (like the rest of America) can do. Before the Twin Cities can give itself a pat on the back, everyone in the Cities need to have equality and equal opportunity.

Coming from Louisiana I was excited to come to what I saw as a liberal bubble. I have not been disappointed by the progressive work that is happening in the Twin Cities. But, I do see some similarities between Louisiana and the Twin Cities in how the marginalized and oppressed are treated. There are still workers who don’t get fair wages. There are still people experiencing homelessness. The Twin Cities does have a very good base of nonprofits and community leaders who are fighting for equality in their own ways. This is something I hope to replicate in Louisiana. I see the Twin Cities as an opportunity to right the ship of inequality and oppression in America. But, until residents (especially white residents) truly understand their role in oppression and address it, the Twin Cities cannot be a regional leader.

So, where do we go from here? I feel like the black community has had champions that will lead us to the promised land. It is up to us to cultivate our future leaders, to believe and invest in ourselves. We need to all participate in the democracy. We must elect folks who will carry out our agendas and truly represent us. When we start to actively participate in our government and within our communities that is when we can really see change happen. Black people are powerful. Even though at every turn white supremacy tries to steal our power away we must keep fighting. The darkest days always brings out our brightest lights. We have to continue to be the bright light for our society and those that are looking up to us.

It is also imperative to continue to educate ourselves and those around us about the injustices that happen. I am talking about injustices not only specifically for the black community but those that oppress other groups like women, the LGBTQ community, and the disabled. Intersectionality, which is how identities and oppression intersect in people’s lives, is important to address for change to happen across the board. When movements unify they truly begin to gain momentum and create large-scale progress. We must see how racism closely affects other facets of our country, so that we can all begin to fight together to disassemble our common enemy.

What is our common enemy? The enemy is the system that favors money over individuals. The people who profit off of our country’s divisiveness, and individuals’ misfortunes. Our enemies are the policies from the north to the south and from the east to west that perpetuate inequality and oppression. The United States is a melting pot, and we the people must come together in order to form a more perfect union. Finally, I will leave you with a question. Who will step up and be our hero?

In solidarity,

Ashton Millet

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