My name is Kate Hirsch, and I’m 21 years old. I grew up in New York City in a small, cozy apartment with a wonderful family. I am privileged. There is no doubt about it. I am white, and of a stable socioeconomic status. My life in New York City was comfortable, my upbringing relatively easy. But I have seen traces of violence, war, hate, and injustice.
I was in first grade when 9/11 happened. I remember my mom coming to get me from school. I was mad I had to leave early and I wanted to go to gym class. My mom made me put my shirt over my mouth on the walk back to my apartment so I wouldn’t inhale the smoke. I remember sitting in front of the television watching the towers fall on a loop as our house phone rang in the background. At the time, I didn’t understand that it all happened forty blocks away from where I lived.
Throughout the years that followed, I acclimated to a post 9/11 world. George Bush invaded Afghanistan, and later Iraq. The words “weapons of mass destruction,” “drones,” and “terrorism” became part of my vocabulary. I had to take my shoes off at airports.
As the wars escalated so did Islamophobia. Hate speech and slurs permeated the news. The construction of a mosque next to ground zero resulted in anti-Muslim protests. People on the street began to point and whisper and women wearing hijabs, men with headscarves and beards were profiled by police officers on the subway. I would wonder to myself, how was this right? This behavior seen on the streets, in the news, in schools, was conditioning us to hate. It was giving us an ‘other’ to justify continued violence and war. It wasn’t fair.
In my opinion, the first step towards peace is mutual understanding. We must strive to understand that difference should not be equated with fear but should inspire us to learn. Understanding differences makes us more aware as consumers. We are able to pick out the lies, prejudice and stereotypes we are exposed to everyday.
As an American woman, I hold myself accountable to this challenge. To strive to understand and check my privilege, learn about others, and critique the institutions (both governmental and otherwise) that continue to espouse negative and harmful societal norms.
To all my powerful ladies, I encourage you to do this as well. Because why shouldn’t we be at the forefront of change?
Let’s do this.