It has been over a year since I began blogging for the ‘Things That Matter’, and I took the time to peruse some of the articles that I wrote during that time. In reading them serially, I was struck by how quickly they began to focus on issues of social justice, discussing topics like race, gender, sexuality, privilege, and the intersections of these concepts. As someone who strives to write from the heart, from a place of authenticity and passion, I believe that what I write is a reflection of who I am and try to be, and Clark has played a large role in that.
In the everyday conversations about Clark that I have with friends, acquaintances, and even random Clarkies (such a Clark phenomenon), I present a critical voice because I believe that Clark should be held to higher standards than the less progressive colleges we are constantly compared to, and should aspire to rectify problems that exist in our community. However, this article will deviate from this tradition, and instead celebrate the many wonderful ways in which Clark broadened my perspective.
As sensitive and aware as my family was of issues like racism and sexism, broader Sri Lankan society could hardly be categorized in the same manner. Racism and sexism, as two issues that had gained ground in the public consciousness, were rife in our immediate environment and were normalized to a great deal. Other forms of prejudice, such as homophobia, transphobia, ableism etc. were virtually unheard of growing up. Worse yet, conversations about identity were not as commonplace as they are within the Clark circles I move through. While there was a chance that glaring displays of racist or sexist behavior would be identified and problematized, microaggressions would slip under the public radar and prevail unchallenged. For instance, I remember being taught at a young age that it was impolite to use the term ‘woman’ to refer to someone who identifies as female. No doubt a legacy of our British colonial past, such ideas had taken root of Sri Lankan society in a death-like vice. Given my young age, I took this lesson to heart, but looking back I question this flawed logic. Why is it acceptable to call a man a man, while the term woman is considered tainted in some way? The sexist overtones – that being a woman is inherently degrading – are now crystal clear to me. I had a penchant for writing, and was prone to write (pseudo)philosophical treatises on all things ontological. When referring to the human race, I would always unconsciously use the term ‘mankind’, excluding women and trans* populations in the process. Never during my 13 years of schooling was this corrected by any of my teachers.
Looking back on my childhood, I feel that I have come a long way. Clark played an immense role in awakening my political and social consciousness. The amazing people I associate on a daily basis have inspired me to expand my awareness and understanding of diverse identities, the intersections of these categories, and the issues that plague them. I have grappled (and continue to do so) with the concept of privilege and how fluid-like it is in changing based upon context and identity, passing hands from one group to another. I think about how historically rooted phenomena such as privilege and power are inspired by centuries of colonial influence and the human impulse to dominate and master. And not only has Clark taught me to question and reflect on such topics, but to speak out and act towards the ending of oppression and the liberation of all peoples.
This particular international student owes a large debt to Clark, for helping him learn and unlearn what he has during the past two years. Yet, Clark alone does not earn all the credit for my transformation. My family has taught me in innumerable ways the importance of valuing human life and easing the suffering of others. My culture has taught me the importance of sacrifice, empathy, and the power of the collective. It is the influence of both Clark and my culture that have contributed to who I am today. Clark taught me who I should care about. Sri Lanka taught me why I should care.