The assignment is to write an op-ed on a topic on which youare an expert.

Needing more guidance, naturally, I go to Google.

“How do you becomean expert?” I type, and in .63 seconds my computer presents me with MalcolmGladwell quotes and Business Insiderarticles, but before this cacophony of answers, Google has it’s own: ‘Study; Apply; Summarize;Teach.’

 In using Google’s formula toreveal my topic of expertise about which to write this op-ed, I instead,uncovered a flaw—it’s prescriptions excluded experience as a perquisite toexpertise.

I, among many inmy generation, am drawn to discussions that judge and hate on the ‘system.’ NewYork’s unlivable prices, its racially biased methods of policing, Columbia’scrippling student debt—capitalism, the patriarchy—the litany of exhortationswith which we are all familiar dominate my actions and discourse.

But while systematicracial and socioeconomic inequality may be a constant theme in myconversations, the focus of my Masters Degree, and combatting it, my field ofwork, how can I claim expertise, when, in actuality, I haven’t had to struggle for much beyondrequesting almond milk in my latte instead of ‘regular’; I have never beenvictim to police brutality; or, that thanks to my capitalist grandparents, I donot have student debt or limitations on my rent.

These are odd times, where ambivalence and pessimism havebecome the norm. As divisions grow deeper and discrimination more unequivocal,as idealism dwindles and certainty fades opaque, my generation has becomefrenetic, fearing isolation and uncertainty. Most of us are neither PhilandoCastile nor the officer who killed him, neither a Goldman Sachs broker nor on dependenton food stamps. But as mid-20 year olds we are all desperate for something toinspire and ground us, to give us purpose and shape. In the emptiness andambivalence we grow uncomfortable and so we run without knowing what towards,but because we are moving.

Today’s overtlyunapologetic disparities as explicit as the affordable housing units across thestreet from apartment buildings that advertise ‘dog spas’ as an amenity oftheir $8,000 monthly studios make me uncomfortable. I am outsider to both.

To reconcile thisunease I have rushed to StandingRock, to occupy Wall Street, to join hurricane disaster relief trips. I haverebelled and rioted, but with the assurance that my fate would remainrelatively unaltered despite the outcome. I have spoken on behalf of thesepopulations because I cared about their struggles but not because I knew them.The attempt to reconcile a yearning for hope and purpose juxtaposed withprivilege and ___ is dangerous. While support for these movements is crucial,these are not my fights to command or experiences to narrate.

The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum calculates that by 2010the two million volunteers who had traveled to New Orleans to participate inpost-Katrina service projects spent approximately $1,000 during their weeklongvisit, during which, on average, they worked no more than 14 hours. The museumdemonstrates that the two billion dollars spent traveling to New Orleans tovolunteer for 14 hours could have rebuilt 20,000 homes in the Lower Ninth Ward,as opposed to the 1,200 that were actually repaired or rebuilt.

After requesting that protestors leave becausetheir encampments were destroying the land, a Standing Rock tribe official wrote: “One of the key tenets of any movementis being considerate about how we treat the community in which we bring ourvoices and respect the places where we are visitors…the community has everyright to choose how it wants people to help them.”  Mother Jones reporter, Wes Enzinna writes of the dissonancebetween the “white-led environmental groups like 350.org,which focus on climate change, and Native activists, who believe the largerissue is one of tribal sovereignty and the unfinished struggle for NativeAmerican rights. The protesters were spread among three encampments, includinga largely Native camp and another filled with white activists I heard describedas the ‘Brooklyn’ of Standing Rock.”

I pretend becauseit is more interesting to have a story of strife than of inheritance. I pretendbecause doing so benefits me in principle without hurting me in practice. Ipretend because we live in an era of dichotomies and imbalance that suffocatesyoung idealism and development.

I am an expert atpretending.

But pretending will not dismantle the hierarchicalsystems creating the divisions and uncertainty cause us discomfort and fear.Assuming a cause as a means of finding your own is to tell truths that are notyours to narrate and to lead movements on which you are no expert.

So, to those who’s struggles I have claimedas my own in my search for purpose and aversion to uncertainty, tell me yourtruths and teach me your expertise. To those like me—and I know there are manyof you—continue to show and stand up, but try listening before you yell. There is space for us all as longas we make the room. 

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