Loyola Magazine

“Current times deserve real talk.”

A reflection on Roxane Gay's remarks at the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Convocation

Thank you, Roxane Gay.

Current times deserve real talk. That is why your insight at the 26th Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation at Loyola University Maryland was so pointed. And timely. We have seen the divisions in our society continue to splinter and spread, with families and friends drifting apart over their political and social views.

As you noted in your lecture, “our culture is poisoned.” Bigotry is that poison, and injustice is the result. Baltimore knows that all too well. The places where people feel safe to be themselves seem to be shrinking. Fear and a lack of understanding dominate our ability to act as a unified front and resolve these systemic problems.

Facing these deep divisions is daunting. How much easier is it to ignore what feels unfixable? How much easier to acknowledge issues, but shrug our shoulders about what can be done to transform the situation? Issues like white privilege.

Roxane Gay seated on Loyola's stage.

Many examples, including some recent events, show how destructive this power is and has been for generations of people of color, women, and anyone considered “other.” Your sage words remind us that apathy and detached acknowledgement are not enough if we truly care about creating an equitable society.

Being open, acknowledging how privilege keeps social justice unattainable, and working together to find practical means of empowering all people within our borders is the work still to be done.

Allyship is not enough; allowing some to “stand in solidarity” with others in their struggle without getting their feet wet. That false sense of accomplishment actually prevents us from moving the needle against injustice. While, as you acknowledged, having these conversations is hard and often uncomfortable, it is necessary.

We all must use our skills, whatever they may be, to take on others’ causes as our own, because injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.

I appreciate your words so much because they are like a bell ringing out, someone shaking us out of our sleep and saying that the status quo is not good enough anymore.

Roxane Gay on stage with large crowd seated on the bleachers.

We cannot continue to stand by and shrug. If young children of color are ever going to be able to imagine bold futures for themselves, without the constant fear of what bigotry could inflict on their lives, all of us have to do the hard work of reckoning with prejudice.

For women to achieve equity, we have to challenge policy and unspoken bias. For our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to be secure and held in the same esteem as everyone else, for any of this to happen, we have to rewrite history.

So thank you again, Ms. Gay, for reminding us of who we need to be. We are ready to get uncomfortable.

Michelle Betton, who graduated from Loyola in 2005, is a writer at Capital Impact Partners in Arlington, Va. She attended the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Convocation on Jan. 22, 2019, and accepted an invitation from Loyola magazine to share her thoughts in this reflection.

Photos by Larry Canner.