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Jerin Arifa is an award-winning activist, a first-generation Bangladeshi and Muslim-American feminist, and happily married woman to an atheist, Alaskan man.

Jerin Arifa is a trailblazer who co-created the campus sexual assault policy for the largest urban public university in the nation; and as a child, created a literacy program for homeless kids in Bangladesh. As the Founder and President of the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) inaugural virtual chapter, Young Feminists and Allies, Jerin mentors millennials across the country.


Understanding White Privilege: A Resource List

Jerin Arifa

There is a big difference between being a racist and having normal reactions to a racist society.

I want to make the distinction that someone can engage in oppressive behaviors without meaning to be oppressive. I might have a racist thought or even engage in racist behaviors, but that doesn't make me a racist. The difference is how we respond when someone points out our oppressive actions. 

For example, I've had a blind friend for many years. She participated in the NOW National Young Feminist Task Force along with me. I try hard not to be ableist and even had conversations with her on it. Yet, it wasn't until someone pointed out one of my behaviors that I realized I was participating in the system that oppresses people with disabilities. Until a few months ago, I never thought to include photo captions when posting articles online -- even after discussing Readers with my friend to mitigate my chronic dry eyes. That's the reality of privilege. We don't have to think about something when it doesn't affect us. I always have the option of looking at a picture, even when using a Reader for the text. 

As I question all of my internalized prejudices, I'm asking others do the same. I've been sharing the below with my white family members, who are wonderful people. But this election has taught me that racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and other isms are systems of oppression. They are not just individual acts. We do not exist outside these systems just because we wish to. I can’t wake up tomorrow and decide to have white privilege. The systems of privilege are external factors that society assigns. An individual cannot stop being privileged any more than I can change my skin color.

This country I love dearly was built on slavery, genocide and rape. Our default as Americans is to be racist, sexist, ableist, etc. It's like walking in the rain. The water will hit us unless we take active measures against it, such as holding an umbrella or wearing a rain coat. Even then, a strong wind might get our face wet. We live in a culture that suffocates us with its bigotry in explicit and implicit ways. It's only natural that some of it seeps into our subconscious. I explain more here: https://youtu.be/6xFgIgz0lZI.

But I still have hope. Let’s all become the change we want to see in others.