A person holding up a sign saying “If not now, when? If not us, who?”. Image by Taylor Brandon, Unsplash.
Self-expression and freedom of expression: two important aspects that allow us to express who we are and our opinions in society. In general, self-expression allows us to express our thoughts, feelings, and emotions in ways we can’t always express with words, and be communicated through various methods. Art forms such as painting/drawing, music, writing, and dance can be ways of expressing yourself. Self-expression can even be shown through your clothing and hairstyle; any medium where you can explore and express your emotions can be considered self-expression. However, many people throughout history, many minorities have been deprived of their right to expression, or have been subjected to horrible experiences because of expressing themselves. While freedom of expression is protected by the law and the constitution, many people are being targeted or have been denied their ways of expressing their emotions and feelings, and in many cases, discriminated against for speaking up and voicing their opinions.
People of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, among other minority groups, have been discriminated against for their self-expression. In our society, women are catcalled and objectified for what they wear or say. Women are shamed for wearing what many consider “revealing” clothes, but also shamed for wearing comfortable clothes, as that is considered not putting any effort into their appearances. These standards that many minorities have been held and controlled by have developed to the point that victims of assault (particularly women and feminine-presenting people) are blamed for their horrible situations because of what they were wearing at the time of the assault.
In addition, many minorities have faced backlash simply for exercising their freedom of expression. For example, while inclusion and diversity have increased in the art industry, many artists of color are often met with racial stereotypes or compared to the “model minority”, or otherwise deprived of opportunities because they’re seen as inferior to white artists. Many musicians and authors of color are also constantly overshadowed and struggle to be recognized. While systemic racism is deeply rooted in many industries, the art industry is one of the most prominent industries where we can see white supremacy and racism play a major role.
Aside from the systemic racism rooted in various industries in our society, it is also apparent in the double standards during different events in the past few years. For instance, during the pandemic, one of the biggest protests for freedom and expression was the BLM protests. During the BLM protests, many people of color came together and protested for justice, and many were subjected to cruel backlash from the police, such as being attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets, arrested, and many were even killed during these protests. However, during the Capitol Hill riot — where many armed supporters of Trump stormed into, vandalized, and attacked the capitol—the police acted with restraint. The double standards due to the systemic racism engrained in our society were displayed through the actions of the police in these riots. While the BLM protesters who were protesting for justice and freedom of expression were met with violence from the police, the rioters in the Capitol hill riot were met with restraint.
Overall, minorities are held to a multitude of standards when it comes to expressing themselves, and systemic racism and the system of control prevalent in society play a major role. Freedom of expression and self-expression are two core values and rights that everyone—regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.—should have, and we need to strive to eradicate these oppressive systems that deprive others of expression.
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