Being an American means: fighting for social justice
He was in seventh grade when the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson happened. While most of his peers were not interested in what was happening, Richard Pfeifer could not pull his eyes away. He saw injustice and his instincts told him to help. Pfeifer, now a freshman, said his desire to help people from a young age stuck with him and prompted him to devote time fighting for social justice. He is most passionate about combating socioeconomic gaps.
“A lot of issues stem from wealth inequality,” Pfeifer said. “People who are less well-to-do live in poorer neighborhoods where the education is lacking. People who live in that state of poverty can hold a lot of misinformation.”
Though he understands it is through no fault of their own, Pfeifer believes this information gap is dangerous because it is one of the main causes of other social justice issues. He acknowledges while Americans all live on the same chunk of land, perceptions of America can vary by circumstance, and certain groups get a much less flattering version.
“Generalizing everyone’s American experience under one banner is entirely inaccurate,” Pfeifer said.
“That can be on a personal level, but is also affected by the trait’s you are born with. Obviously a white American is going to have a different experience than an African American. [People who advocate social justice] are trying to make everyone’s experience positive.”
Pfeifer, who is a member of KHS’s Social Justice Club, said progress on social issues comes in many different forms and there is no “correct” way to go about it. The important part, he said, toward making a more cohesive and accepting America is trying to do something and staying as informed on the issues as much as possible. Madeline Raimondo, Social Justice Club sponsor and social studies teacher, said Pfeifer does his best to stay informed, even though he is not usually a member of the affected groups.
“One thing that stands out about Richard is he is really good at listening,” Raimondo said. “He recognizes as a white male, the privileges that he brings with him into conversations about other groups that have been oppressed. When he does talk, he is good at making people feel heard.”
Pfeifer thinks understanding biases is one of the biggest steps toward fixing them. He acknowledges his idea of being an American is skewed because of his fortunate position. He is uncomfortable with the idea of an “American” at all, and wishes it took on a different meaning than it does now.
“I’ve said what I want America to look like, but as far as Americans, I think generalizing all the cultures and ethnicities that make America what it is, and calling all those people ‘Americans’ can be dangerous,” Pfeifer said. “It can erase what people’s culture and what they identify as.”
Raimondo and Pfeifer agree that by the nature of their work, they expose themselves to a discouraging lens of viewing their community and America as a whole. They said it can be hard to stay optimistic in the face of all the progress they know is yet to be made.
“For people who engage in these conversations, it can get frustrating,” Raimondo said. “And for people who have felt oppression in its various forms, it can also be frustrating. It’s important to celebrate progressions we have made as a country, while also recognizing we have a long way to go. You have to take those moments to have joy and be happy.”
According to Pfeifer, America should look toward Europe, and how many of its countries have dealt with the Syrian crisis as a guide. He said he wants America to accept and embrace every culture, while not trying to uproot and change them. He does not want everyone’s American experience to be the same, but he wants the differences to be positive.
“I want to see an America that is inclusive of other cultures and ethnicities,” Pfeifer said. “I want to see an America where hate speech and promotion of inequality is discouraged and outcast. I want to see an America where people are educated on different points of view. I want to see an America where everyone’s history is taken into account.”