Expect, accept discomfort in a society of differing perspectives

Illustration by Alvaro Baez.
Illustration by Alvaro Baez.

This summer, I spent a month working as the office coordinator at a music camp I attended as a child. I was excited to learn that we were presenting a class called Social Justice in Jazz, in which students discussed stereotypes in the context of jazz music (women don’t like long solos; white people over-intellectualize music) and gained tools to help them talk about sensitive topics like race, gender and sexual identity. “Speak your truth” and “expect and accept discomfort” were some of these tools.

Expect and accept discomfort – discomfort is one of the things we avoid at all costs. We surround ourselves with people who reinforce our opinions because validating differing philosophies and perspectives makes us re-evaluate our own, and that is uncomfortable.

Evading discomfort does wonders for one’s ego, but it doesn’t teach us anything.

This was the goal of the Social Justice in Jazz class: to open the floor to every student who wanted to speak his, her or their truth, leaving individuals with a better understanding of what music could be when we saw each other as whole, complex and legitimate beings.

Some people did not share this belief. Before the social justice class even ended, I received a phone call from a mother who asserted that we were “indoctrinating” her son with a “liberal agenda,” that this class has nothing to do with music and her son doesn’t hate anybody; why do we think he hates people?

I was bewildered. I wanted to shout “Good!” when she told me her son felt excluded, probably for the first time in his life. How desperately I wanted to explain that jazz came about in response to and in protest of intolerance and racism that permeates our country. I wanted to tell her that I am the only woman in my major, and even though I embrace that now, I would have given anything to have someone tell my younger self that my experiences in this male-dominated field were valid and teach me to be comfortable sharing them.

But my job was not to say those things. It was to listen. So I did, and the conversation never left the realm of polite civility. As I left the office that day, still rattled from that conversation, I passed a group of campers talking about the social justice class.

“It was … interesting,” one of them said slowly. “But good.”

It wasn’t a resounding endorsement, but in the silence between the words one could hear the sound of newly-formed gears beginning to turn.

Mackenzie Karbon is a junior majoring in jazz performance. Her column, Here’s That Rainy Day, normally runs the first Tuesday of each month.