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Jonathan Moore | Politically Erect

What’s in a radical?

Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014

Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014 08:01

Nearly two years ago, I looked at the photos of Trayvon Martin and thought about how closely he resembled my first crush. 

I grew up in a little Catholic school in inner city Detroit where I was born and raised. For those who don’t know anything about Detroit (someone once asked me if it was in the South), it has the highest percentage of African-Americans of any major city in the United States. I come from Mississippi Blacks on my father’sl side and first generation Mexican-Americans on my mother’s. Rarely knowing what it felt like to be in the racial minority, to say that getting used to Tufts continues to be a life-changing process for me would be an understatement.

As a poor, gay, bi-racial, atheist kid from Detroit, I’ve often been assumed to be “radical” by many as a side effect of my very existence.  Undoubtedly, I’m not the face of the Republican Party base, nor am I a poster boy for conservative values — but I’ve had to restrain myself from using the word “radical” to describe who I am. This is not because I think that my views and beliefs are traditional or not extreme, nor is it because my own self love and confidence is not radical, but because I don’t feel comfortable defining myself by what I think or say and not by what I’ve done to change the status quo.

The 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent media circus proved to many young Americans of color that even the most logical of words and reasons have their limitations in confronting systems that are codified to oppress, exterminate and devalue the lives of millions. Stunningly, I too often find people in denial about the real world realities of racism and institutional oppression in an effort to achieve some otherworldly sense of political correctness. “I don’t see race,” they’ll say. “We’re all the same.” These same people go on to assert themselves as “radical” thinkers and champions of racial equality. Pause.

Not only are these “post-racial” decrees by people harmful to our acceptance as a society of the work that still needs to be done, they are also a slap in the face to the very existence of people of color.  I’m happy that you’re so colorblind — while you’re at it, you can forget about gravity and motion too since the laws of human nature bear just as much weight on this world as the natural ones. Denial can only go on for so long until it becomes accepted ignorance — most people of color don’t have the luxury of denying reality. 

As the name Zimmerman remained wedged in my throat and the face of Trayvon Martin became etched into my memory like the face of Emmett Till in my grandmother’s, my 16-year-old body did not feel radical. I did not feel like a liberal-leaning Democrat. I felt afraid. I felt rage in my fingertips and, as if a hunting season had just been declared, feared that someone I knew would be on the dinner table of some sick son of a gun sooner or later. 

Real radicals bussed down to Selma on their own accords, faced inhumane brutality in the hopes of building the “beloved community”. Real radicals felt the scald of cigarette burns on their backs yet thought nothing of it compared to the ache of longing for elusive equality. Real radicals say things like, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door,” knowing that nothing worth fighting for will be won without great loss. True radicals put life and limb and love and longing all on the line to say “enough.” True radicals act.

But me? I’m nothing but a brown boy trying — succeeding, yes. But still trying, aspiring — to be more than just radical or progressive or whatever buzzword is on the tip of the tongues of the brightest and best. Trying to be more than just a set of fingers gnashing away at a keyboard or an outspoken voice spitting rhymes after midnight, I am not here to be politically correct, or incorrect. I am here to be real. 

Tupac Shakur once said, “I feel cheated because instead of me fulfilling my prophecy, I have to start one.” I’m still looking for mine.


Jonathan Moore is a freshman who has net yet declared a major. He can be reached at

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