Participants in the Creating Confluence workshop confront difficult topics such as racism, implicit bias, equity and inclusion. Photo by Leigh Solomon Pugliano.
Mackenzie Glumac and Mohammed Abdelsalam tended bar together at Olive Garden in Bethel Park. Photo by Sandra Tolliver.

Privilege and prejudice

Mackenzie Glumac, a psychology major and pre-law student at Duquesne University, never thought about terms such as “white privilege” and “institutional discrimination” until she took a class on social justice and diversity this past semester.

“You find out how privileged you are. It’s things that I’ve just taken for granted because they’re not directly oriented towards me. I grew up in the suburbs, in a middle- to upper-middle-class family and I took so much for granted,” says Glumac, of South Park. “I’ve always expected more than I probably should have, because a lot of people have it so much harder than I do. I never had to personally deal with racism.”

Now she worries that people will stereotype or shun her boyfriend, Muhammed Abdelsalam, who tended bar with her at Olive Garden in Bethel Park.

“Even dating Mo is one of those things,” she says. “He was trying to get a job in graphic design and marketing, and people look at his name and you wonder if that will affect his ability to get a job. Or, what if we go through the airport? There are so many things I would never have thought to realize.”

Abdelsalam, whose father is Palestinian, doesn’t worry about prejudice as much as she does. “I’m sure there have been cases where it happened that I didn’t know about, but I’ve been lucky enough where I haven’t had too much of it. My dad’s been stopped for searches a couple times, but even he’s been really lucky.”

All of this has strengthened Glumac’s resolve to “fight for the underdog” if she becomes an attorney.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that even if it doesn’t affect you personally, somewhere down the line it’s going to,” she says. “Who’s to say that if I have a child, they’re not going to be disabled? There are so many things you take for granted.”

Michael David Battle and his wife Joy KMT. Photo by Joy KMT.

Dismantle ‘erasure’

It takes a real investment by leaders of companies and nonprofits to dismantle systems of oppression and discrimination, says Michael David Battle, an artist from Edgewood and founding director of Garden of Peace Project.

“The ways out are to include the people. There are organizations in Pittsburgh right now where there’s not a single black person working there. That should not happen,” says Battle. “The work needs to be done but a lot of institutions are not—they want the look without the real transformation. They want to be able to say they’re doing the work. That takes radical shifts in ways of thinking.”

This he knows firsthand from his own struggles. Battle describes himself as a black, queer, trans father of five who is working poor.

“I had biases I created based on the people around me who were guiding me. I didn’t hear anything good about queer people, and certainly didn’t hear good things about trans people—I thought they were drag queens. So, I had to rectify those things. I’m not a bad person because I’m trans; I’m not a pedophile because I’m queer.”

Battle and his wife Joy KMT recently remodeled a house on Penn Avenue in Garfield they’re calling “Sanctuary,” a place for “black dreamers” to work on art projects. Sanctuary has a prayer room, botanical reading room and two apartments that could provide temporary housing for someone in need. Battle holds workshops called “Courageous Conversation,” in which people can accept accountability for things they’ve done and acknowledge each other’s pain.

“No one wants to say this is a white supremacist system—white people, in particular, don’t want to say that,” he says. “The system that has been designed is one that really increases the disposability of so many people . . . There’s erasure, and the only way to dismantle erasure is to invest in the communities that you are seeking to serve. Without that, we’re going to keep trying to build diversity and inclusion and saying these words that are empty.”

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.