If my best friends had super hero capabilities, Sónia would have the amazing super power of feeling. She experiences the world in way I admire immensely because she can easily put herself in someone else’s shoes, reflect their complicated feelings (often of confusion, despair, even perceived hate) back and the depth of her empathy is endless.
Sónia and I were discussing the state of the world and it was clear to me, she has a lot to say about racism, prejudice and hatred. She has such a unique perspective and the ability to see hot button issues from so many different points of view. I loved our conversation and asked her to share her thoughts with you here as a guest blogger.
I wept in my office alone as I listened to recent media reports. Again, I felt the weight of the world’s hate on my shoulders. The catalyst was not discussion of extremists who have bastardized a peaceful religion, nor discussion of a place of dance as a centrifugal cultural force that caused people to question the need for the transparency of their truest selves, nor discussion of how a tail light was the catalyst to a 4 year old child witnessing a senseless murder. This time, it was discussion of an unstable man who so perverted a message of unity and change he murdered 5 men who had pledged their lives to serve and protect their community.
My heart bleeds
The reasons I wept are varied and complexly interwoven into the very fiber of my being. As this blog’s author so aptly put it while we processed the state of our world together, “your heart bleeds for these causes.” What I was witnessing was hundreds of social media “friends” who had been silent on the state of things since the Parisian attacks suddenly sound the alarm of injustice. Defenses of ALL LIVES MATTER rang loudly as new personal mantras from presumably well intended “friends” who I could attest to were progressive, and colorblind, and fair…. Or so I thought.
I know I PASS
Let me bring it back a minute. I was born to a family that (like many around the world) was uneducated, illiterate, fiercely protective of one another, and hardworking from sun up to down. When we moved to the USA, I was 3 years old, my brother was 5 years old and my parents were in their late 20s. Immigrating to America, they were filled with hope and determination, but had NOTHING. By the time I was 9, my family considered me a legal and medical translator, an advocate, and even a cook. By the age of 14, I had earned an academic scholarship worth about $120,000. I received an Ivy League education and now I work for a prominent institution where I am undoubtedly respected and valued. I say these things NOT for accolades; but rather to demonstrate a dichotomy of the lives before me, and the one I live.
This dichotomy has permeated nearly my entire life. Growing up, in a community of immigrants, I often heard stereotypes spoken as truth. Some of these endowed an ethnic group with positive qualities like hardworking and kind, while others were deemed lazy and stupid. In my private high school, which I attended as a boarding student with a scholarship, I felt acutely aware of socioeconomic disparity and the permeating effects it had on education and potential. My groups of friends were chosen, at least initially, in part to where on the continuum of wealth I assumed they came from. If they, too, had received a scholarship, then somehow I felt more connected with them. Today, my institution is a constant leader in innovation catering to elite medical tourism, as well as the most vulnerable. The dichotomy continues to prevail.
Michelle asked me to write a blog after she asked me how current events affect me beyond increasing anxiety. Some days, the state of the world does, in fact, increase my anxiety, but I am also increasingly impassioned to make current events an issue of humanity rather than of a selected group(s). Here is why: I have always passed. What I mean is…. I can communicate just as effectively with a corporate CEO or foreign dignitary as I can with the homeless man suffering from dementia or the recent immigrant who is escaping an abusive relationship. I PASS. People have always projected a perceived history onto me, whether it included parental lineage or country of origin (especially when I speak a foreign language). The color of my skin does not have a history of hate nor persecution. I lack the accent some perceive to denote a lack of education. My religious beliefs have no visible associated article(s) of clothing. Holding my partner’s hand does not ignite fear of physical retaliation, but is rather a simple expression of our love. Yet, I recognize all of these things to be a privilege. I am privileged to pass as part of the majority who run this country, but I did not earn any of this privilege.
When tragedy strikes, check your privilege
When tragedy strikes, I have a handful of friends I turn to for support. We are like minded in how we check our privilege continually and do not ascribe to the attitude of THIS [tragedy] was the direct result of media, activism, or a particular political party. We feel this country, in general, has long succumbed to complacency and abandoned the ideals of working towards equality. We do not see the current state of the world in direct juxtaposition to the “days of yore” where everyone lived peacefully… Hello, Holocaust? Civil Rights? Discrimination and hate has always been a part of our history.
We believe, in fact, black lives matter because the nation (… the world) needs to remember historically they have not. I am not only referring to slavery or Jim Crowe, but rather to a systematic lack of opportunity and persecution. Stereotypes have been historically negative. Medical access has been denied. Educational opportunities perceived as filling a particular quota. WHY? These inequities exist because they cannot pass.
Why this matters to me, since I do pass? Because when my friends are on fire, I do not sit back idly wondering how their story will end. I SCREAM OUT and into action. I want to bring them water and encourage our neighbors to gather together to help support our friend in need. Perhaps, my circle of friends is wider than most. Perhaps, you feel that this will NOT affect you. Yet, I challenge you to “check your privilege” and think hard on which of your chosen descriptions of self were given unto you rather than earned through hard work. Where were you born? Where did you worship? Who have you loved? Take pride in all you have done to bring you privilege- absolutely! But, recognize some things are out of your control.
At some point in the history of the universe, a proverbial coin was flipped and you either fell on the side of privilege or not
I am not suggesting black lives matter more than blue lives, more than your life (if you do not happen to be black) or anyone else’s. Instead, black lives matter, AS WELL. So, let’s please (as a nation) stop pretending they don’t. Let’s stop pretending the black man in your upper middle class neighborhood is genetically different than the black man who is trying to sustain his family of 5 on minimum wage and commutes 3 hours to work daily. Let’s stop and think about our internal and external prejudices. Let’s stop pretending violence and murder only happen across an ocean in countries fueled by extremism. Let’s recognize how recently, because of the self-destruction we are currently involved in, foreign countries have warned their citizens against traveling to our shores. Don’t justify your exclusion in the hate by telling yourself you have a black friend, a gay friend, a Muslim friend. Do you often say, “I have this white friend?” I challenge you to take it all one step further.
Teach your children about inclusion, privilege, and the strengths of diversity
[Not everyone lives in a diverse community.] When checking out children’s books from the library, I purposefully choose books with characters of every descriptor. My son would not necessarily point out a person in a wheelchair or of a different race or ethnicity because he has had exposure.
On a recent outing, my 3 year old son and I ate our picnic lunches near a young man (about 12-14 years old) who was clapping repeatedly as he rocked and periodically and letting out a very loud cry. My son who does not like loud noises was not happy, but he was also very concerned about this young man. I explained he was likely communicating. The rest of our conversation went a little something like this:
3 year old: But, why doesn’t he just talk like everybody else?!
Mom: Does everybody else talk the same way?
3 year old: Uhhhh… YES!
Mom: But, I speak a couple of languages. And our dog speaks in a different way, too. People talk in different ways.
3 year old: Oh.
Mom: We each learn different ways to communicate. Looks like his mom knows what he needs. So, he’s communicating. He’s talking in his way.
Later, we stood on line in the bathroom behind this young man. My son reminded me loudly, “That’s the boy that yells!” I restated, “He communicates differently.” Thankfully, his kind mother saw I was attempting to redirect and joined our conversation explaining how her son didn’t use words, but knew a lot of sign language. Her son taught my son a couple of simple signs, which he used repeatedly for weeks. I could have hugged that mother! Her grace was simply beautiful and she allowed her son to be seen not by his disabilities, but rather as a teacher with unique talents.
The state of the world sometimes worries me. I would even say it produces night sweats on occasion. However, I choose to discuss it openly because avoidance will not change the culture. Change will only come through speaking openly of the ridiculousness and hate associated with thinking one group can be wholly better or worse than another. It’s asinine. It’s feebleminded. It’s not the way I choose to raise my child, and I hope it is not the way you choose to raise yours.