When I talk about race and African Americans as I often do, I now come from a place of shock and shame.
I come from that place because I graduated from college last year, late in life, with a degree in American Studies and found myself deeply shocked by how invisible white privilege had influenced my life. I felt tremendous shame over my profound level of ignorance of large segments of our society; African American, Native American, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, mixed-race, as well as major issues such as voting rights, gun violence, human trafficking and how all those things had long affected my life and my community without so much as a hiccup from me. My studies of American culture were like watching a time lapse video of an odious flower blooming, and it was gut wrenching to read about it and face my own ignorance and inaction. Fascinating and painful, I pondered what it would be like to live through those times, and now I am finding out the answer as my nation faces yet another tumultuous period in our culture.
I was aware of racism, but not of the depth of the hatred or of how white america had systematically avoided teaching anything that isn’t reflective of an upright, white, male culture. I kept asking myself where are all the women? As I read about the women of all backgrounds, I realized the depth of my ignorance. I mean it’s one thing to focus on the positive, and another to wholly ignore the burning cross in your yard. I read book after book about how America treated all these groups of people, religions, and races in all sorts of circumstances. I learned about the cultural, political, financial, and religious responses as well as the impacts of those responses; it was disturbing to learn how the underdog struggles.
It felt as if I was discovering a hidden history, both joyful and noxious. From the chinese workers in the 1800s or prostitutes in the early 1900’s or newspaper ads about human trafficking (slavery) and examine how efforts were crafted to legally and socially deny wages, marriage, food, work, family, homes and more. Whether you’re reading Ida B. Wells documentation on lynching or the roll out of social security, it becomes obvious that the freedom to do or have something as simple as going to school, going to work, voting or praying has much to do with social class. There is so much information hidden in plain site that we readily accept that that’s just how it is.
So, I have begun to speak about my own history of gun, sexual and family violence … and how our social attitudes (both for and against) different people permeate our lives in ways that are far more negatively tangible for non whites and women than for others. I began to realize how much information we are presented with socially lacks context and not just historically, but emotionally, financially, and socially. I mean we often talk of the middle class and simultaneously deny having a class system in America. Is there no lower class (working poor), impoverished class (the homeless) or upper class (the elites)? Our words craftily disguise these differences to elevate the best in disfavor of the least and help us to evade the context of how different our neighbors are in favor of the similar.
So, my desire is to light a candle and encourage us to add context to the story. We can do that by asking 2 questions of every story:
- What words are used to describe people or events?
- Who is NOT being discussed?
The answers permit us to begin to see through the myriad of crafty descriptors to reveal the hidden message and add context by recognizing both the winners and losers, both the hero and the villain…. and who is caught in the middle. It provides a wholeness often not discussed or even discussed to the point of confusion.
If we are to resolve these tensions, we have to recognize not merely what elevates the tension but what also reduces it. We must recognize not just how we develop attitudes, but how those attitudes become tangible and in whose life. Understanding that our history has multiple perspectives is, today, about being aware and not about being sensitive because once we are aware of different perspectives, we can better recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each group, each attitude, and each position.
We know what love looks, acts and feels like, just as we know what hate looks, acts and feels like and yet not everyone sees the same message in the same story. When do we consider differing positions let alone how they are affected? So in my studies as my own ignorance was revealed to myself, I speak out now about such things that were always which I – as a white person – didn’t fully grasp. In this vein, I encourage you, that if you find yourself angry over a story as many of us do over Charlottesville, then I implore you to consider the words being used to describe people and consider who is missing from the story being told.
Why? Because when we only see one side, we become one-sided.
#Peace #NoH8 #Charlottesville #Virginia #FaithInTexas #Sojourners #Resist