I have never been one for keeping up on the news of the day. I don’t watch much television, and when I do, I really don’t want to hear about crime and death. I could certainly be accused of burying my head in the sand and ignoring certain things. It is not as though I don’t know bad things are happening; I just don’t like to dwell on them too much. I want to pick and choose my spots, not be flooded with it every day. I am grateful for the privilege of not having to deal with such constant negativity.
There are times, though, when either I come up for air after one of my mental hibernations to research a tough issue, or a story becomes so big that I can’t even hide from it with my head in the sand. The recent tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri and its aftermath seems to be one of those stories. While I haven’t followed it closely and certainly don’t claim to know all the facts, I think I know enough that it has seeped into my soul and really saddened me. Of course the death of Michael Brown is horrible in its own right, but what has been most on my mind is the way Black people in that area have been mistreated and disrespected by the White people—especially in positions of power (e.g., the police force)—since the beginning of the town itself. The message “Black lives don’t matter” seems to echo loudly from Ferguson. Unfortunately, it is not the only town in America sending that message.
I have lately been reading some articles and papers about being an ally to members of disadvantaged groups, whether that be a racial or ethnic minority, members of the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community, non-Christians, poor people, women, the mentally or physically handicapped, overweight people, and many more. I have tried to become increasingly aware of how wildly privileged I am as a White, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, American male, and how easy it can be to ignore the unearned advantages I have over others not in my categories (this blissful ignorance of my privilege is, of course, just one of the privileges of my station—scary how that works!).
With all of these thoughts in my head lately, I have still been a bit unclear where my voice is, what my role needs to look like. I went to bed last night wondering fruitlessly about that. When I woke up this morning, I turned to what has become my version of “reading the news.” Its name is Facebook. Yes, I count on those articles and videos that people share to keep myself marginally informed. There I found an article called “5 Things You Should Never Do (or Say) to a Little Person”, which featured a 22-year-old man who lives in New York City and the awful treatment he receives on a daily basis just going about his normal business as a dwarf/little person. He made a six-minute documentary called “Don’t Look Down on Me” (I highly encourage you to look it up), in which he wore a hidden camera to detail his experiences. It made me very sad to watch.
As the film came to a close and the young man’s cold reality had dug out an aching hole in my heart, his honest voice came over the images:
“I don’t want to TELL anyone what to do or what to think or how to feel, but instead what I’ll do is I’ll ASK. I’ll ASK that the next time you see someone who is different than you, think about what their day might be like. Think about all of the events of their life leading up to that point. Then think about their day, and think about what part of their day do you want to be?”
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Stopped me dead in my tracks. His question seemed directed right at me. Its probing depth is absolutely brilliant, and my daily response to it could be the only thing I might do to make my heart feel whole. It is an obvious question that must be addressed by people of privilege, but the lesson is a universal one. What part of someone’s day do you want to be?
It is so easy to be mean, even easier to be insensitive. But gosh, when you look at all of the travails that we have put so many people of the world through—see the seemingly endless list of disadvantaged groups I mentioned above—don’t you think we could all make the effort to do better, to show up for one another just because each one of us MATTERS?
As a White, heterosexual, middle class, able-bodied male, the world shows up for me every day; it rolls the red carpet out. It is time for me to not only become more aware of how much easier and better it is for me than for others, but also for me to do what I can—every day and in every interaction—to share with others the privileges I get for free. It is more than that, though. It is not just about not harassing, not looking down upon, not being insensitive. It is NOT about inaction nor about ignoring others and just “letting them live.” It is not about neutral.
It is up to all of us—but especially those of us with privilege—to become a positive part of everyone else’s day. In gestures big and small, interpersonal and political. It is time to stir the compassion from our souls, to look into the other’s eye and see ourselves. When we do that, we can begin to act from Love. When we act from Love, we find ways to be the positive part of someone’s day. We help them rise rather than tear them down. We joke with them, not about them. We share with them rather than horde for ourselves. We see them. We hear them. We seek to understand their experience of the world. We sympathize with them, and we do our best to empathize as well. We know them to be—just like ourselves—valuable simply because they were gifted life on Earth and are thus of Divine heritage. We are family.
So, the next time I see someone who looks or acts different from me, I am going to do my best to remember that Truth. I will ask myself, “What part of their day do I want to be?” Armed with that Truth—that they are me and we are One—and emboldened by my multi-layered privilege, I will answer with certainty, “The most LOVING part!”
If I can walk that walk of Love every day—if I can “see through the eyes of God” and live accordingly—I can make change. Now just imagine if we could all show up for each other and live this way. We could make serious change! Positive, world-shaking change. So, what do you say: Wanna take a walk with me???
How about you? How can you leverage your privilege to make the world better for everyone? Open up your journal and examine your place in the world. In which of your many statuses are you privileged? On a day-to-day basis, are you aware of that privilege—most people are not, so don’t feel bad admitting it—and how it affects your interactions? Where do you feel it the most? Now look at the other side of the coin. Which of your statuses are definitely NOT privileged? What are some examples of how that plays out in your daily life? How does it feel to be treated that way? Does lack of privilege in one area give you more empathy toward people who are mistreated due to their lack of privilege in another area (e.g., does being Black make you more likely to feel the pain of someone who is overweight or transgendered?)? Are we all inherently valuable? If so, why don’t we treat each other that way? More specifically, why are Black lives in Ferguson (and so many other places) not valued the way White lives are? Why do we slip so quickly and so badly when it comes to our treatment of people who are different from us? Is it evolutionary, in our genes? Do you think that if we believed there was enough of everything to go around—love, opportunity, money, etc.—that we would not fight so desperately to keep our spot in the pecking order? Do you think you can do better? Can you show up for EVERYONE, no matter how unpopular that might make you with your own group? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to see through the eyes of God?
Be a light today,