We are going to disagree. It is the nature of diversity and individuality. This is a gift. But what happens when differences are not handled properly, are not used to move us to a place deeper understanding and appreciation for the many forms being human can take? Isolation, echoes of our own opinions, and mirrors of our own perspectives.
Much of our discourse regarding issues we disagree on has consisted of polarizing screaming matches. We stand on opposite ends of a human problem and reduce one another to ‘idiots’ and ‘deplorables’. And even for those wanting to understand race relations, gender issues, and political subjects, the divide between understanding can feel impossible to traverse.
The best way to begin to cross this divide is to have conversations, interactions, and exchanges of information and perspectives. In many ways, when it comes to race, there is still discussion on whether a legitimate problem exists. Are people of color really oppressed? How can someone claim to be oppressed if they are well off financially or are college educated and hard working? But more importantly, how are we having discussions (if we are having discussions at all) and what do we need to armor ourselves with to have successful dialogues? Successful conversations are those in which we seek first to understand and then to be understood. Below are some tools and challenges in approaching ‘the other’ and moving toward a more complete picture, not a cartoon of each other’s humanity.
Question Discriminate Compassion
If you found yourself posting about #BacktheBlue after Dallas but said nothing about what happened to Philando Castile or Alton Sterling or the people shot in Orlando, there is a possibility that someone’s life means more to you than another’s. That may be the case for several reasons, but it is important to discover why one person’s humanity is worth upholding and another’s is somehow negated. This is the Petri dish where prejudice is born.
2. Seek Unbiased (Less Biased) Information
If you feel inclined to comment on the plight or movement of a demographic that you do not fall into, purpose to be informed. It really is the smallest courtesy. Read a book by an immigrant. Watch a documentary about refugees. Ask God to send you a Queer person as a friend. We have got to begin to exchange propaganda for personhood. Talk to people of that demographic to understand and get their perspective on the issue. Listen to hear, not to defend, be combative, or debate. Be respectfully curious. The subject matter is their turf, not yours so treat it as holy ground. Take your shoes off when you walk into someone else’s home, so to speak.
I have no right to say what Native Americans, LGBTQ people, immigrants, refugees, etc. need to do, and I dare not presume to know what it’s like to be them. I can’t speak on their behalf and legitimize or invalidate what they report is their experience. I can’t tell you how good it has been for me to have a Muslim friend or friends who identify as gay or lesbian or simply struggling with their sexuality. I find that I’m not so quick to say anything. I really just want to listen and understand.
3. Be Quick to Hear, Slow to Speak, and Slow to Anger (defensiveness)
You cannot, should not attempt to wipe away another human’s experience as ‘not’ real. It is not real to you, perhaps, but this is where you are privileged. As a woman, you may feel pretty equal to men. The reality of the less fortunate has not penetrated your bubble. However, exposure either by way of reading, conversations, or documentaries would argue that women are still second-class citizens, as are people of color, those in the LGBTQ community, those who subscribe to faiths other than Christianity, etc. The task is to find out how and why that is the case and then to actively participate in elevating our brothers and sisters to the full status of human, like us.
If amid the conversation you find yourself reaching for something to bat down the reality someone is sharing with you, let me give you a profound tool: ‘Why?’ Ask yourself why this is making you feel uncomfortable and examine the legitimacy of that feeling. The best thing you can do is sit in it and ask yourself hard questions.
If you are not a racial minority, let me assure you: The African American community wants to be understood. Hear and see the wounds. I have only personally begun to scratch the surface of the darkness that our country was built on and in far too many ways still persists in. There is a lot of work to be done. A response is necessary; there is too much blood to look away. So I cut my hair in response. The protests and pushback and marches and hashtags are all a response. To systemic racism. Historical oppression. Unjust bloodshed. To slapped wrists and dirt swept under bloody rugs. Today. In 2017. To my Christian brothers and sisters, your charge is found in Proverbs 24:11-12, “Rescue everyone you can of those being taken away and killed, and hold on to those innocent souls staggering toward their own slaughter. If you excuse yourself, saying, “Look, we didn’t know anything about this,” doesn’t God, who knows what you are really thinking, understand your motives? Isn’t your Protector aware of why you aren’t protecting the innocent…?”
Listen, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but that is no excuse to persist in darkness. People are dying and have died, are serving and have served to secure and protect the ideals that the flag stands for. However, as long as we as a people are comfortable accepting less than what the anthem declares is the inheritance of all citizens, we allow our service men and women to put a full down payment on a house that only half of us are living in. America is great because of the potential for uncapped progress, but it can do and be better. We as human being must do and be better, for each other.