Just because the law recognizes you as a human, doesn’t mean the rest of society will

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“What’s next? The Supreme Court’s going to legalize marrying our dogs? Brothers? Disgusting. And now on top of it, Obama’s taking our dollars and throwing them into the hands of the –”

The infuriated aged man stops to take a deep breath, as if the words he were about to utter were so disgusting he needed to brace himself.

“The goddamn “poor”, he spits outs, the contempt in his tone loud to all.

My hand shook as I poured cream into my coffee, his words and anger both shocking and scaring me.

It was a riveting reminder I wanted to share with you all – a way, I suppose, for myself to make something beautiful out of words so ugly:

While great political wins have occurred, there is a still – and will always be a need – for cultural and psychological shifts. Not just towards the LGBTQ community, but towards every identity – from socioeconomic to racial and gender.

Just because the law recognizes you as a human, doesn’t mean the rest of society will. Don’t let talks of “equality achieved” render you deaf to other forms of inequality. Human equality isn’t some destination with a single linear path, but a part of the greater human narrative – story – whose ending we can’t know but we have a lot of power to influence. Her/History is a story that ends only when humankind ends.

At the same time, don’t despair. Stories do and can get better. People’s hearts and minds can and do change, particularly young people’s, who are the future. So learn, teach and communicate with those willing to respectfully listen and engage.

The future is beautiful and full of hope, but only if we realistically accept and approach the still – and always, so long as fallible humans exist – imperfect present.

Understanding the “Privileged”

Another piece I wrote for The F-Word UK: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2014/07/understanding_the

Individual #1: Racial minority, woman brought up in a single-parent household with a deceased Dad, experienced financial hardship as a young child.

Individual #2: British citizen, well-educated, from a loving family, raised in some of the world’s safest areas, no physical impairments, middle-class upbringing.

It’s easy to identify which is the privileged one, yet they both describe the same person: me.

For a long time, I identified more with the first description. While aware of other types of privileges, the predominant in my mind was wealthy white male heterosexual privilege. Consequently, I was on the losing side.

That is, until I had a conversation with a white male heterosexual friend about race and gender. We discussed the concept of wealthy white male heterosexual privilege, which he found offensive.

I initially felt anger, but as he was my friend, I thought I’d calmly explain why he was wrong to feel offended. I elaborated by talking about how white male privilege adversely affected my life.

My friend listened compassionately, and seemed shocked.

“I’m so sorry to hear about that. I knew before that it’s hard to be a woman and an ethnic minority, and wasn’t trying to say it wasn’t, but I get it now. I am so sorry.”

I felt pride and asked if that helped him understand his privilege.

“Well, I still feel there’s something wrong I didn’t communicate well before. It’s more the way it’s often spoken about,” he replied. “I feel there’s this underlying assumption many have when they speak of the concept. Like that because I experience privilege as a white heterosexual man means I have the overall better life, when that’s not the case.”

He went on to talk about his past. He’d experienced tremendous poverty and abuse growing up. He felt he suffered from depression, but never asked for help due to the stigma he felt as a man he’d receive for it.

It was now my turn to feel shocked. All I’d known was his current situation – in which his family was wealthy – and the image he conveyed: tall, confident, and muscular.

It made me re-consider my belief that because I was less privileged in some ways, I had the worse life. While I lost my Dad at a young age, I lived a safe, stable middle-class upbringing. As a child, my supportive family and education-oriented culture taught me to value academics and family. My friend, on the other hand, suffered from neglect, experiencing brief stints at foster homes and street fighting.

It was like I’d created this mental hierarchy measuring people based on privilege, rich white men and women were further up, and thus had greater lives. When I realised I was more blessed in some ways than my friend, I saw how flawed that logic was. After all, I hadn’t had it easier than him in life overall just because I grew up with love. I’ve battled with emotional health issues, some actually indirectly a result of sexism, racism, and my socioeconomic background.

Yet I also asked for and received mental health treatment because I knew my family would help me. Reflecting on it deeper, I likely also benefited from the fact it’s societally more acceptable for a woman to ask for help than a man.

I realised what my friend was saying: just because you’ve the upper hand in one area of life doesn’t mean you’ve the happier life. Nobody’s immune from pain, no matter her or his gender, race, or wealth. After all, depression and suicide can affect anybody.

My heart softened. I learned an important lesson: if one wants real understanding between the sexes, or even non-white feminists and white feminists- we’ve got to respectfully talk and call somebody out on their privilege. The intention has to be to promote unity rather than separation, which is more likely to occur when one communicates as opposed to aggressively confronts.

In similar past situations, I’d get mad. Why should I “respectfully” educate and listen to him when I feel disrespected? It shouldn’t even be my responsibility as a non-white minority to teach him in the first place.

Yet because of structural racism, the average person isn’t taught about these concepts. I myself didn’t know about white male privilege until university. Is it really productive to get mad at him personally, taking out what is actually my anger at society, for being born into a world that didn’t teach either of us better earlier? Wouldn’t it be more productive to instead respectfully explain it to him and hear him out, given people usually listen when they feel heard?

It turned out it was. That day my privileged white male friend became an advocate for women and racial minorities’ rights, and I became a better human being.

I am a bigot.

A professor once told me the first, and the most important, step in eradicating racism, sexism, gender role oppression etc…is to first acknowledge it in yourself and constantly work on it. Whether it’s you acting or thinking in a discriminatory manner towards others, or yourself, we all have prejudices somewhere within us. How can we not? Our histories and lives are filled with all types of prejudice; even saints or respected figures had them ie Gandhi, Mother Teresa, MLK, Nelson Mandela etc…Mandela himself owned up to that.

So I’m always uncomfortable around self-righteous types who point the finger a lot but never look at themselves. When people judge too much, I wonder what they are repressing and thus projecting. I don’t trust them. I think most don’t, hence we roll our eyes at “do-gooders” sometimes. Many don’t feel they’re coming from an authentic place because they are not – they are annoyingly, hypocritically “holier than thou” acting out roles rather than being themselves, and coming from an honest, inspired, heart-filled place. The ones who are legit, however, like Mandela – we feel inspired by.

I get it because I was once like that myself – not just with societal issues but personally – until I realized I was so motivated by fear and sometimes societal definitions of “good”, “acceptable” “perfect”, I wasn’t really growing or self-actualizing as a person. I felt so trapped. And like a disgusting hypocrite, I was afraid others would find out the darker side of me, the side that believed more in certain prejudices or was weaker than I would outwardly convey.

Honestly, because I was like that, I thought everybody was too – politically correct, perfect beings on the outside, but not so much on the inside. I felt pretty bitter, guilty, and inferior – a huge fraud. But to admit this would make me look bad, so I tried to pretend these things weren’t there. I was so ashamed, but I had no way to communicate or deal with it, so I projected it outwards and got even angrier and judgmental of others. And I most likely alienated and turned off more people.

Now I’m more self-aware and comfortable in my own skin, I’m not like that anymore, or at least am not most of the time. And I’ve noticed now in my own life – and others experiences – that people tend to listen to and respect those who have the courage to own up to their intolerance than those who are always angry and fail to look in a mirror. Judgment, labels, self-righteousness, the words “You are so this and this”, “People, or this group, are sheep, lazy, complacent, dumb, ignorant, self-absorbed” doesn’t really do a whole lot when trying to resolve issues. It just creates shame and guilt, and as anybody with an understanding of psychology knows, those are the exact emotions people do anything to avoid – and thus will avoid anything that triggers it off, whether through avoidance or anger.

A lot of people are generally loving and caring, willing to listen, learn, grow, and change when you communicate to them from a down to earth, humble, understanding, problem-solving way/approach. Or at least that is my experience and observations. It’s just all about honest communication and self-awareness.