A part of me thinks things in this world are pretty dang good compared to any other time in history (although we’ll have to see where the new regime takes us.) But despite it being pretty good a whole sector of our culture is very quick to protest about things being unfair these days. Sometimes it makes me wonder if some of the people who protest are like school kids refusing to sit down in their desk because they’re demanding infinite recess. I don’t think all of them are that way, but I just find myself wondering if some of them are.
I am the VERY WORST possible person to be critiquing protests against fairness. If anyone has been favored, it would be me. I’m a white middle-class American male. I have been very privileged. Sorry, for the conservatives in the group, that’s one of those buzz words that’s easy to roll our eyes at. Hopefully I didn’t just lose you.
But I have definitely begun to see ways we don’t allow people fair first impressions. And I see those assumptions are often largely related to some unchangeable quality about them. That seems unfair. I don’t think it would be right to vindictively criticize me for buying into whatever stereotypes I have because I haven’t done it intentionally. But having them kindly shown to me is good because I may be able to reflect and change it. I need to remember that people protesting something I have taken for granted are probably not attacking me (I want the best for everybody) but I do want to know if something is painful for them so I can see if I can help.
In my hyper-sensitive-to-complainers conservative moments I find myself saying, well, people just need to perform better to break the stereotypes of them (I think we all should try to outperform the stereotypes that work against us) but I’ve been seeing a lot of things lately that have been moving me in the other direction. I think I hit a tipping point today. I realized how much the ball really is in in my court pretty often. The court of the privileged.
What changed me
A few days ago I was with some friends and the only woman among us asked one of the guys what surprised him most about being newly married. He said, “I didn’t realize how long it would take for her to get ready for bed! And how hard it would be to get her to change her name!” Apparently she was fully on board with changing her last name but when it came down to it, changing all the other associated ties professionally and personally were a royal pain in the butt! And then the girl in our group pointed out a bunch of other hassles associated with being a woman. The reason it takes so long to get ready for bed is because she has to take off all the makeup and stuff society expects her to put on.
Dang, I thought the system was working fine, but that really doesn’t seem very fair. Can I help relieve women of the weight they carry for us in some way?
And then I listened to this TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg. She is an executive at Facebook and spelled out some stats about women in the work place. She said when men ask for leadership roles they are considered “go-getters,” but when women do it they are considered “pushy.” Woah, I can totally see that happening in my mind at times! That’s totally not fair! I’m so sorry ladies! I’ve seen some very capable, impressive, lady leaders.
And I remembered learning how a lot of female writers use a non-gendered pen name so that people won’t think they are less of a writer. Yep, I can see that in me as well too. I recognize a tiny impulse in me that assumes I’ll be less impressed by a book written by a woman. Not fair. I’m sorry. I have really enjoyed some women writers.
And then today I was reading this black theologian for school and this ridiculous thing popped into my head. I thought, “Wow, who wrote this for him?! It’s so articulate.” Isn’t that SO HORRIBLY UNFAIR!? That actually entered my mind!
So I’ve realized that although maybe some complaints of unfairness are superfluous, not all of them are. Many injustices are worth noticing, and worth working to overcome. People are being hurt, and we might be able to help by making some simple changes in the way we think. We can enter every interaction with the idea, “I’m excited to see all the ways they will surprise me.” Open any book, expecting no limits because they are a human, eager to see what makes this author unique and valuable.
I think all this finally came to a head today and the scales tipped. One of my teachers said this. “History has been told by white European males and it hasn’t gone well for the others.” Blacks. Native Americans. Even women. And now especially for Muslims. And then he said, “If we are all made in God’s image, don’t we all deserve to be treated with fairness?” And I believed it. I know fairness isn’t always possible because of other circumstances (we probably shouldn’t give someone who sucks at basketball a place in the NBA just because others worked as hard) but whenever possible we should.
Maybe it was just a culmination of all these stories and conversations with myself, my class, and others. But I started to see that, yes, history has been told under the sometimes accidental assumption that white males were the ideal standard against which all others were measured. And I realized that anyone in power can even accidentally tilt the system in their favor, just by the nature of it, which could inadvertently set up a system that disadvantages other people. Women. Blacks. Mexicans. Muslims. Gays. They may not have ill-will towards any of these groups, so it may be unfair to angrily accuse them of a crime, but if they are gently shown the hurt it causes and shown a way, they can help better the situation.
I know it’s super complicated, but I think I’ve finally bought the idea that some of the assumptions I’ve made since childhood, though I can’t be blamed for them, are not fair and are holding other very worthy people back. There are little things I can do. Ways of talking. Being aware that any assumptions I have are just assumptions. Be eager to see how each person will break my assumptions. And I should look at each complaint or protest with open eyes, and open hands. Because it might very well be something I was unaware of, and I can help fix.
And to those of us who protest, maybe we can remember that people just might not realize the unfairness. So if our protest is attacking them, of course they won’t listen to us. Let’s tell them stories. Because most of us want the best for all people. And although some things in this world are just going to be unfair, because the world isn’t fair, for other things, we can do something about it. We just need to know how.
Raw Spoon, 2-7-17