Equal Footing (reprint)

In honor of Juneteenth, this is a light rewriting of a post from 2014. The Monday Message will return next week.

Legends, mythology, and stories abound with people giving up their worldly possessions on the path to enlightenment. I think a lot of people don’t really get what that’s about. I’m not sure I did until the last 10 years or so. Maybe I still don’t, but I have a different perspective on it today. One of my guides is someone about whom such stories are told. I never thought to ask him about it; I might have been scared to know.

As someone who doesn’t have to live a life of inequality in most ways, I work hard to try to understand what it’s like for those who deal with oppression. What must it be like to have to teach your very young son how to be careful? What must it be like to not be able to publicly acknowledge the person you love? What must it be like to have there be an undercurrent of “not enough” running through every public message you hear? I do my best to read the narratives, to listen, to ask respectful questions. I try to speak up on behalf of those who struggle with these things, without taking the narrative away from the people who are deeply affected. I try to listen to what they ask of me, how I can help, because as someone with more privilege/power/voice, I can help to change things. It is my obligation, my duty, my responsibility to try to help, otherwise I don’t want the benefits I enjoy. I’m not worried that helping others is going to take anything away from me; the idea is ludicrous. Respect is not a finite energy, everyone can enjoy respect without anyone losing anything.

When yet another Incident happens late at night, as so many of them do, I find myself holding the space of witness. My desire to stay up, to see, to share the information no longer comes from the place of “news junkie” (it used to). Part of it is a desire to understand. Part of it comes from a place of holding the perpetrators accountable. And part of it, increasingly, is a strong sense that being able to turn off the computer and go to bed is part of my privilege. There are people who, even if they turn off the computer, this doesn’t go away for them. Even if they manage to get some sleep, their reality, day in and day out, is permeated by fear. So it feels wrong to exercise that privilege, to turn away and take care of myself. It feels wrong to shut out the suffering of others. It feels wrong to not honor their struggle by standing, virtually, shoulder-to-shoulder with them, to not sleep when they can’t sleep, to be there, holding space.

I can see how someone, called to service by the Divine, chooses to put down the trappings of privilege so they are on equal footing with the oppressed. I can’t put down the privilege of being white. Even if I don’t consciously take advantage of it, that privilege is there. I live in a society where I get a better break than others, and it’s so pervasive, there’s no way I’m going to notice all of it, or be able to turn it down when I do. How would I go about insisting that I be pulled over for no reason, or that I be followed around a store even though I haven’t done anything wrong? As a woman, I at least know what some lack of privilege feels like, and I know how impossible it is to make that go away. The best I can do, as far as the patriarchy is concerned, is try to help educate the people who have the same or more privilege than I, so we can start to shift things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.