Saturday, December 12, 2015

The importance of and other eyeopeners

It is a scary time to care about the world you live in. I'm supposed to post a holiday gift guide this morning. I am probably going to post it tomorrow. It is mostly full of things that will let you forget about international terrorism, politics, sexism, classism, and discrimination.  It will not make you ponder anything more difficult than whether or not your uncle would actually use a coffee-of-the-month subscription. But real life- the life of refugees fleeing violence and public figures who spew hatred- it's still happening. And I need to talk about how we deal with that; specifically, how we view this reality, and how it might be different than the view of your neighbor, coffee-loving uncle, or even some of your closest friends.

The beauty of America is that we get to say whatever we want. We can criticize our government or our grocery store  and no vans will pull up outside our house. We will not disappear in the night. Thank you, America, for protecting our right to free speech. It's what we're built on. We still have control, though, as private citizens. We choose our radio stations and news channels. We decide who we will follow on Twitter, we "unfollow" the Facebook friends who we socially can't unfriend but still don't want to hear from.  We surround ourselves with circles of like minded people, and we carefully guard our opinions by whittling down other points of view. It's perfectly normal. I've unfriended people in a heartbeat for making fun of Caitlin Jenner for being a trans woman or posting sexist memes that make me uncomfortable. I've muted both liberals and conservatives who post politically with a frequency that tires me. It's harmless. Kinda. Until you realize that you're only interacting with people who think exactly like you do, and you start to forget the part of the population that is still holding onto that other, [in your mind] completely dismissable world view. They're only talking to the people who agree with them.  

I realized this recently when I broke my rule and read the comments on an eye-opening piece about becoming aware of your own white privilege. There were positive comments, the obvious trolls, and then...dissenters. Some polite. Some pointed and rather aggressive, but well-spoken. None of them convinced me that white privilege doesn't exist, but some brought up points that made me think. In the end, my own argument about and explanation of white privilege was stronger for hearing out people who think very, very differently than me. It was a little unsettling to feel like I had learned something from people who actually believe that being born white doesn't put you ahead in our society. But it was something I learned about myself, and it helped me articulate my feelings.

I live in a pretty conservative city, and I am constantly reminded that the liberal nature of my Twitter feed does not match up with my flesh-and-blood reality.  There was a time when this fact would have made me want to move somewhere where more people think like me [spoiler alert: I don't even know what "think like me" means, I'm in a season of my life where I'm basically learning a lot about my own ignorance] but that won't solve any problems. If I love my city (I do) and I feel strongly about my opinions (check), then my city needs me.  And if something contentious comes up and I want to articulate my stance well, I have to constantly question WHY I feel the way I do. Hearing other viewpoints makes you constantly question your own.

I used the website this morning, and I actually gasped out loud. I did not think it would be so emotional to realize that people I love, family members and friends who I smile at every day, support a person who puts so much dangerous ugliness into our world. The tagline of the article I read was "the unfriend button has never been so important." But actually, I'm thinking these are the people who need to see my Humans of New York shares about the rich lives of Syrian refugee families and be reminded of the people of Muslim faith in my own family. These are the people who, at Christmas and in passing, need to hear me say "Those people fleeing Syria could be us." Those people fleeing Syria could be us.

Take a minute to think before you unfriend every single person you know who likes dangerous politicians or makes a comment about keeping "those kinds of people" out of "our" country.  Even if you believe that they are wrong, even if you recognize that they're coming from a place of ignorance, being reminded that there are other viewpoints is important, ESPECIALLY if you think those viewpoints are dangerous. Recognize the problem (people in your life, people you may love and cherish, are supporting some dangerous views) and realize that interacting with you might be really important.  You may not change anyone's fundamental values, but you can be an onslaught of humanizing reminders that women, immigrants, and people of the Muslim faith are your brothers sisters teachers coaches doctors neighbors and need to be treated like people.

And maybe you won't help anyone. Maybe the people who really need the reminders will mute your shares or dismiss them out of hand. But it's also important to remember that there is a group of people out there who support a worldview that is dangerous. These are not just people who are old, uneducated, or in the deep south- they're around. They're in your friends list. And their existence means we need to work hard to protect groups that need protecting and speak up for people who deserve our support.

Two things to keep in mind-

Let it be known that :

Christian does NOT equal hater of Muslims. Or any other religion.

Conservative does NOT equal brainless follower. Or hater of any kind.

I am both and I have friends and family who follow several different religions. I love and RESPECT them all.

There are radicals of every ilk, color, creed and religion in this country.

Let us not let FEAR guide us but instead, let's be the light. -Kelly Hanley (my sweet mama)

1. When I say "danger," I'm not referring to conservatives as a group by ANY means. My lovely mother posted the above Facebook status and it really sums things up. The danger is anyone who lets hate or fear dictate the way they treat people they don't understand, and yes, even posting jokey memes or making offhand comments on Facebook qualifies as treating people with hatred.

2. I understand that there is a difference between staying in contact with someone who occasionally says something hateful and that person in your life who posts an onslaught of ugly that raises your blood pressure and deeply unsettles you. If you're exposed to something that is hurting you, definitely remove that influence.  Take the above advice, like everything, with a grain of salt and some serious consideration about how this will apply to your situation.

Keep fighting the good fight.


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