Thursday, September 3, 2015

Privilege Check

So I saw this on Facebook yesterday. And I had a moment of conflicting reactions, because of course all human lives matter equally. Duh, right? So I had that moment of "Yep", and my hand started heading for that share button.

And then my brain went, "Hold on there, cowgirl, privilege check."

Because, yes, all lives matter. But...

People have an instinct to demand that others notice them, acknowledge their story, validate their existence. When someone tags a post with #blacklivesmatter or #zebrastrong or #redinstead or whatever cause is dear to their hearts, there is a need to wave and shout and remind the universe that we exist too. That the lives we care about matter too. And they should.

Because we live in a society that has made the claim that all "men" (used here to represent humanity as a species) are created equal. That every human life is precious. We have come as a culture to the intellectual realization that even though those words, when originally set to paper, didn't really mean all people were created equal, but actually just meant all rich, white, straight, male people, they SHOULD mean that all human lives are equal. Equally worthy, equally valuable, equally precious.

The problem is that all our laws, our unwritten social rules, our habits and assumptions, they're all geared for the old system. And in that old system, various groups of people have been consistently treated as lesser. Less valued. Less worthy. Less human. Minorities when the ethnic majority is in charge. Women when the men are making all the rules. Non-believers when the religious leadership has the power. Children, because even a slave is bigger and stronger than an 8 year old. That's why even today incarceration rates for minorities are so horrifically out of balance, why women (all other factors being equal) still get paid less than their male counterparts for the same work, why we still fight over commandments on courthouses and prayers in Congress, why in this land of freedom and civil rights, it is still both legal and socially acceptable to hit, verbally demean, and publicly humiliate children in the name of "discipline". (Think about that, seriously. It's legal to hit kids, as long as you call it discipline, when committing the same assault upon the body of an  adult would likely result in someone calling the police. And see? There's one of my near & dear causes taking over.) Point being, when the old habits meet the new mindset, there is friction. There are people who feel the need to say "Hey, don't forget us, we matter!", because the old system says they don't, but the high-minded cultural ideals say they should.

When someone feels that need to wave their arms and shout "HEY, WORLD, I MATTER!!!", it tells me they feel unseen. Unheard. Small. Pushed aside. Ignored. I know what that feels like, and I don't much care for it. So I try, really hard, to resist the urge to shout back "I MATTER TOO!!!", because it doesn't always have to be about me, and because of my skin color and growing up with relative wealth, it very often is about me, or the people I focus on. Someone else asserting that the lives they care about matter says not one word about the lives I hold dear mattering any less, just that their lives matter equally and they feel like no one is paying attention. So I try to take a breath, keep my mouth shut, and listen for a while. Acknowledge those lives that someone feels are being swept under the rug. Validate those feelings of powerlessness. Make eye contact, communicate that they are equal in my sight. (And that's a tough one, because autism & eye contact are not great bedfellows!)

Because I want my children to grow up in a world where those high-sounding words aren't just words. Where all human lives matter to an equal degree. I want them to see their mother taking that moment to pause and acknowledge another's situation, so when they grow up, they will remember that they matter, but so does everyone else. I want them to learn, when someone screams out "I MATTER!!!", to respond not with "I MATTER TOO!!!", but with...

I see you. I am listening.

Tell me your story.


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