BLACK LIVES (DO) MATTER / My Story – Part Five – Perspective Adjustment

I came across this good advice in the book “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo:

“We like to filter new information through our own experiences to see if it computes.  If it matches up with what we have experienced, it’s valid.  If it doesn’t match up, it’s not.  But race is not a universal experience.  If you are white, there is a good chance you may have been poor at some point in your life, you may have been sick, you may have been discriminated against for being fat or disabled or being short or being conventionally unattractive, you may have been many things – but you have not been a person of color.  So, when a person of color comes to you and says “this is different for me because I’m not white”, when you run the situation through your lived experience, it often won’t compute.  This is usually where the desire to dismiss claims of racial oppression come from – it just doesn’t make sense to you so it cannot be right.

“But if you are white, and you feel this way, I ask you this:  is your lived experience real?  Are your interpretations of those situations valid?  Chances are, if you are using them to decide whether or not situations and opinions are valid, you think they are.  So if your lived experience and your interpretation of that lived experience are valid, why wouldn’t the lived experience of people of color be just as valid?  If I don’t have the right to deem your life, what you see and hear and feel, a lie, why do you have the right to do it to me?  Why do you deserve to be believed and people of color don’t.” 

If we want to end racism and have peace, then we should accept as fact that almost all Black people truly feel, based upon their lived experiences, that they are not treated fairly by the criminal justice system, that they are unjustly killed and beaten, discriminated against economically, socially marginalized, disenfranchised by voter suppression, ignored and, in general, treated badly based upon their race.  We should affirm that their feelings are real to them without regard to whether we agree those feelings are justified by the facts as we see them. Only after you unconditionally affirm another’s feelings and their right to feel whatever they do, can we begin to discuss and address the basis for those feelings.  However, to do any of this, we first have to care about our fellow man and our country.

I was listening to a Baptist preacher on TV recently.  The preacher was speaking about humans being created in the image and likeness of God.  He then said that because God chose to make us as He did, we owed a duty of “respect and dignity” to all human beings under all circumstances.  That resonated with me.  What could possibly be wrong with granting to everyone the respect and dignity they deserve as one of God’s creations made in His image?  We don’t get to pick and choose.

The duty to extend respect and dignity extends to and includes the duty to listen and to examine our own hearts.  If we know racism is alive in our society, which it most assuredly is, how preposterous and disrespectful it is to dismiss complaints of racism with a quick throwaway line such as “all lives matter”.  You might just as well say “so what, who cares, get over it, I’ve got my own problems to worry about.” 

During the 1950s and 60s there was a great upheaval.  We foolishly thought that by enacting a few laws the problems of racism, discrimination and poverty would go away.  We conveniently forget that the Civil Rights legislation of the ‘60s was the result of deep compromise and was strongly opposed by Southern states.  It was not a total solution and definitely not universally accepted as right, and then state legislatures and local governments immediately went to work to circumvent it, a labor that has never ended.   Laws don’t change hearts and minds.  Laws are important, but they are the minimum standard of conduct expected in and of a civilized society.  If we want to put the problem of racism behind us once and for all, it will have to be an inside job undertaken by each and every one of us.