Mom, Bird, and I said grace before our meal in the food court at the mall last night. No one shouted at us, threatened us, or asked us to leave.
We were at the mall to shop for dresses for a friend’s wedding later this summer. Bird and I have never had to worry about whether or not our eventual marriages will be legally recognized in our home state.
I’ve been fortunate enough to live most of my life in a relatively tolerant community in one of the country’s most tolerant states. I’ve been even more fortunate not to need this tolerance for my own sake, because I was born a white, middle-class, heterosexual female who identified as her biological gender. I fell into pretty much every category of “majority” you can think of. Admittedly, I didn’t realize just how blessed I was until I started college and the bubble of my existence dramatically widened (with the help of the internet, particularly Tumblr).
When the Supreme Court made its decision on marriage equality, I was overjoyed for my friends who could now plan the weddings of their dreams. When I heard about the Charleston shooting, I mourned the victims – and got angry about the ignorance displayed by those who tried to dismiss the racist implications of the massacre. I was still seeing these things from the outside, and I was not directly affected, but that does not excuse me from working to change things for the better.
I’m still learning, still developing my worldview (and I pray it won’t become as rigid and cemented in ignorance or partial knowledge as some of the people giving out their opinions like candy from a stranger’s van), still figuring out what I can do from here to help – or at least not make it worse. I don’t know. Sometimes it feels too big.
And I’m realizing that the best thing I can do is listen. I don’t say this as if I can somehow validate others’ experiences simply because I, a privileged person, take the time to listen to them, people who have been denied something (or several somethings) that I have been blessed enough to have. Their humanity validates their experiences. We are all people no matter how many variables we can or cannot check off on a list of too-easy identifiers. Yes, we are different, but that does not negate the intrinsic personhood or value of those different from me.
And my privilege or luck or whatever you want to call it does nothing if I let it drag me into complicity with the current value system that wrongs so many other people. I guess what I’m working on is finding not the role that society tells me I should take up by virtue of all these things out of my control (ethnicity, sexuality, etc.), but a role in helping all of us crawl a little bit further out of that society’s reach to where we can start building and changing things.
To do that, I’m going to have to learn. And to learn, I’m going to have to listen.
It doesn’t feel like enough. I wish I had more ideas, more answers, more words. But at least I can demonstrate my respect for my fellow human beings and remain open to educating myself and others.
One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.