A bit ago I watched the Oscars at a co-worker’s house with her and 7 of her friends, all women. Her husband hid in the computer room while we praised NPH and all his awesomeness. Patricia Arquette accepted the award for Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role and said in her speech
“It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
And the whole party exploded. I’m not a “whoo” girl
but I was certainly in a room full of them and it got loud. And rightly so! However, a bit later, John Legend and Common accepted an award for an original song, which was for the movie Selma. They pointed out that the injustice artfully demonstrated in the movie is not exclusive in cinematic form, it’s still being done today, especially towards the black man. As one could imagine, the room was pretty silent. Well, at least in the sense that there was an absence of “whoos.” These are just two examples of the various social and political issues brought up during the show, all of which had varying reactions and that struck a chord with me. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend…
A few years back, a friend and I were reflecting upon social issues and injustices over a glass of wine and listening to our favorite records. You know, typical Friday night shenanigans. At some point my friend described a situation where it was awkwardly clear that he was being treated differently in the workplace due to his race. I chimed in that, although I couldn’t relate specifically, I did have a similar instances of being judged by my looks and gender, and gave a few examples of my own experiences at work. Which were ample! At the time, I worked for the biggest accounting firm in the world (read: company run by old white men). His response was heartbreaking:
“Yeah, but you’re white.”
With just four words he belittled every very real experience I had being treated less than due to my gender. To put it into perspective, he admittedly had a problem with treating women right. I attempted to explain to him that although I am white, I am still female and my struggle is just as real (albeit different) as the next person who’s judged on their appearance. He wasn’t having any of it, he couldn’t look past my pale skin.
My first reaction was to start going back in history to demonstrate how women have had it harder for a vastly longer amount of time. Not only to highlight examples in the past as far as we can imagine, but to point out that the deplorable treatment of women today hasn’t changed. I could have given him the same response, “Yeah, and you’re male,”
but I didn’t and I won’t.
Because what would result would be the most pitiful pissing contest ever and only further drive the wedge he’d placed between us. What I realized was that (in a way) it’s all the same. People being treated poorly, no matter what superficial identifier you assign them, are still people, humans, being treated poorly.
I figured out I was upset not because I had it worse over all and he didn’t want to admit it. Rather, I was upset because we had missed an opportunity to become closer because of outsiders. He’s right! I can’t understand what it’s like being a black guy in today’s world. At the same time, however, he doesn’t know what it’s like to be female in today’s world.
By discounting the issues of others because they don’t directly relate to one’s own, we’re perpetuating the injustice we received in the first place.
When people come together, miracles can happen. The best example I know is in music and collaboration. When two artists from different genres work together, something better than either of them could have made alone is created. I experienced this with the guy I previously mentioned. He had made a beat he’d intended for an R&B song but wasn’t happy with what he wrote so he let me have it to see if I could come up with anything
and I blew his freaking mind.
Not because I’m an amazing lyricist and vocalist. I’m quite average, in fact. He just never would have thought to do what I did with it. I vividly remember his shock upon first hearing it: This is dope, I believe we’re his first words.
Nothing came of that recording but for a moment we were both inspired and it was because we came together with a common goal and used our respective talents to do so.
Muscle Shoals is an example of successful and very talented musicians coming together and making something that would change music forever. It’s the birthplace of Fame Studios and some of the greatest music hits of all time. I’m not exaggerating. Check out the list of what it birthed. And that’s not the amazing part! This was during a time of strict segregation and the studio is the Deep South. You could see cotton fields just outside the studio. But inside, everything was different. White and black disappeared and all that remained was the music and look what happened.
You just worked together. You never thought about who was white, who was black. You thought about the common thing and it was the music. Music played a big part in changing the thoughts about the people especially in the south about race. By us being in Muscle Shoals and putting music together, I think it went a long ways to help people understand that we all were just humans. – Clarence Carter, Muscle Shoals
Obviously I’m partial to music but there are ample examples. A movie called PRIDE demonstrates the coming together of two VERY unlikely groups (miners and a gay and lesbian group) who bond over a common injustice and both come out better together. I’m sure you, dear reader, can think of more examples as well. Feel free to share : )
Ultimately, I see it as a choice to respond with love instead of hate. Part of loving another is trying to understand where they are coming from.
In Zulu, when you see someone and want to say hello, you say Sawu Bona, which means “I/We see you.” The response is Sickhona, which means “I am here.” They’re not just confirming that they comprehend the other persons words but that they see them wholly as a person. The response indicates their recognition of the other person, which is what validates their existence. They’re validating their truth and that’s love. We need more of that. It’s lacking today because the ego is far more present. It tells us that validating someone else’s truth cheapens our own, but, as with all things egotistical,
it’s a lie.
Validating the humanness of another validates one’s own humanness as well. We all hurt, we all struggle, it might come in forms but in the end it’s all the same pain. The very least we can do for each other is try to see the commonality in our respective struggles and make something good come from it instead of furthering the initial hurt that was done.
The very least we can do for each other is not invalidate another’s truth because their skin doesn’t match yours.