“For it is important that awake people be awake…the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe— should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.” - William Stafford
These last few months have been ones of deep awakening for me. I have told friends that it has seemed as if my center, my connection to the earth, my connection to everything has shifted; been moved without my permission. Without forewarning. I was having trouble finding my balance.
More accurately, I am realizing, perhaps, I am still in the same place but have come out of a stupor. I have awakened to a nightmare.
As I have been listening, deeply listening, to various people who represent folks most impacted by the events of the last few months, there has been a constant, if disconcerting message. The message?
There is NOTHING NEW going on here in America. There is just more of it. It is just more blatant. It is more acceptable. What used to not be sanctioned is now permitted. What used to send people to the doghouse for saying or doing, now propels them to the White House. But, there is nothing new here. It has always been this way for these groups of people.
I hear that from the women, the disabled, Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, gay men, lesbian women, religious minorities, the poor, the sick, and the otherwise disenfranchised who I have been with. All of them pay a price, in one way or another; are discriminated against in one way or another, nearly every day and have been their entire lives.
They had been saying these things all along - I wasn’t listening. The evidence was there for me to see all along - I was blind and deaf to it. As a privileged, healthy, relatively wealthy (according to a Federal Reserve Report nearly half of all American adults would have to borrow money (credit card anyone?), steal or sell something, to come up with $400.00 for an emergency this week) white male, I couldn’t see what was right before my eyes.
Because I am a bad person? No. Science tells me that the more I have, the less I can see and hear those who don’t have. Though I don’t want to believe it about myself, research suggests that the more I have, the less helpful, the less kind, the stingier and more self-centered I become. The very poor give more percentage wise, than the very wealthy. It seems to be human nature. Experiments conducted with people around the world, from three years-old to adults, repeatedly show these same outcomes.
The events of the last few months have torn the veil between what is and what I thought was. I can now see the oppression in their eyes. I can now literally feel the weight of it in my body when I walk into a room where they are gathered. I hear it in their voices as they share what their life experiences are. I can’t not. It just happens.
Looking back, I realize I have been far too optimistic. I thought America was slowly becoming a better place for the disenfranchised. I thought we were slowly getting better, becoming better people.
I thought that as a people we were becoming less racist, less sexist, more tolerant. Sure, I knew people hurt others with this stuff but I thought we were making progress. Yes, I was aware that people did bad things relative to those issues, but what I believed was that they were strongly reprimanded, as we would do with a young child, with the very strong message, “That is not what we do; those behaviors are not ok.”
I took my foot off the gas. I acted as if progress in those directions was a spectator sport. I was coasting, and the other world, that is now the dominant world, caught up and passed me while I snoozed.
I have also been awakened painfully and perhaps most importantly to my own sexism, racism, classism, (and all the other “ism’s” that us humans have programmed into us) and how it shows up in my psyche:
I saw a woman walking down the street, all alone, fully dressed in her native clothing, and said to myself, “Doesn’t she know where she is? I wish she wouldn’t dress like that, someone is going to attack her."
I listened to a friend speak loudly and shrilly to a group of people she was with about how it feels to be a woman these days from a minority culture, and said to myself, “I wish she would speak more softly, because others would be able to hear her more clearly and she would be less likely to be rejected and more likely to be heard."
I heard a gay male friend of mine speak strongly, directly and assertively about what he has been experiencing, and I thought, “If he were only quieter, maybe he wouldn’t be mocked and made fun of."
As I have seen all that has been happening and become more aware of my inner – “ism’s” I have decided it is time to wake up, get out of my jammies, put on my big boy clothes, refuel, get back in the car, put my foot on the gas pedal, and especially; perhaps most importantly, look in the mirror.