Alright. Here we go. I am a middle aged white male. (which means I am a child of the 70’s and 80’s). Although I am of Italian descent on one side of my ancestry, I am fully American. I am as white as I could be. I have worked in some type of customer contact position for my entire life. I have come in contact with people of many different walks of life, different cultures, different races, different religions, and different socio-economic situations. I have seen it and heard it all (or at least a lot of it).
I have struggled recently with the thought that while I believed myself not to be, and strived to not be, that I am a racist. I worried that my default actions when dealing with a person of color in a service or professional environment was to over-compensate in order to prove to myself and to them that I am not a racist.
I made sure that I was extra attentive to the things that they would say to me, especially if they were expressing negative concerns or issues. I worked harder to accommodate their requests to ensure a pleasant experience when visiting our establishment. I tried to show them preferential treatment when even causing some in my own likeness to have to wait. I even tried to connect to them on some personal level through conversation.
When not in a professional environment I began to do the same thing. I made a point to acknowledge, through eye contact and a smile and/or nod, the crossing of our paths. I was more likely to speak to someone in an elevator if he or she were of a different race than me, or if it were obvious that he or she were from a different country, or if he or she had a different skin color than me.
I strived harder to be genuine to people who were obviously completely different from me. And I remember the day that I realized that I was doing this and I was taken aback by my actions. The thing that I had denied for so long had finally broken through to me.
“Oh My God! I’m a racist!!”
Then a flood of rationalization bombarded my mind. “I have black friends, I have Asian friends, I have Indian friends. I can’t be racist!” But just by having those thoughts I have singled these “friends” out and created separation. Holy Crap!! What am I to do?
How about a change in perspective.
So I began to really self analyze, to follow the path of intention from my head/heart to my outward behavior, and this is what I discovered…
I am white. I cannot change that. No one can change that. I will never know the perspective of another human being because I will only experience life through my own eyes. And…I am white. I will never know the perils of being black in America’s white privilege society. I will never know the pressure of America’s academic expectation on Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese students. I will never know the feeling of hearing the condescension in a phone voice when they find out because of my accent that I am of Asian Indian descent. I will never know the feeling of rejection and condemnation of the LGBTQ community when just trying to go about their normal lives and being told that they cannot. (And these are just a few examples that I can come up with off the top of my head. I’m sure that I am leaving someone out. I sincerely apologize.). But I can acknowledge these situations and strive to create a better world for anyone with whom I cross paths.
Now. My passion is people. I have experienced plenty of pain in my personal life. Pain in many different forms. I don’t try to compare my pain to the pain of others. I have come to understand that even if the source of emotional pain, and maybe even physical pain, may be the same, that we all process the pain in different ways mentally and emotionally. So my life’s wish is that if I could ease the pain of others in some minuscule way, or even in some massive way, even temporarily, enough to show them that they are important, that they are special, that they are loved, then perhaps maybe they will be able to endure, overcome, achieve, and continue to grow on to whomever they were created to become.
While I cannot change society, I can affect those around me no matter who they are. I can connect to those around me no matter who they are. I can create a moment or a space around me where those who have felt separation or rejection from anyone can find rest and love and acceptance for who they are inside and out (This translates to those of LGBTQ communities as well). I want to acknowledge that the world has oppressed people long enough. Oppressed many people in many ways. Even I have felt oppression in different ways.
Perhaps if I can show love to the people that I encounter, no matter their race, color, creed, beliefs, sexual orientation, or painful experiences, then maybe that love will be paid forward in some small way. Acknowledging our own pain, and growing from it in a way that is not cynical or cold, and acknowledging that others also feel pain, we can transform the immediate world around us and truly begin to become united. Everyone we encounter is dealing with things in their life that is painful in some way. We must recognize this in order to maintain a sense of who we are, and why we are who we are, in order to better connect with others in the midst of their own pain and tragedy. None of us are better than another. How can anyone decide that their pain and experiences outweigh another’s. I’m not saying that some situations are not worse than others, or more tragic, but we all process our pain and experiences differently, mentally and emotionally and are affected differently. We are not in a woe-is-me-competition. There are travesties worldwide and we all deserve to feel loved no matter our situation in life.
Those of us who have survived pain and tragedy have an opportunity to provide support or direction or love and acceptance to those struggling with their own pain and tragedy. Changing our perspective is how we walk in another’s shoes. It is not called sympathy. It is called empathy. And it binds us together.