Can I Relate?

I was on a four-day business trip to Houston, Texas while Winter Storm Stella was barreling through Upstate New York.  While I was in weather that was reminiscent of my time in San Diego, friends and family were busy digging themselves out of snow drifts.  I enjoyed my time in Houston, but I sympathized with those who had feet of snow dumped on them, having gone through a number of those times in my life.  However, any sympathy I may give is dismissed out of hand when you have spent hours shoveling snow in a vain attempt to stay ahead of it.  If this is the reaction I receive for being lucky enough to avoid a snowstorm, what can I expect when I attempt to sympathize with those who are experiencing discrimination?

I support the pursuit of equal rights and equal opportunities for all people, relegating many of the distinctions that beset the world to unimportance. The amount of melanin in your skin, what nation you were born in, what deity you believe in or if you believe, what genitalia you were born with, what gender you identify as, who you choose to go to bed with, and what part of the social strata you live in should not matter. However, in the militancy of these times, I feel any support I offer any cause will ring hollow because of what I am. To paraphrase from George Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier”: Here am I, a white, American, Catholic, heterosexual, cisgender, middle class male. It is easy for me to say that I want to get rid of various distinctions, but nearly everything I think and do is a result of these distinctions. I realize that it does no good to approach someone outside of my distinctions and telling them that they are as good a person as I am. If I want real contact, I have to make an effort for which very likely I am unprepared.

How can I feel solidarity with any group whose distinction is discriminated against in our ignorant culture when I am a member of the group that is designated as superior?

I am white, so I shouldn’t care about race.

I am American, so I shouldn’t care about immigrants, foreigners, or world events.

I am Catholic, so I shouldn’t care about Protestants, non-Christians, agnostics or atheists.

I am a heterosexual and cisgender, so I shouldn’t care about the LGBTQ community.

I am middle class, so I shouldn’t care about the class struggle.

I am male, so I shouldn’t care about feminism.

From the outside, I appear cloistered in an ivory tower and immune to the problems of others. The rub is that I do care about all of these things and I am concerned about those who question my sincerity. How do I prepare to make real contact with those defined by these distinctions?

The best course of action is to use my own life experience to empathize with those who are discriminated for their distinctions. I may appear cloistered in an ivory tower, but I have endured discrimination for being different. In my youth while others were playing outside, I was in the library immersing myself in whatever random subject suited my fancy. I felt more at home in the library than in the classroom or among my peers, and as a result, I was bullied and ostracized. This seems paltry compared to the slings and arrows others have endured, however it has instilled in me a sense of justice that no one should be made to feel inferior because of who they are.

Although I do not hold to the discriminatory distinctions perpetuated in the world today, I do make distinctions of my own.

I discriminate against those who force their beliefs and views on others whether by argument or violence.

I discriminate against those who use beliefs and views that are generally benevolent as a basis for discrimination.

I discriminate against those who blindly follow along rather than stopping and thinking for themselves.

I discriminate against those who call for total conformity.

I discriminate against those who would deny an opportunity to someone who is fully capable of capitalizing on it.

I discriminate against those who hate.

George Bernard Shaw stated that, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” In these reasonable times, I choose to remain unreasonable, and I hope those defined by their distinctions welcome my attempts at real contact. I may not be prepared, but I am making the effort.

© 2017 by Benjamin Goodrich

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