A few months ago I was sitting on the subway, and a homeless man sat down and started talking about how Muslims are ruining the country. He kept asking people to agree with him, just a little bit. No one would. No one. I felt something I haven’t felt before when confronted by racism. I felt sad for him. He wasn’t ideological. He was lonely, rejected and he was looking to belong. He wanted for once to feel like he was accepted among decent people, that for once there was someone else who was the trash, not him.
That’s is what racism often is. A way to belong, a cry for help. Its a cry we aren’t very good at answering as a society.
You don’t have to be homeless to feel like you have have been given a rough deal. Sometimes it feels like every group is under assault from someone. Some groups are recognized as having a rough deal, some not so much. Many feel like there is someone fighting for everyone, except for them.
The hypocrisy of women claiming to be for equality then going on to only bash men used to bother me. It doesn’t any more. Its not a literal expression of an ideology, its an expression of frustration. Its a way to find belonging. As a white man, I’m entirely OK, with women sometimes saying they hate men or black people saying all white people are racists, because I understand the frustration, and the need to vent. I understand that its a most human expression of how it sometimes feels, even if it isn’t entirely factually accurate.
In a time where the rich and famous have moved in to our social circles its easy to feel like you are not living up to impossible standards, of beauty, political correctness and influence, and when it is easier to find your own group of like minded, we finds comfort in our own tribes. The truth is that everybody hurts, that we are all vulnerable and insecure in different ways, and we are all looking to fit in somehow.
When we are defending our group, it is easy to slip in to a mind set where the only way we can win, is by having someone else loose. We feed the ones who hate us by hating them back. Our main motivation in politics is no longer about to enacting change, or to win over others, but to belong.
I wish we would talk more about principles and less about who they should apply to, but our society isn’t made up of philosophy majors, its made up of people who express how they feel. Feelings aren’t always logical or follow ideological rules. I’m a pacifist, but I can still feel like punching someone on a rare occation. It doesn’t make me a hypocrite to feel that way, it makes me a human.
If we really want to heal, we must try to acknowledge peoples feelings and that they are real and worth caring about, even if they manifest themselves in opinions that we may find unacceptable.
The stonewall riots was a momentous moment for the LGTB movement. It was an expression of rage that had build up over a long time, and for the people involved it was a tipping point that meant so much. What it wasn’t, was a good way to put forward their cause to the average New Yorker who looked out their window to see people throwing bottles beating police officers and breaking windows.
No, much of the great progress made by the LGTB movement has been made slowly on a very personal level. By showing that the nephew still is the same guy who likes to throw ball and go fishing and hiking, after he comes out as gay, we make progress. By engaging and being a good friend, neighbour and family member, by not being combative, that little girl who happens to like other girls, does more to change society then any gay pride parade ever could. Its painfully slow but it is working. When somebody says they “hate fags, but that that guy is ok”, that means that they are on a journey to something. They haven’t yet arrived, but there is an opening. Its easy to focus on the “hate” and the “fag” bit, but maybe we should focus more on seeing if we can find a second gay guy that could also become “OK”?
I think there is a lot we can learn from this. You don’t change the mind of a racist by calling them a racist.
I think it would be very good idea for Black lives matter, to give every police officer in the country a standing invitation to share a one on one breakfast on any day. Not to argue, not to tell them what they are doing wrong, but to start building a connection, to listen as much one shares ones own experiences. That is a very hard ask for people who feel betrayed by a system. Everybody wants to be accepted, but none of us are very good at accepting and listening to the people who’s opinions we don’t share. As a society we all need to work on that.
To me, making a human connection is more important then changing your mind. To be honest, I don’t care if we disagree, I’m not here to judge you, call you names no matter how different our opinions are. I want you to know that no matter how much we disagree, I will be here for you, I will listen to you and I will take how you feel seriously. If you need help in some way I will do my best to help you. I want you to belong, if with nobody else, then at least with me. And maybe, just maybe some day you will accept that all people of my kind aren’t as terrible as you once used to think.