Marginalized and socially oppressed people experience injustices on a daily basis that are, sometimes, hard to name, confront, or deconstruct. There are countless messages telling folks who live outside the margins that they are indeed outside of what’s socially acceptable and ‘normal’. The covers of magazines, the color of flesh-toned Bandaids, public discourse and political measures that openly denigrate people who want reproductive freedom, religious freedom, equal pay, citizenship, or the right to marry…
On the contrary, we have counter-messages telling our youth to be unique, bold, and authentic–because these are all sure-fire ways to express personal freedom and move toward self-actualization. But what if you ARE different and what if you don’t fit into a neat box? You get pushed to the margins and broad strokes paint upon you scarlet words like diverse, impaired, differently-abled, at-risk, unsustainable, challenging, threatening…
When you are aware that you don’t or can’t fit into the traditional structures of mainstream appropriateness, but you are granted access to the great banquet table of a world with possibilities, you pick your battles and continuously seek innovative ways to exist within the current structures while attempting to speak truth to power and live authentically without compromising too much personal dignity.
You straddle the fence knowing that no one in 21st century America wants to be segregated, but that integration isn’t desirable either.
Social inequality is the result of a structure that was never meant to support anyone who didn’t fit into the fair-skinned box of heteronormative, apple-pie dreams where God is male, children are seen and not heard, women are subservient drones, and the least of those among us are institutionalized, medicated, or criminalized.
But we can’t call it what it is…
It’s not racism when you hear comments like, “your people are intimidating but you’re one of the good ones.”
It’s not classism when you work several part-time jobs but are dismissed as being a drain on society by folks who don’t understand why you still don’t earn a livable wage.
It’s not sexism when members of a congregation are uncomfortable having a pregnant pastor in the pulpit because it doesn’t “look natural”.
It’s not elitism to conclude that poor people are lazy and lack personal goals.
It’s not heterosexism when a gay couple is asked, “who’s the man and who’s the woman?”
It’s not ableism to decide that it’s more cost-effective to build a church without an elevator.
We spend far too much time and energy talking about the ‘isms’ that create schisms in our society when all this does is further alienate people into dichotomous moral camps and everyone is forced to pick sides. You are either racist or you are welcoming. You are either homophobic or you are affirming. You are either culturally sensitive or you are a bigot. When we focus on the division, and we force people to choose which side of the fence they are on, we remain divided.
Perhaps we should all take a different approach and straddle the fence together…looking at the world through the lens of privilege. Admitting personal privilege on any social and physical level is humbling. If we all approached one another with humility–being able to see and appreciate the differences among us while being privy to the social injustices that afford some of us with privileges that aren’t equally enjoyed by others–perhaps we could find our way toward a more peaceful co-existence.