"Find the comfort within the discomfort that's necessary for facing the reality of our current state of inequality so we can use the power of privilege to shift into equality."
Us & Them
Many years ago my father and I were driving cross-country and we passed a historical marker for The Trail of Tears. My father said, "It's a shame what we did to them." I thought for a moment about something his mother had recently told me. Her great great... grandmother was Native American. She had confided this information to me as one confides a shameful secret. I replied to my father, "It's a shame what we did to us."
Othering is the process of choosing sides. When we line up on opposite sides of the playground it's easier to throw balls at each other. When we go one stop further and dehumanize the other side, it's easier to launch missiles, enslave, and deliver small pox infested blankets to our fellow humans.
The Just World Fallacy
When as individuals we feel helpless, we can self-soothe with a false sense of control based on a belief in a just world. In a just world, everyone gets what they deserve. We victim blame because it feels safer than admitting that we, too, are vulnerable to injustice, violence, and betrayal.
When we combine the just world fallacy with othering, it's easy to blame entire groups of people for systemic injustice. We might even be willing to believe that only the immigrants that deserve to be deported will be deported. And we may desperately want to believe that Eric Garner's pre-existing health conditions were the reason he couldn't breathe.
When we combine the just world fallacy with the sacred myth of the American Dream, we are tempted to believe that billionaire CEOs worked hard for everything they have while their employees living below the poverty line just aren't trying hard enough.
The False Hierarchy of Human Value
The false hierarchy of human value places more value on white males. A white woman, might find it easier to accept this than fight the system. She might put more energy into raising her son than her daughter, expecting that he will someday take care of her in her old age. In this false hierarchy of human value, she has a pretty cushy spot. If she can only make the white males in her life happy, she'll be okay. She might take a few beatings or swallow her pride so often she loses her voice. And 53% of her ilk will throw the other 47%, plus people of color, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, those worshiping the faith of Islam, legal immigrants, migrant workers, refugees fleeing war-torn regions... basically everyone except white cis-males under the bus.
And 53% of white women are not alone. Being one rung down on this ladder is a temptation for many people and they choose to ally themselves with their oppressors rather than the rest of humanity.
However, the reason we call this hierarchy false is because true power is not finite. It just feels finite to those hoarding money and power because they believe power is power over others. They want to hold onto that oppressive, coercive power. True power, though, is power with, built through connection, cooperation, and compassion.
The just world fallacy makes it palatable to believe certain stereotypes about ourselves. In my opinion, this is the hardest part of the work of examining these power structures and our contribution to them. Often the smallest internalized oppressions can be the most mind-blowing. This work is slow because it is depressing. For example, realizing that the heroes in romantic comedies are often actually abusive, creepy, stalkers, left a gaping hole in my life. I needed to replace that with other entertainments and find my new center before facing another internalized oppression.
Re-learning history and re-evaluating your role in society and ultimately history can be very scary. Many people would rather keep their blinders on and not know the truth. However, if you are ready to examine your privilege, you may need support. It can feel somewhat lonely. As you peel back these layers, it can be rather shocking. Those who already know these truths are not often patient with your feelings because they've been living with the truth for years. Those who are not yet ready to see might be defensive in their denial. Please, seek support from a professional or a group of people in the same stage of discovery.
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After burning out from a long career as a middle school/high school reading/math/science teacher, I returned to school to study massage, hypnotherapy, mindfulness, aromatherapy, and yoga.