Windmill perception made an interesting statement in her blog, “I look across at others, not down”. That one statement sent my head spinning in a thousand different directions. There are so many ways that statement can be interpreted in so many contexts.
What I enjoyed so much was that windmill perception, Trudy, is an African American woman. I rejoiced that she has the confidence to make that statement. Not too many Indigenous women I know (or Indigenous men for that matter) would have the confidence to make a statement that implied equality at any level. Such is the depth of their oppression.
I am not saying that Trudy does not experience racism or oppression. Reading her blog I understand that she receives bucket-loads of it. I just really admired the psychology behind the statement. I think I took the statement out of the context in which Trudy meant it, and for that I must apologise, but I loved how it made me think and reflect. Trudy explained what the statement meant for her…
“Many people assume if you dislike something that you “hate” the person who does it. Not true. Many people dislike things I do but still love ME. That is what I truly meant about looking “across” not down on others. We all have little quirks that someone loves or doesn’t love as much but who we are in essence is unchanging.”
Last semester at uni, we studied white power and privilege. We had to complete a questionnaire titled “Because of my race or color…” (adapted from McIntosh) . In our class, the fair-skinned people scored the highest indicating a high level of privilege and power, a young Muslim woman wearing hijab scored the lowest. For the most part, people in the dominant culture do not have to worry or think about many of the items in the questionnaire.
I replied to Trudy…
“I battle on a daily basis with humility. Not because I think I am better in any way than anyone else, but because it is a reality check that I must do to ensure that I am treating others with respect and dignity and allowing their voice to be heard. Most days I think I have to ‘look up at others’ to truly appreciate their strengths and not let my education (and thus judgements) get in the way.
I work in the community. I once had a discussion with my husband that I hated the word “empower” that community workers use when describing their work. My primary objection was that “power’ is the root word and that has so many connotations, power is so easily abused. He is a mental health nurse, and he suggested that a better word might be “enable”. I thought it was a lovely insight.”
I recently had a conversation with someone that disturbed me deeply. A fair-skinned woman I know had been overseas with her family for 10 days. She was waxing lyrical how wonderful the country was, and how she would like to live there (the ‘grass is greener’ scenario). It went like this:
me: A friend of mine grew up in that country. She has told me that she won’t go back to live there due to the racial tension. She has dark skin.
woman: I didn’t see any racial tension. There aren’t any problems between races there now, that must have been a long time ago. Police are more visible there than they are here.
me: That was her experience. Her family still lives there, and she has been back to visit.
woman: That wasn’t my experience.
What disturbed me is that someone’s lived experience is so easily dismissed. This not a phenomena exclusive to race, but any experience of disadvantage. We can’t know what people experience, the how and the why, until we engage with them in an open way.
We can’t always walk in other people’s shoes, but we can enquire about how the shoes fit. Is the path smooth or is it strewn with obstacles? It’s one way of gaining understanding and hopefully moving forward together.