In my last post, I talked about my multiculturalism course. I said it was outside my comfort zone – and it was – but what I was unprepared for was how FAR outside my comfort zone it was! The readings, assignments and discussions confronted me at every turn with how wrong my thinking had been all of my life about people who were different from me: different in belief, dress, class, religion, skin colour, ability, and sexual orientation.
Most of my life I have been in this white, Christian, heterosexual bubble that not only tries to pretend the non-existence of other ways of thinking and acting, but (when confronted with them) says they are automatically wrong… because they don’t look like me or think like me or act like I do. I guess our society is set up to compartmentalize people into categories. And it’s a given that the church does – to the point of excluding everyone who doesn’t follow the pattern. (I could be pulled off on that bunny trail, but let’s not do that right now.)
People are different. Different is good.
In the last 13 weeks, I have been exposed to the dangers of non-acceptance, of judgment, of abuse done in the name of love (whether that is familial love or romantic love or Christian love), and of viewing someone, ANYONE as “less than” just because he, she or they are different. I have been outraged at the holocaust perpetuated in this country over the years by those whose stated mission was evangelism but whose real agenda was cultural genocide. I am referring, of course, to the tragedy of the residential schools and the fact that generations of First Nations peoples had their culture, their very identity, ripped from them in an effort to ‘better’ their lives.
I have talked with people who are of different races, genders (and yes, there are more than two), religions, classes, and sexual orientations. I have learned that “treating everyone the same” is not enough. People who have been oppressed need greater consideration, more access to the things I take for granted. For example, some people cannot even go to the bathroom without their identity being questioned. Think about that. I don’t need to pass an inspection or show my ID every time I go to a public washroom. These people need laws to help them carve out a place to exist in our society, to even have the right to have their significant others make decisions for them in hospitals … or funeral homes. The level of oppression is unbelievable, and by far, most of that oppression comes from those with privilege. White privilege, cis-privilege, (cis is identifying as the same gender as the parts you were born with), middle-class or rich privilege, and Christian privilege (link) are the chief offenders. And it is rampant.
I didn’t understand privilege (most privileged people don’t) until I had someone explain it to me. Privilege is an unfair, unearned advantage that someone has over another person on the basis of some part of their identity: skin colour, gender identity, religion, and so forth. Here is a short video explaining the basics of white privilege : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysj_8fqnNcY
Change is good. But the process of changing is hard.
The amount of change that this experience has challenged me with has been overwhelming at times. I am not one who likes confrontation (who does?) but I felt confronted … and I felt ashamed of my ignorance and unthinking attitudes toward people who were different. It was really hard for me to address those things in my life because I had thought a certain way my whole life … and then there were these readings – and these discussions – that really pushed me to the limit (and perhaps beyond the limit) of what I could endure. It was rapid-fire, too; there was no time to recover from one body-blow before the next one came.
I am coming to terms with the idea that becoming a counsellor means a great deal more than it did when my parents were my age. It involves scary things like being an advocate for my clients and maybe even fighting the bigotry of the very groups of which I am a member in order to gain a hearing for those who seek my help. It might mean that some people might not like me anymore – a fate that a younger, more impressionable me might consider as worse than death.
However, I am slowly seeing that if I want to make a difference in my world, I cannot just stop at helping people cope with (for example) racism that exists in our society; I need to empower people to stand up against it … and that will involve me standing up against it too. I cannot sit by and listen in silence while people call every Muslim a terrorist when I know for a fact that this is not true. I cannot look the other way when someone is bullying someone of another sexual orientation, or when someone is loudly protesting against “those people” coming into our country. Silence is not a luxury I can afford anymore.
In a way, it’s like learning to drive. My daughter studied and got her learner’s permit a while back. Knowing the rules of the road and learning how to put those into practice has opened her eyes to a number of things she never expected: among these is her awareness of how other people are breaking the law when they go over the speed limit, or don’t come to a complete stop at a stop light or stop sign, or don’t signal before changing lanes or turning. Before she got that permit, she never noticed these things. Now she does.
And just so, I am seeing more and more the multitude of examples of racism, sexism, classism, FATism, and heterosexism (homophobia) that people demonstrate in my interactions with people, as well as in the media, even so far as in comedy shows that take pot shots at folks who are different in some way. (By the way, I no longer laugh at such humour, simply because I don’t find it funny any more!)
What is all of this going to mean? Well, as I continue my grad school journey, I suspect that I will be more sensitive to the needs and feelings of those who are different. I suspect that, as I enter the profession of counselling, I will be more likely to set aside my personal beliefs and listen to my clients, so that I can understand what it is like to be them.
And that will make the biggest difference of all.