Privilege, discrimination, honoring diversity… We all hear the words and think we understand them. But what does all of it really mean and how do they apply to our daily lives?
As I sit in my thoughts, I try to reflect, but find myself frozen. It is a familiar frozenness as I have experienced a multitude of experiences that left me feeling paralyzed. It is a familiar feeling to most individuals who have experienced abuse, regardless of the type. At some point, discrimination becomes abusive. When the discrimination involves power, regardless of the kind of power, the dynamics change, and the abuser is rewarded by the witnessing of your pain. And you are likely left feeling frozen, angry, or wanting to run. Because discrimination and abuse of power are traumatic and that is what our brains do when they experience trauma. Fight, flight, or freeze.
Some discriminations are mild and come in the form of microaggressions, which are more about ignorance than anything else. However, some discrimination is bold and intentional and often comes from people with enough power to get away with it. When the speaker starts the statement with “I know this will sound _____” fill in the blank with racist, sexist, and the like… well, they know exactly what they are doing. As a good rule of thumb, if you have to preface your statement with “I know this will _____,” then maybe the best thing to do it to be quiet.
Slow down. Ask yourself what you are trying to do and find another way to do it. Intergenerational and discrimination-based trauma is real. And your words are like weapons, killing a person one word at a time.
What exactly is power? It could be a supervisor. It could be a loan officer deciding if you’ll get a home. It could be a server deciding if you get your food first, or at all. It could be an aid worker deciding who gets rescued first and what areas of town to start in. It could be a police officer deciding fault. It could be a case manager deciding if you get food for your family or insurance for a sick child. It could be anyone… anyone who plays a role in deciding something you have no power over. Often something you need or want to avoid.
People frequently say “Don’t let them win” or “Just ignore them.” Those types of statements ignore the very essence of power. And dismiss the genuine feelings of pain and hopelessness experienced by the victim.
I am by no means suggesting that we cower to the abuser. However, sometimes it is not as easy or as clear as ignoring the situation. But, how do we balance fighting back with being perceived as a liberal “fruitcake?”
Truth be told, I am a conservative. But, I am also a liberal. In the same way I do not want to be boxed into a group of race, sex, or the like, I do not want to be boxed into a definition that encompasses my entire belief system. Those who fight for equal rights often shun me for being conservative or not disliking a certain president. When you feel the need to put me in a box that isn’t the same as yours, you are a hypocrite. You are doing the very thing you’re fighting against.
I recently spent a considerable amount of time with a white, male, person in power. My future somewhat rested in his hands, so I battled trying to protect myself, protect the others he was affecting, and find a place of understanding for his journey into becoming an abuser. Even the fact that I have a right to reflect on the experience shows my privilege and am quite mindful of my power in reflecting.
I am a white, middle-class female. I am highly educated and carry myself in a manner that allows my past to go undetected. What most people don’t know is that I’ve battled through more in my 46 years that most people can fathom. My life should be a lifetime movie.. or 5 for that matter. I have been a single mom of three children, sometimes going without food so that my kids could eat 25 cent packages of ramen noodles. I have walked in many churches to be gawked at as if I am a circus freak. I have been victimized over and over – financially, physically, emotionally, and sexually. And even after overcoming all those battles and making a successful life for myself, I still get judged.
When I express my frustrations in being judged for being a snooty white girl who doesn’t know a thing about trauma or pain, it is hurtful. When I express that hurt, I am often dismissed with “that’s not something bad to be discriminated against.” The problem is, when you deny someone’s reality, you deny someone’s battle through their pain. When you judge someone, regardless of the direction of the judgment, the pain is still the same.
As I have discussed in a previous blog, I understand the brain makes some of these judgments on their own. But, everyone has a responsibility to make acceptance and diversity a priority so that the automatic judgments can make way for understanding.
And if you are in a position of power, use that power for good. Use that power to take down every abusive, narcissistic person who uses their position to take advantage of anyone who they see as “less than.”
If you don’t know how, reach out, ask for help. There are ways to protect yourself and fight for what is right.