others' shoes

Hard as I try, I can never get inside my disabled, non-verbal son's head. I long to know what Calvin is thinking. I often wonder how he feels. Does he dream, does he remember, does he dread? Though I can never know the answers to these questions, in my quest to understand and to empathize with him—and to suppress my inclination toward anger and frustration at his protests—the best thing I can do is to put myself in Calvin's shoes.

Long before Calvin, I thirsted to know the experiences of others unlike myself—People of Color, the homeless, people from foreign lands. So, after graduating college I set off to explore the world—Great Britain, Europe, Turkey, former Yugoslavia, Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt—in search of other, and to find my best self. I saw firsthand how others lived—in urban apartments, in mud and grass huts, in slate-roofed brick inns, in bungalows. Everywhere I went people were the same—kind, generous, loving, trusting—and yet different in the ways they cooked, the foods they ate, how they worshiped, the way they labored. When I returned home I began to explore what life was like for my fellow Americans.

Yesterday—Columbus Day to some—was what many of us have reframed as Native or Indigenous People's Day. It's a day to honor the millions of Native Americans and their descendants whom Columbus and those like him did their best to exterminate and homogenize, the same people who continue to be marginalized today. Last Saturday night, Michael and I discussed the holiday with a group of friends. We spoke of the horrors that Native people faced when White imperialists invaded the Americas—genocide, disease, pillaging, slavery, kidnapping, rape. We spoke of the terror indigenous parents faced when their children were snatched from them and given to White Christian couples to raise. We cringed hearing that Natives who dared to speak their own languages risked having their tongues snipped by Whites. For hundreds of years, a similar horror befell African men, women and children who were forcibly brought here during the Atlantic slave trade and—if they survived the brutal months-long journey—were denied their religion, their language, their customs, their dress, their freedom, their families, their lives. As we spoke of these atrocities, I imagined walking in their shoes.

The subjugation of Brown and Black people continues today with policies that restrict their mobility and limit their access to housing, proper education, healthcare, employment, clean water, safe streets, the right to vote, and exposes them to criminal justice biases and laws that put them behind bars at alarming rates compared with Whites. What's more is that many if not most Whites deny this racist paradigm, willfully submitting themselves to—and emboldened by—the false propaganda of racist fearmongers like the current part-time, temporary resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and of his attorney general.

The other day I heard my state's US Senator Susan Collins—in a forty-five minute speech defending her support of a Justice Kavanaugh—say that she imagined walking in his shoes. While some of my best friends are White men, the shoes Senator Collins and other legislators should be imagining themselves walking in are the shoes of sexual assault victims and the shoes of the vulnerable and disenfranchised, whose numbers dwarf those of self-proclaimed wrongfully-accused White men. With few exceptions, White men are not the fragile of us in this nation; they are fortified, buttressed by centuries of laws upholding their rights before all others to own property, go to college, get credit, run for office and vote. They are not the oppressed; in government—on the Right—they are the oppressors. They are not the abused or terrorized; statistically, they are the abusers, the terrorists. And while I agree that many White men work their asses off to get ahead, because of the White male paradigm in this nation they have had a major advantage and—due to neglect or intent—have impeded others' progress far too long. The rest of us continue to struggle—to be paid an equal wage for the same work, to be free from racial profiling, to feel free to peacefully protest our oppression, to be sentenced fairly when we do wrong, to feel safe having a drink at a bar or party, to feel safe to camp and hike and walk alone at night, to feel safe calling the cops, to feel secure in our own cars, neighborhoods and homes, to feel safe to identify our assaulters. These are all freedoms virtually guaranteed to White men while being denied, through policy and/or practice, to the rest of us.

Furthermore, we who value freedom, justice and truth should rebuke so-called leaders who blame sexual assault victims calling them hoaxes, who champion legislation that limits freedoms of marginalized people, who disparage and malign women and People of Color, who characterize White supremacists and Neo-NAZIs as "good people," who align themselves with vicious dictators, who call African nations "shitholes," who pitch us against each other for selfish gains, who lie often and with impunity, who incessantly praise themselves, casting aspersions on others while never holding themselves accountable for a goddamn thing—and who openly and unabashedly mock people like my sweet boy Calvin.

We should recognize, own and credit—not feel guilty for or ashamed of—our privileges as White folks in this amazing land stolen from its natives and built on the backs of slaves. We should believe our fellow Americans when they say they are being oppressed. We should champion causes for the marginalized and most vulnerable of us. We cannot hope to better ourselves and our nation until we understand and empathize with the plight of others. The first step is to decide to walk in their shoes.

oh, and for paradigm shift, please go to vote.org

Photo by Floriana-Barbu

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