you will never be treated the same way I have always been treated.
With love and gratitude, Me."
I posted this "love note" on my FB wall the other day to see how people would react. Ever since the Million Woman March, I had been noticing all of the conflict happening between people who I assumed were on "the same side". I had seen women of color lashing out against white women, white women lashing out against men, white men lashing out at the white women who had voted for number 45, and white men lashing out anytime any woman mentioned sexism. Everyone was talking, and no one was listening. Amidst some of the worst days of anyone's life as a citizen of the US, we were all fighting amongst ourselves.
Almost immediately after I posted it, a white man who I have had some pretty intelligent conversations with, replied and let me know that it is not white men that are the problem, but the four or five families that control everything and pit us against each other, and that he personally had never done anything to me. Plus that, he added, he himself had been oppressed in ways that I would never understand. A response from yet another white man was to let me know how disappointed he was in me then unfriend and block me. Fortunately, I did get many likes, some supportive and encouraging replies from other white men who were hoping women would rise to power sooner than later.
This was not my sick idea of a way to piss people off on Facebook. This was something I thought might make something clear that I had been pondering for quite some time; that no matter how painful your oppression, be it sexism, racism, homophobia or what have you, has been, there will always be someone who believes that their oppression and their pain resulting from that oppression is worse. This is the language of the oppressed.
This is the language that keeps us divided. Why is it so effective? Because it is institutional, it is ingrained in our blood and bones, and for those of us who have suffered, we know that there is no help coming because our society supports it. No one has escaped this treatement. No one. And no one has ever figured out a way to get passed it. No one has ever dreamed that this could change.
But there is hope. There is a way to combat this. There is a way to fight the forces that keep us arguing amongst ourselves..
You know that feeling you get, when someone talks about being treated horribly due to their gender/race/ethnicity/religion/lifestyle/food allergies? That feeling that you, too have been oppressed, and the pain that jumps up into your chest and pushes you to shut down anyone claiming their pain over oppression? Because no one was there to help you? No one was there to bring justice to your personal attrocity?
That feeing is not empathy. That feeling is the unresolved pain you have been forced to carry around with you every day of your life. That pain is the pain we all carry because no one, save a very few, has escpaed this oppression. And your defensiveness, your anger that another person thinks they have the right to complain? That is what is keeping you from finding any kind of common ground.
We have to stop behaving as if our pain is more valid than anyone else's. We have to stop behaving as if the oppression we have faced is unique. We have to understand that every last one of us has been participating in an oppressive system, and the only way out is empathy. The only way out is love. If you can sit with a person, listen to their story, feel their pain, put your arm around them and let them know that you hear them, you are making strides. If you can handle it when someone shuts you down after you have told them your story of oppression, if you can turn that conversation around, you are healing all of us.
But nothing will be resolved if we keep behaving is if our own pain in some way makes us blameless. It does not. We will not make any progress if every time a person tells their story, they are silenced by others who have been similarly oppressed. We must understand that we are ALL responsible for this, and we must ALL stand for each other. That is the only way this will work, and it will take the kind of vigilance that will train your heart for the long haul.
For too long we have been killing each other over nothing. For too long, we have believed that we are victims and someone must pay. This is the behavior of the oppressed, and to stop this oppression, we must stop oppressing each other, and instead, all this pain. Allow for the possibility that we are all participants, and in order to change it, we must stop participating. We must stand with each other, not fight over who is the biggest victim.