I saw a Facebook thread where a woman commented that no amount of traveling or reading could every compensate for her cultural and mental blind spots. Whatever she did to educate herself, she would always have the option of going home to her middle class, white, American life, and would thus never truly understand what much of the world faces.
This week I read To Kill a Mockingbird, transcribed interviews for a friend researching the LGBT community within the LDS church, and received the heartbreaking news of a dear friend's miscarriage.
And so... I cried. I cried because I was sad for all of the injustice and unfairness in the world, and I cried because I am sad for my sisters and my friends who have lost their babies. Let me make this clear though- I did not cry because I am pregnant and I hope that doesn't happen to me. I did not cry because I am straight and white and I see these situations through the lens of "I wish other people had it as good as I do, I'm so lucky." I cried because I am sad. Racism is sad. Being part of community whose underlying message to you is often, "We hope you change!" is sad. Losing a child is extremely sad.
And then I felt stupid for feeling depressed. Memories of what were probably innocent comments ran through my mind. "Oh yes, so difficult for you to be straight, Caitlan," "Your white ways won't cut it here, Princess." "I don't want to hear about you being pregnant, we all know it's going just fine for you." "Wow, it must be so hard to marry someone successful," and a slew of other comments that re-frame any sadness I had as a sort of superiority masquerading as pity. "It's not like that!" I wanted to shout, "I'm sad because I'm a person!"
However, while those comments are isolating and hurtful, I can easily think of times when I have made similar comments to people, not thinking of what it feels like to hear them. I think somehow I've justified them as, "They know I'm joking, they know I'm happy for them." or, if I am bitter towards them, "What should my comment matter? They have what we both wanted."
My own hypocrisy was made clear when three new leaders were appointed to general authority in my church. I groaned as it was more of the same- 3 successful white men from Utah. AGAIN. "This doesn't help," I thought, as I remembered the dozens of experiences I had a missionary, promising that it really was a worldwide church meant for everyone, even if I or the leadership didn't show it.
As soon as I breathed out, "Oh brother," I remembered all the sadness I had been feeling lately because I felt like no one thought I was capable of empathy. Because all my thoughts and experiences were somehow negated by my privilege. As if I had nothing worthwhile to contribute because of my sheltered ignorance.
These men didn't ask for their positions. Yes, I do wish it was someone from outside the US. I wish it was someone homosexual or female, to be totally honest. But, I also know how it feels to be put in leadership and have those you thought would be supportive end up turning on you. Who knows what perspectives they may have? Or, they may be perfectly aware of their blind spots, and they're not going to pretend they don't have them. Maybe they hate themselves for their ignorance just as much as you do, or maybe they go against their stereotypes. What I'm saying is these men still deserve to be supported. Prejudice is still prejudice when it's applied to a rich white male.
I don't know what the main message I'm getting at is, because I do know there's a lot I don't understand and never will. People have rolled their eyes at me my whole life, and I can't say it's never warranted. I've also read and seen enough to know that sometimes, the rich white male is not so innocent. But, I do think it's important to remember that for the most part, people are doing their best, and not every stroke of good fortune is meant as an attack or used as an excuse to look down on others.