Thursday, February 23, 2017

Don't Mind the "Othering"

I'm spending the day at a "Clergy Convening" hosted by Faith In Florida, a Community Organizing group. The idea was to bring together clergy from various religions and backgrounds from all across Florida, and to let us start talking about, and making stronger connections in pursuit of, Social Justice. Although the organizers are dedicated to making sure that this group is as diverse as possible, for this particular gathering, it isn't completely so. Out of about 30 participants, I am one of four white people in the room. And, I'm the only Jew. I am, in other words, a distinct and visible minority here.

There have been a few moments of "othering," as it's known in some circles--some moments when I was clearly, albeit probably accidentally, marked as marginal. As not being fully of the group. There were a few comments from other participants about "people who look like us." In context, those were clearly references to African-Americans, and so at least for those moments, I was not being included in "us." There were also several prayers which invoked Jesus, and always in the first person singular, as in "we pray in Jesus's name.*"

* I did have to laugh especially at the one which began with several comments about coming together in unity, in all of our various forms and believes, and then went on to refer to us all turning to Jesus!

I obviously noticed these things, or else I wouldn't be writing about them. But, they didn't bug me very much, and that's what I'm really writing right now – why I wasn't particularly bothered by being "othered" a couple of times today. In part, it was just a question of proportion. I'm surrounded by people who are made to feel "other" on a regular basis – on a daily basis for some of them, I would imagine. To get overly sensitive about a moment or two when I was forced to experience a minuscule portion of their regular life seems awfully snowflake-ish of me, and I just decided to not take it too hard, basically.

But, it was more than that. What dawned on me was that, for me, this momentary marginalization was precisely that — momentary. It had absolutely no impact on my life, beyond this current moment. But, for most of the other people in the room, when they are marginalized, it's almost always one piece of a larger pattern of much more severe, and much more impactful, marginalization.

In other words, I was made to feel like I wasn't 100% part of this group for a brief moment or two. But, when I walked out of the doors of our little conference room, I went back to being a white man in America, which is a pretty damn privileged thing to be. I've got all the freedom, access, and power which comes, unearned, with my identity. But, when they are made to feel "other," it's not only the moment itself, but a reminder of the constant marginalization and disempowerment with which they live in our wider world.

Think of it this way – how hard is it to not have lunch? Well, that entirely depends on how long it's been since you've eaten. If you eat three meals every day, skipping lunch is not a big deal. If you regularly go hungry, and haven't had a decent meal in a couple days, then skipping lunch is probably a very big deal, indeed. And, it's pretty obnoxious of that first person to complain, especially to the chronically hungry person!

People sometimes complain about reverse-racism, and I'm not as dismissive of it as some people are. Treating anyone badly because of their race (or gender, or sexual orientation, etc) is never a good thing, and our society will be better the more of it we can eradicate. But, it's nice to remember that any racism, or any marginalization that I may endure is, because of the life I lead, always minor. And, ignoring it turns out to not be very hard at all, and actually feels pretty good.