The tragic events of this past week are some of the most awful things I've ever witnessed. Two black men were killed on consecutive nights by white police officers...seemingly because they were black. It broke my heart to hear that the second incident took place while a woman and young child were in the vehicle and witnessed the incident. Then, I woke up on Friday morning to hear that five white cops were killed by a former black military member...seemingly because they were white cops.
But what has affected me to the core of my being is seeing and hearing our responses. The blame. The anger. The political agendas. The blatant generalizations on both sides. There is so much fear and hatred, and its spreading with every catchy news headline, social media post, and casual conversation. And it breaks my heart.
These are all lives that had value. Each of them had a story. Each of them had family members, friends, people that loved and cared for them. Now they are dead, and our responses are adding to the pain because we don't know how to manage our fear when someone looks, acts, and thinks differently than we do.
This is a messy topic, a messy situation. There is not a simple or quick way to fix oppression and racial division. This is something that can't be fixed by politics, protests, or legislation. This starts at the core of who we are as people.
I am a white male. I am the least oppressed demographic in America. I don't know what it's like to experience oppression on level that many in our country have. I don't know it like it's like to be discriminated against because of my skin color, gender, or financial status. But I can identify with what it feels like to walk into a room and feel different from everyone else. I do that during every social work class at Wayne State. My skin color makes me different. My gender makes me different. My faith in Christ makes me different. In the classroom, I am an outsider.
I really struggle with that during times like this. Should I apologize for being a white male? No, I shouldn't. I'm proud of who I am. It doesn't mean I'm racist or a white supremacist. It means that I see myself as imperfect person with a fun personality and a compassionate heart for people based on the emotional pain, struggles and challenges that I have experienced. I like the person I am and wouldn't trade it for anyone else.
It can, however, make it harder to empathize with others who have been oppressed or have life experiences vastly different from my own. Should this become an excuse? Or does it just mean I need to work harder to seek out understanding from others who are different from me? It means that I need to search within myself to find some kind of connection. I need to find empathy with those who are different from me. As do we all.
Social workers are trained to practice empathy. Before working with the clients we are taught to "tune in" to their needs. We tap into our own stories to find something that helps us empathize and bridge the gap to those who’s struggles we may not naturally understand.
What if instead of trying to be right, we instead sought to understand and feel the pain of our American family members who are desperately hurting this week?
What would it look like if we grieve with each other and demonstrated compassion for each other?
What if we put aside our racial and political bias and found the courage to love others?
What if we looked within to see our own pain and make it available for somebody else who is hurting?
What would it look like to hurt with our American brothers and sisters this week instead of blaming, attacking, or hiding in fear?
What would it look like if each of us looked in the mirror, acknowledged our fear of things we don't fully understand, and exposed our hearts to find connection with someone else? Our skin might look different, but our fears and pain are similar.
We are the United States of America and we are grieving. Our anger and hatred only make the grief worse. Love, grace, compassion - these are characteristics that heal.
So my question for us to reflect on this week is this: what role do I play in healing this nation? And am I willing to be vulnerable enough to do it?
Join The Conversation
Has there been a time that something in your life made you feel like an outsider? Have you experienced oppression as a result of your race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual preference, or financial status? Would you ever consider tapping into that pain to empathize with someone else? Please share your comments and stories below, or contact me on Twitter @RickGuttersohn.
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