I Refuse…

As a Sociology professor I have to tackle hard topics in my class.  There is no way around it.  I have to find ways to allow students to explore race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, politics, inequality and yes, even terrorism, in a way that both allows them to process these difficult topics but also dispels harmful stereotypes and generalizations.  Some days I am more successful than others in creating this environment.  With the events of Paris, Beirut and other countless acts of terror around the world in a given week I was especially sensitive to how we shape conversation about the forbidden trifecta–politics, religion and violence.  I am not going to talk about my classroom experience because that is a safe place for my students to express themselves and not for me to write about in a public blog.

But, it is time that I express my own feelings on the events around the world. I am one that has to think for a long time before I speak publicly about social issues and events.  I want to make sure that I have reconciled events in my own mind, digest them and explore my fears, ideas, attitudes and biases.  I truly explore myself before I make any statements.  I’ve been doing a lot of that in the last few days and here is what I’ve decided.

I refuse.  I refuse.  I refuse.  I refuse to buy into broad strokes that paint entire groups of people as inherently “bad” or inherently “good.”  I refuse to buy into the “good” versus “evil” rhetoric. The world is so much more complicated than simplistic generalizations.  I refuse to condemn entire groups of people for the actions of a few.  I refuse to do it to our law enforcement; I refuse to do it to every white person I know, every black person I know, every Native person I know, every poor person that I know, every rich person that I know; every religious person; every Republican, every Democrat, every Socialist, every Christian, every Muslim, every Buddhist, every Hindu.  I simply refuse.

Further, I refuse to pass on these fears, stereotypes, generalizations, and frankly poor conceptualizations of the world to my daughter.  I do not want my daughter growing up to fear everyone who is not like her because she will then be a lonely and fearful person if she only clings to those exactly like her.  I want her to travel without fear.  I will continue to travel without fear.  I want her to embrace people.  I will continue to embrace people.  I want her to love people.  I will continue to love people.  I want her to give people the benefit of the doubt.  I will continue to give people the benefit of the doubt.  I want her to be generous with her fellow man.  I will continue to be generous with my fellow man.

I will teach her strength, courage, fearlessness, love, generosity, hope, kindness, and most of all the ability to reflect without all of the noise of the world to draw conclusions.

There are those that will disagree with me and believe that I am portraying an unrealistic view of the world.  However, I challenge them to think about the billions of people who live peacefully, work with their neighbors of various backgrounds, practice their faiths and beliefs in ways that may be much like your own.  Why focus your entire world on the margins and forget about the billions of people around the world that have strength, courage, fearlessness, love, generosity, hope and kindness?  To do this does not negate that we should fight those at the margins and extremes.  But, it recognizes that we are doing just that–fighting the margins–not entire groups of people.

So, I will continue to LIVE and teach my daughter to live.  I will love and act with kindness.  I will open my heart and doors to people.  I will not let those at the margins take away the very nature of who I am.  I refuse to stop LIVING.

LIVE

Ecuador 2014

 

I was an Angel Tree Baby…

believe

I live a healthy middle class life style now.  People look at Dr. Sociologist and it allows for the past of a young girl to be hidden.  Put away.  Never talked about.  I have (had) two loving parents.  They had their moments with each other and with us.  Neither are perfect.  Neither ever claimed to be.  Each has a list a mile long of things they regret.  But, as an adult I can now look at their struggles in a different light.  I can look at the challenges they faced with compassion. I can truly start to understand just how hard they worked for us.  AND, if they had NEVER been able to raise their income levels I would still say the same thing–my parents worked HARD.

As a teen I would have never admitted that I was once an Angel Tree baby.  However, I think it is time I talk about that experience.  When it comes time for holiday charity I hear a lot of grumbling from those who have never experienced poverty.  I heard this kind of grumbling this morning while I passed the local Angel Tree and it made me mad.  And, this blog is written out of anger.  But, I am ok with that.

They have never seen their mother worry about how to buy food, pay bills, the fear of one medical crisis, the look of despair when she knew should couldn’t give her girls something they wanted.  They’ve never seen their father at a loss as to how to help his family when he was laid off.  They have never been the teen in the hand me down clothes that someone in your school recognizes as their own.  They have never made up so many excuses of why they were not participating in this party, event, or activity.  I was young.  Very young.  But, I saw and understood all of this.

Some might go directly to blaming the parents that they just simply didn’t work hard enough.  I vehemently disagree.  My Mom was and is a hard worker.  She has always busted her ass for us.  Many people do not consider just how hard it is to raise a family on minimum wage or under the table work as my Mom did for a long time by cleaning houses.  They may only look at where she ended up in upper management after 25 years worth of work.  My Dad was also a very hard worker–physical labor for many years which is so hard on a body.  No one can say my parents did not work hard.

My parents were divorced.  Some would then jump to, “Well, they brought it on themselves.”  One might wonder, “well, where was the Dad?” as we lived in one state and he in another and then the “Well, just another case of ‘those’ people.”  My parents were human.  They did the best they could emotionally after a messy divorce.  I can see that now.  I can understand their context now.  I can understand why in that instance, in that one period of our lives that my Dad was not as present as he was for the rest of the 34 years I had him and that my Mom was 35 years old trying to figure it all out.

So, yes I have experienced poverty and I was, at age 13, very thankful for being an Angel Tree baby.  I knew it took everything out of my mother to apply for that kind of assistance.  She had already talked to my sister and I and told us that we would not be doing presents for Christmas that year.  At 13 and 8 that was a hard pill to swallow.  We were kids.  Christmas meant presents no matter what someone else tries to tell you.  But, on Christmas morning another more fortunate family was able to provide joy to a 13 year old and an 8 year old by giving some of their resources during a hard time.

You may say, “Well, I know so and so and they cheat this system and that system” and I don’t have a problem with people who need one time help.  Here’s Dr. Sociologist talking now–Your few experiences of people you may deem as “cheating a system” in some way are in no way a generalization of the millions of working poor in this country.  People who will remain working poor for the rest of their lives because of a thing called structural inequality.  Pay people a decent wage for 40 hours worth of work and guess what–you’ll have more people able to help themselves.  Hold corporations accountable to take care of their employees by paying a decent wage and guess what you’ll have more people able to help themselves.  Make healthcare affordable and guess what you’ll have more people able to help themselves.  Make childcare affordable and guess what you’ll have more people able to help themselves.  These are things we CAN DO as a society.  As a community.  As an engaged citizenry.

It is not our place to judge simply because the situation is always more complex than an outside facade may appear.  You do not know the whole story.  You may assume to know.  But, you are kidding yourself.  You have NO clue.  You may sit on high condemning everyone that needs help in some way.  In doing so, you hurt me because you condemn many, many hard working, loving parents just as mine were that for whatever reason cannot give to their children in this way because they are busy buying food and shelter.

This is not a call to go adopt and Angel Tree baby.  This is a call to stop and think for one moment before you judge the families that are on that tree.