Claiming Spaces

With my background in community development and sociology I am very sensitive to ensuring that I surround myself with diversity of thought.  I need to hear about the different realities that many of us face and I need to keep abreast of new theories, thought and research on the social problems we face.  I have a diverse group of friends and colleagues that help push me in various areas where I can have real and meaningful conversations.

A major part of my reality is teaching.  Teaching students how to critically analyze media, research methods, statistical analyses, theories and ideas.  In case you didn’t know–this is hard work. REALLY hard…REALLY, REALLY hard made even harder by the 24/7 stream of good, bad, ugly,really ugly, pitiful, horrendous, you’ve got to be kidding me information stream.  In the end of whatever I teach, I hope students at least come out with the notion that they need to read material with the idea they should have more questions than answers at the end of a piece.  What research methods were used to collect this information?  How were the data analyzed?  What is the motivation of the author?  Who is funding the author?  Whose perspective is being represented?  What might I learn from another perspective on the very same issue?  And I could go on and on.

I think I must be good at my job of interviewing because people really open up to me.  I hear the pain in their voices and in their stories of a reality that I honestly wonder how they are still standing. I hear the voices of people who recognize the kind of privilege they experience and work tirelessly to ensure more people have that kind of privilege.  I also hear the voices of people who do not believe we should talk about those things because, they feel, it just keeps the problem going.  I also hear the voices of people who tell me we should not mix races, castration should be allowed, how horrible families in poverty are, how people in poverty “just don’t” care, should “just” do x, y and z…You might be thinking, “SURELY, SURELY people do not say that to you!”  I told you, I am good at my job and these are all very real conversations I’ve had in the last 15 years of doing this kind of work.  And, sadly, in the last 15 years and with no exaggeration, a few hundred interviews later these conversations still fall into these various categories.

I live a life that is rooted in the very social problems that our communities face.  Doing research on racial and ethnic disparities is mentally and emotionally draining.  I see on a daily basis, why it matters to continue having the tough conversations.  I see why we have to find compromises on how to move forward on social issues.  Through this research I see in a very tangible and real way why it matters to keep having conversation about race, class, gender, basic human rights, healthcare, education, our criminal justice system, the environment, poverty, how we go about economic development, who gets to sit at the decision making table, who gets to make the decision making rules, etc. because these factors shape our life chances no matter who you are.

In engaging in debate, teaching and conducting my research I can become very jaded at times.  I’m grateful for my inner most circle of friends that keep me positive and keep reminding me why we keep going.  My family is also a big part of this  support; but since I live so far away much from many of them this interaction happens online.  Keeping up with their work, kiddos, spouses, hobbies, and daily life.  And, like many, I’ve somewhat reconnected with people I knew many years ago.  For the most part I’ve enjoyed seeing how people are doing at this stage in their life.  My heart hurts for the pain and tragedies they’ve experienced. I love seeing their passions for food, sports, politics, travel.

But, I’ve also seen and probably remained social media “friends” way too long, with people that I have zero common ground with.  That, by their posts and comments, despise people like me.  They have no nice words for people like me nor does it seem they have any interest in opening a dialogue.  I’ve struggled on what to do with this group of social media “friends.”  Why you might ask?  Well, go back to my first paragraph. I am deeply committed to ensuring that I do not insulate myself to only one line of thought.  I ask myself, “What does it say about me if I start deleting people because we have a different perspective?  What am I missing if I do not at least try to see their side of life?”

So, tonight as I was scrolling through and seeing the cute pictures, the funny tidbits on how the day went I started to see the inevitable posts that make me cringe.  And, suddenly, my finger started going, delete, Delete, DELETE and before I knew it I was on a deleting spree! And wow!  What a great feeling!  I have come to realize that through my friends, colleagues the amount I read, my teaching and conversations with students, and my research that I do plenty to make sure I listen to and really hear people.  And, you know what?  I do not have to hear people online that I either haven’t seen in 20+ years or that in my personal life–with who I am now–would probably have no relationship with.  I just don’t.  That is my choice.  I can make my online world how I want it and that is ok. That, for my own sanity, I can make one space that friendly, loving, funny place I need it to be.  It doesn’t mean I am not valuing other voices.  It does not mean I am insulating myself.  I simply means I am claiming this one space for the lighter side of life.  It means I am claiming this space for others, who even though I do not agree with them 100%, we do so in a respectful and meaningful way.  I do not have to see posts that are blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, belitting of others and me, and do not even try to understand that your reality is not my reality just as my reality is not the person’s next to me.

Whew, it feels good to finally resolve this for myself.