150 Years And Still Enslaving

I’m sitting here at my desk, half-watching 12 Years A Slave in the background, finding myself having a physical reaction to the sheer horror in this movie. I can’t even look directly at the screen during the worst scenes.JOHN77_edited-1

I know this is the intent of the movie, and they have done a spectacular job.

What I can’t wrap my head around is that while we share a collective horror about past mistreatment of slaves, even the current racism today, we continue to judge others with the same vicious tenacity that we cringe from during the movie.

The sickness in my stomach that I feel now is the same sickness I feel when I hear people trash homosexuals, taunt the mentally ill, and call poor people a product of their own choices. We have not changed all that much in 150 years, we’ve just changed the targets – and the tactics.

What happens when we deny federal rights to people that love the same sex? We enslave them to a lifetime of second-class citizens. They can be refused visitation of a dying loved one, denied social security benefits of a partner they spent decades making a home with, and openly discriminated against in adoptions, service, and much more. It makes me ill.

What happens when we deny services to the mentally ill, and the families trying to help them, simply because they don’t have the right medical insurance card in their pocket or the funds to pay for services out-of-pocket? We enslave them to a life of illness. We watch families get torn apart, homeless veterans walk the streets, and substance abuse eat away at the ones that try to self medicate. It makes me ill.

What happens when we blame the poor for their financial situation, reducing the funding to programs intended to help them improve? We watch generations of children grow up to believe the only way to make money is through illegal operations, imprisoning them when they are caught, and enslaving the next generation to a life without a parent and starting the cycle over again. It makes me ill.

Life is complicated, but one thing that is very simple is that we are all a product of it.

I was born with a silver spoon. Two parents, enough food, good education, white, and straight. But being born privileged does not make me better; in fact it may make me worse. It separates me from the very human condition of being born none of these things. I take my status for granted – often.

As I listen to the whippings, cursing, and crying on the screen behind me, I’m not just experiencing the horror of the past, I am also realizing the horrors of the present. I still live in a world of discrimination and prejudice. I still live in a time of second-class citizens. And it makes me ill.

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I’m sorry, I don’t speak chimp.

NikkoNoEvil4902

NikkoNoEvil4902 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever found yourself in a “discussion”, only to realize halfway into it that the other person is standing on the pulpit, and this is a one-way conversation?  If you have been out anywhere socially in the last year, or have a Facebook account, I’m going to wager that the answer is “yes”. It’s an epidemic. And my use of the term pulpit is not to imply that these discussions are exclusively religious in nature, but they are included.

What is going on? The 2012 presidential campaign has “descended into trench warfare”, attacks on mosques are a security concern, and a gay night club is attacked with fire projectiles.  And that’s just headlines from today.

It appears that we no longer have the capacity to see each other as worthy of a discussion. We resort to dismissive, hurtful, and even violent behavior all in the name of “being right.”

“…when we discriminate, prejudge, and/or take advantage of others for personal gain, we view and treat others as sub-human, and in doing so justify our behavior, for we value our own hopes, dreams, and aspirations as more important – or more human – than those of others.”

via Sub-Human: A Justification of Exploitation – Brian E. Konkol | Gods Politics Blog | Sojourners.

We have to be “so right” that we diminish another person’s existence to something akin to highly evolved chimps.

Where is this state of opinion coming from? How do we change this wave of perception that we are better than others, we are more right, and ultimately more important?  How can we reconnect our society, and make all members worthy of respect? 

How do we find our way back to discussion?

I think Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has some insight in her speech The Power of Vulnerability on TEDTalks. I encourage you to watch it.

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