Category Archives: Privilege

Reality?

Today I found myself discussing something I know very little about.

Reality TV.

I was with my girlfriend, sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for them to call us back to the examination room…and wouldn’t you know it? They had a copy of US Magazine in the waiting room. It was full of coverage of the Real Housewives of (some urban area in a city that I don’t live in).

You know that show, don’t you?

Okay…I have to admit that I have never watched a Real Housewives of (any city) because I don’t have cable TV and I am unwilling to pull it off of Hulu or Netflix.  I have never, for one minute of my life, compared my life as a housewife in Phoenix to anyone who considers themselves a ‘Real Housewife’ of anywhere else.  I don’t know that I’d survive the comparison.  First of all, I love my husband, but we are NOT that kind of rich.  Second, I love my husband, but being an engineer at Boeing does not make you any kind of famous. Finally, I love my husband, but he did not marry a woman who can be classified as “hot” housewife…not even remotely.  Then there’s the problem that neither I or my friends look good in designer gowns.

So there it is. I may be a housewife, but I’m not very ‘Real’.  Bummer, man.

Even so, my girlfriend and I looked at the pictures in US Magazine and were like WTH???

They had pictures of a lavish baby shower, a party of such epic importance that thousands of dollars were spent decorating the room where the baby shower was held; thousands more were spent on the catering and designer cake/cocktails/party favors.

I was incredulous.  Every baby shower I had ever attended was held in the conference room at the company where I worked. No lavish decorations. No interior designer. No custom cupcake flavors. No epic surprise gifts that had to be wheeled in while I closed my eyes.  The truth looked more like this: cake from Costco. Balloons from Party City. Pizza from Dominos or Pizza Hut. Gift money loaded onto a gift card by a motivated coworker who organized the entire party because they really, really liked me, or at the very least really, really wanted to be an event planner.

I was grateful for the gifts and the attention, and I considered it a bonus that my company allowed us all to slack off our work for 30 minutes or so to eat pizza and cake and celebrate something as obnoxious as impending maternity leave for a critical team member (that was me!)

It was nice to be considered ‘critical’ even if it meant that I couldn’t take the full twelve weeks of maternity leave.

As I sat there, waiting in the doctor’s office with my friend, I found that I didn’t know how to process all the slick pictures of balloons that were color coordinated to the theme of the baby’s nursery. I had no idea what it must be like to be a mom famous for being married to someone, enjoying a party for a person who isn’t yet born, eating catered food from a famous chef and a cake that cost more than I earn in a month.  I was a little disgusted by the excess and frustrated that I was expected to be deeply interested in gratuitous displays of wealth and privilege that have little to do with the event being celebrated.  Basically, the entire event spoke volumes about the wealth of the parents, the wealth of their friends, and the fame they had for being wealthy. There really wasn’t much to be said about the unborn child who was supposedly being celebrated, unless you count the sterling silver Tiffany rattle and the  top-of-the-line diaper service given as gifts, because doesn’t every newborn need precious metals to chew on and the softest, whitest diapers made of sustainable bamboo fibers washed in ecologically safe, non-sulfate detergents?

For a moment, can we admit that ‘Reality TV’ is an oxymoron? If you are watching TV, you are only accidentally (if at all) observing anything approaching reality.

I am not saying that TV never portrays reality. I have seen actual reality on television more than once. In fact, I can think of several instances when I watched actual reality untold on TV in real time.

I remember watching Harry Reasoner lose his composure in the hour after the news broke that Ronald Reagan had been shot. Reasoner, having lived through Kennedy’s assassination, was desperate to know if Reagan was alive or dead, if he was announcing the mourning of a nation or the failed attempt to assassinate the symbol of American power.

I remember watching the newsmen running away from the Alfred P Murrah building in Oklahoma City after they suspected a second bomb had been found. The chaos was terrifying as cameramen and reporters frantically ran from the site of the initial bombing and the bodies of hundreds who were massacred by Timothy McVeigh.  Later on, I watched reporters cry as they announced that McVeigh had bombed a building with a daycare onsite, and that children were among the dead.

I remember listening to the horrified reporters who watched as victims jumped from the upper floors of the burning World Trade Center buildings. The shock was evident in their voices; they were unable to contain their sorrow. I listened to the stunned silence of those same reporters as we watched the twin towers collapse in plumes of smoke and debris.

I have seen reality on television and it isn’t pretty or polished; it is never color-coordinated. It has nothing to do with the rich and the powerful. Reality on TV has always had to do with tragedy and sorrow, when editors had no time to polish the report before it was put on camera, when no political spin could be achieved because the news was too bloody and fresh to be politicized.

Anything glibly called ‘Reality TV’ today is actually nothing more than TV, filmed on location with minimal script. I’d like to say that it has little political agenda, but Reality TV has always tended to show  Americans as people who either fight to survive in some competition (thus showing our physical prowess and strength of will) or as people of wealth and finesse (thus showing our financial dominance and well-deserved opulence) which means that reality TV is rife with political agenda. In essence, American ‘Reality TV’ shows are nothing more than an advertisement for the American dream, selling the world on the idea that we are stronger, richer, smarter, and more powerful than everyone else. It’s a slick lie that we foist on ourselves and on anyone who chooses to consume the propaganda of American wealth and dominance.

I normally don’t disparage our nation or our broadcasting networks quite this much, but today I am disgusted by what the media feeds us (and the world) about our country, when the best nature of the people in the United States has always been illustrated in the midst of ‘actual reality’, which tends to be one damn disaster after another. Americans display our best qualities when we are busy doing anything and everything we can to help one another despite whatever disaster has overcome us at the moment: natural disasters, financial disasters, terrorism, wars, you name it. The best qualities of US residents are always found in our response to the uglier realities of our day-to-day existence, no matter what we glorify on television.

Did you notice that I tried to include all persons living in the US? That’s because living in the US tends to draw us into a sense of common good, whether we are immigrant or long-term citizen, no matter our skin color, no matter our ethnic ancestry, no matter our current identification of citizenship or belonging. To live in the US is to slowly join in the hope that we truly can become ONE despite our differences, that there really is a great melting pot. To put a fine point to it, the diversity of this nation is its strength and its greatest gift. As a melting pot, we are deliciously wonderful, and I couldn’t be more pleased with my actual nation…far more pleased with its messy reality than the glorified version of it that is sold in the media. I know that much is wrong in the US and there is much to be addressed before there can be peace, safety, and equality for everyone, but I have faith that love is stronger than fear and that we are stronger than the hatred we were taught by culture indoctrination. Let me assure you: the struggles and tragedy that we all live with make us one homogenous mass of people in need, and in those moments we transcend our fears and serve each other in the most beautiful ways.

And that, my friend, is real REALITY. It isn’t pretty, but it is everything that I value: committed, selfless, and absent of artificial boundaries.

May God make it so, and soon.

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#metoo

This last week has been difficult for me, as I have witnessed the flood of #metoo posts all over my Facebook feed.  I don’t have words for the intense feelings I felt as I scrolled through page after page of women giving quiet testimony to the ways that we have been objectified, threatened, intimidated, and abused by men.

It would be easy to rail against men right now, to get righteous and start condemning the sinners.  God knows the despair in me—despair that I feel for my daughters and my sisters and myself—causes my soul to stomp and scream and demand justice.

But the truth is that there is not enough justice in the world to stop my soul from wailing, mostly because I cannot even get my own husband to understand what it feels like to be a women in a country waging war against women’s reproductive rights, against our right to be sexual whenever and with whomever we want. Despite many times of trying, I cannot seem to help my white, middle class, well-education husband to see the myriad of ways in which women’s rights are slowly being dismantled and destroyed.

Understand me…I married a compassionate, kind, respectful man who has never violated a woman in his life…nor would he purposefully discriminate against anyone. And that is a part of the problem.

I believe it is his innocence that makes him utterly blind.

Let me explain.

The biggest problem that this society has isn’t racism, or sexism, or ageism or size-ism. It isn’t body shaming or bullying or microaggressions.  It might feel that way, but our biggest problem is that we are utterly blind to the ways we have be socialized to oppress each other.

I’m not talking about white supremacists marching down the street with tiki torches. It’s easy to identify acts of racism when they are gross and blatant.  I’m not talking about men like Harvey Weinstein who use their power to harass and abuse women. It’s easy to identify sexual predators when their behaviors are so outrageous and unacceptable.  I’m not talking about hateful posts, body-shaming, and cyber-bullying on the internet. It’s easy to identify hate language and bullying when the message in the post is so egregious that it leaps off the page. We don’t have any trouble identifying in-your-face hatred when we see it, because it is so shocking and so ludicrous that we react with disgust.  We’re not blind to any of those things because they are so obvious.

The problem is the million subtle cruelties that slip by, unnoticed, even though they happen right in front of us. The ones that are so quiet that when they are pointed out, we immediately think “No…that’s not what that person meant to say/do/imply.  Of course not!”

For instance, my husband and I tried to discuss what I call the GOPs “War on Women”; their latest outrage is the government’s recent decision to allow employers to refuse to pay for birth control for women…while Viagra is still covered.   I said that it was just another attack on women’s reproductive rights and our sexual freedom and he disagreed. He said that I was totally off-base because “Birth control isn’t necessary and Viagra fixes a medical problem!”

My first thought was what problem would that be, exactly?  We all know what Viagra does: it allows men with erectile dysfunction to be able to have sex. There it is: sexual freedom and reproductive rights for men (because that is how you make babies).  And of course in my husband’s mind, female methods of birth control aren’t necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancies because…condoms! How do you explain to someone who has never had to fight for their rights that he just willingly put his daughter’s reproductive rights into the hands of men who may or may not be nice men like the father they grew up with?  But I can’t explain how the lack of birth control restricts a woman’s sexual freedom when my husband thinks that men already have the solution to that problem. So I tried another tact and explained why his infertile wife still takes birth control.

I am 53 years old and still on birth control for the exact same reason that I went on birth control 35 years ago: to control the pain caused by Interstitial Cystitis.  Right now, the only other option I have to control the pain this effectively is a total hysterectomy; in the choice between surgery and taking a tiny little pill every day, I take the pill. Then I had to explain about endometriosis and how it slowly coats your internal organs and abdominal cavity with endometrial lining that bleeds…and had to remind him that internal bleeding is excruciatingly painful. And then I had to explain that those are only two of many non-pregnancy related illnesses that are controlled through the hormone therapy that is otherwise known as birth control pills.

After those few examples he agreed that women need access to birth control “because it fixes a problem like Viagra does.” Seriously?  I wish that I could more easily make him understand that women will never have equal rights if they don’t have full control over their bodies, including their sexuality and reproductive rights, but I’ll settle for him understanding that birth control is a valid treatment for multiple diseases.***

If you are thinking that my husband is dense and needs a brain transplant, I want to remind you that my husband is an engineer with two master’s degrees. He has always respected my intelligence and supported my career; he has been a wonderful, supportive father to our two daughters…AND…he is also a trained crisis counselor who volunteers on the crisis line every week.  He is an incredibly intelligent, compassionate, respectful man…but he just cannot seem to understand how women are being oppressed by the actions of the GOP.

Male privilege has rendered him blind to the reality that women aren’t free if they have to rely on the action of a man to secure that freedom. Sorry condoms, nothing against you, but you don’t grant women freedom at all.

I swear to you that it’s his compassion and kindness that increases his blindness.  The fact that he has never tried to force his will on any woman makes it hard for him to conceive why any man would ever do such a sick thing.  Because he always had condoms in his home and car when he was single, he cannot conceive of a man who would refuse to wear a condom while continuing to demand sex from his partner. Because making sexual comments to attractive women at work it feels inappropriate and wrong to him, it doesn’t occur to him that other men at his job do it daily and create a threatening atmosphere for the women he works with…and he is even blinder to the likelihood that he is friends with at least one man like that. In his mind, he doesn’t make friends with that kind of guy. So if a female coworker were to tell my husband that one of his friends made an unwelcome sexual advance, my husband would probably say “Are you sure that you understood him correctly? I’ve known him a long time and I can’t imagine him doing that.”  And suddenly my husband is the ‘nice guy’ who refuses to believe a woman, not because she is a woman, but because he can’t imagine a man he considers a friend behaving in such a reprehensible way.

Utterly blind.

The biggest problem that I have is not that my husband is blind.  IT’S THAT I’M JUST AS BLIND, BUT ON DIFFERENT ISSUES.

I have no idea what it is like to live life as a man, or as a person of color, or as a disabled person, or as an immigrant…and I am betting that my compassion and kindness, my habit of attributing good intent to others, gets in the way of my ability to perceive micro-aggressions and other forms of discrimination that my own privilege protects me from.  Even worse, I fear that I am blind to the subtle ways that I discriminate, or commit micro-aggressions that I am unaware of, or simply say and do hurtful things out of ignorance.

I am just as blind as my husband is, and I have no excuse.  All my life I’ve tried to be one of the ‘good guys’ and to marry one of the ‘good guys’…and now I find out that my desire to be good has caused me to close my eyes when God is actually asking me to be open-eyed and fully woke.

I am so blinded by privilege that I can’t perceive just how much I can’t see; all I know is that I am not alone in this problem.

If there is a way out, it is going to be created when the blind are led by the woke; when the blissfully privileged are educated by the very people we unwittingly oppress.  It will require us to start trusting the oppressed and believe that we, as a society, are truly as crooked and depraved as our victims say that we are. We will need to trust that those who agree to educate us will not sin against us despite the righteousness of their anger. Moreover, we must be willing to freely trade places so that the educators can also be educated, because all of us have experienced oppression and victimization somewhere, and none of us should choose to remain willfully ignorant.###  It might be uncomfortable and maybe even painful at times, but what have we got to lose besides ignorance, fear, and misunderstanding?

Just think: we might never again have to see pages and pages of posts that say #metoo.

It would be a miracle.

***In case you were wondering, men like Weinstein disgust my husband. He has no space for sexual discrimination, harassment, abuse, rape, or violence against women and children.  He respects LGBTQIA persons and gender fluid individuals and goes out of his way to understand their personal struggles and become a more effective ally. I told you he was wonderful and compassionate!

### I am not suggesting that the oppressed need to be educated on how rough us white folk have it…I am suggested that men of color do not understand what it is to be a woman, and that a disabled white man will still need to help the rest of us understand how we discriminate against the disabled, and that despite their oppression, even groups of immigrants have underclasses within their populations, etc, etc.

Our Privilege Is Showing

I have a client who has been dealing with chronic pain and spinal issues ever since I started working with her over two years ago. Approximately 7 months ago, she went in for an injection to reduce inflammation and pain in her cervical spine (the medical description of what they did is beyond most of us, so I’m going to skip that.)

To make a long story short, things didn’t go well. Somehow, they injured a nerve during the injection, and my client noticed immediately that she was unable to use her left hand; by that evening my client was in the ICU receiving huge amounts of medications to elevate her blood pressure so that they could maintain blood flow in her spinal column.  She lived through the ordeal, but was left with excruciating pain in her left arm and very little function in her left hand.  The muscles in her hand are wasting, she can’t move her fingers very much and cannot use the hand for anything more than a paperweight. She can’t tie her own shoes, pull up and button her own pants, or pick up anything that requires two hands. She struggles with simple things like showering and getting dressed, and it’s almost impossible to do the things that would allow her to take care of her family.  Worst of all is the constant searing pain in her left arm that increases any time she puts any pressure on her left hand. Physical therapy is so agonizingly painful that she cannot eat before she goes to therapy or she vomits.

Sounds awful doesn’t it? Aren’t you glad it isn’t you? Me too.  Sadly instead of giving her a place to share her emotions and honestly talk about her agony and suffering, friends, family, and even her doctors all say the same thing to her:

“Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?”

Well…yes, she is grateful that she is still able to sign a check, or write a note to another person. She is grateful that her dominant arm wasn’t impacted.

But how is that statement supposed to be comforting to her?  Imagine what it would be like if I lit your left arm on fire and it had to stay on fire for the remainder of today, just today…not 7 months of agony, like my client.  Would you welcome people saying “Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?”

I’ll bet not. I’ll bet you’d want to scream “Make it stop! Make the pain stop!  I can’t take anymore!”

But no one is going to make it stop for my client. Barrows Neurological can’t make it stop. The malpractice suit isn’t going to make it stop. Pain medication barely touches it because it’s nerve pain. Nothing…nothing…NOTHING is going to make it stop.

Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?

People say things like that for a number of reasons. First, they cannot feel just how much pain she’s in. Second, they don’t understand that this may be permanent and even progressive. Third, they don’t realize how much they use both hands when they need to get things done.

But the biggest reason that people say this is because they don’t want to have to acknowledge my client’s immense suffering. The idea that life can randomly, arbitrarily deal out such horrific suffering is more than most people can bear, and so they push the idea away with bland platitudes and stupid statements that demand the suffering person “see the bright side of things”. You know, because, happy and all that!

You see it in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in some of the statements on social media.

People asking why Joel Osteen didn’t open up his church to provide refuge. “If he had just opened his church…”

People stating that the people in Houston should have evacuated. “If they had just gotten out of Houston…”

People criticizing the unwise actions of those who tried to drive out of Houston after the flooding was severe. “If they had just listened to the news they would have known…”

Isn’t it easy to armchair quarterback someone else’s tragedy?  Isn’t it so clear what they should have done, how they failed to respond correctly?  Don’t you feel righteous and correct and so much more…informed and wise…than those people who should have just ….

Yeah. Once again, we’d rather turn a blind eye to the random, arbitrary suffering of others than to face the truth: no matter how hard you try to do life correctly, horrible things will happen that will almost destroy you and there will be no good reason for the destruction.

And that’s what I mean when I say Our Privilege Is Showing.

When we sit in our dry, climate controlled homes, relaxing in our comfy chair, criticizing the failures of those who are suffering because of natural disasters, we are exercising the privilege of safety to erase the suffering of the endangered and the refugees.

When we demand that sick, suffering individuals look at the bright side of their illness (Aren’t you glad it isn’t your right arm?) we are exercising the privilege of wellness to erase the suffering of the sick and disabled.

When we refuse to acknowledge the hidden disabilities of those whose chronic illnesses are not immediately visible we are exercising the privilege of wellness to punish those who refuse to be openly and visibly disabled and refusing to believe their claims of disability because they don’t meet our ‘criteria’…even though even though the government and the medical field has established clear criteria for disability.

Anytime you ease your own discomfort with someone else’s situation by dismissing their suffering or their struggle you use your privilege to make that person invisible.

Well…I’ve got news for you.

God’s children are never invisible to God. God sees all of His children: the well, the sick, the wealthy, the poor, the adequately housed, the homeless…all of them. And He sees you when you decide not to see suffering, sorrow, loss, disaster, disability, homelessness, poverty, discrimination, and inequality.

Never forget, God is watching. What will He see you doing?

Our privilege is showing.  Aren’t you glad it’s not your right arm??