I saw “Selma,” the film honoring the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery, AL, civil rights march. The story is riveting. Powerful. Inspirational. I laughed and I wept. I wept for the courage and incredible dignity of people who put their lives on the line, their physical bodies at risk, for the rights to which they were entitled as American citizens. I wept because the movie made it all too clear how far we still have to go.
So here are some thoughts about how we get beyond Selma.
Despite legal and social changes over the last 50 years, in 2015 there are many ways that diversity is a challenge for even the most well-intentioned people. Truly embracing the diversity of our society opens up many opportunities to grow and learn and see the world through someone else’s lens. When we’re curious about someone who is different, we have a chance to understand the world in a different way. We have a chance to open our eyes and hearts to someone else’s life.
The barrier is that often we don’t actually see the differences that exist around us. We simply assume that everyone is like us. Sometimes I hear people say that they’re “colorblind.” I think they mean – and usually these are white people talking – that they aspire to treat everyone alike.
In my own experience as a white person who is the mother of two children of color, I understand this well-intentioned aspiration. But I’ve learned that I’m caught in the systemic biases of my own white privilege.
Okay; I’ll stop using words like privilege and systemic biases.
What I mean is that until someone is truly visible to me as a person, with all that has shaped and formed their personality, I really cannot know their inner truth. To do that I have to actually see the individual person. I can’t make assumptions about them or project my own world view upon them and hope to know their inner truth. Instead I have to see them as they are. To do that I have to stop assuming.
How can I do that? How can anyone not make assumptions? We always make assumptions and the thing about assumptions is that we don’t know that we’re making them.
I’m unusually fortunate. Raising children of color has helped me see what the world looks like from inside a darker skin. The assumptions that were true for me and my childhood aren’t true for my children and their childhood.
We Unitarian Universalists sincerely try to live our principles. We try to celebrate our diversity (in all its various forms). We try to learn from others. But if we aren’t open to learning someone’s whole story, what are we celebrating?
To get beyond Selma, we have to begin to see one another. We have to know one another as people who find common ground despite our differences and indeed because of them. But first we have to see them. We can’t let people be invisible by assuming they’re just like us.
Over the next two months, UUCF is sponsoring “Exploring Diversity” dinners – a series of four, four-person dinners (4×4). People who participate will have a chance to explore the diversity around the table. Those who participate will have the opportunity to see the world through a different lens.
America has a long way to go before we’re truly beyond Selma. But we begin here, at UUCF, with curiosity, love and open hearts.