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My Freedom of Choice
Thanksgiving is always a time of reflection for me — the tradition of being grateful for all I have and voicing it around a table with…
Thanksgiving is always a time of reflection for me — the tradition of being grateful for all I have and voicing it around a table with family and friends is one of my favorites. This year I am most thankful for my freedom of choice.
This election woke me up. It woke me up to my freedom of choice and the privilege and power I have.
I am a straight, white, christian, man. This gives me freedom in America. Freedom of choice. Freedom many other Americans do not have. I am privileged.
As a white man in America, I am able to decide how I want to interpret the world around me. I can choose the feelings I want to acknowledge and the fears I want to deny.
Here is what I mean by choice:
I have the option to read this article about violence on college campuses and think it is terrible. My heart doesn’t race with panic when I get a text message from an unknown number.
I have the freedom to set myself apart based on racial difference and see a few people who are not like me get shot by the police. This allows me to avoid confronting a world where my people, my fellow Americans, are being executed in the street.
I can make the choice to hear locker room talk. My skin doesn’t crawl as I am forced to recall one of the worst moments of my life.
I have the discretion to consider the merits of an aggressive immigration policy. I do not need to plan for the possibility that my family or future will be taken away.
I have the liberty to hear a security policy targeting terrorism and debate the trade offs of personal freedoms vs. perceived collective safety. I do not have to contemplate life in a country that may deny my basic freedoms including the right to privacy and the right to honor my God in peace.
I can choose to bemoan the loss of civil discourse and speak out in defense of diverse political views. I do not taste the ferrous hatred of AmeriKKKa in the back of my throat with each breath.
I have the license to tell myself that I am not a racist or a misogynist or homophobic. I am not forced to wonder what 1/2 the people I encounter really think of me because I live in America in 2016 and am female or have brown skin or wasn’t born here or because I worship a different God or love someone of the same gender.
These feelings of hate already existed in American society, but the choice not to engage lends credibility and can be interpreted as justification or even silent support. My eyes are open and it is not ok to intellectualize the results of this election and wring my hands about why the polls were wrong. Instead, I have to look at the racist and misogynistic hate rising up around the country and take notice. I have to recognize that America is a different place depending on your skin color and your gender. I have to own that when a white man says “take our country back” — intentionally or unintentionally -he is lighting up the fires of racism that forged our country and left a festering sore for the last 400 years. I have to recognize that when a white man flies the Confederate flag, no matter the intent, it is seen as a celebration of the fight for slavery and discrimination as the economic bedrock of our society. I have to own the mistreatment of women as second class citizens, the violence they have endured and the insidious ways their opportunities have been limited in all spheres of life.
I have to think about how all this history shapes the response to current events. I have to accept how this history affects the way people see me and understand that when I speak, all this history is speaking too.
I see that the choices I can make come with the obligation to be conscious and intentional. I acknowledge and appreciate the messages my choices send to others — the messages that are unintentional and especially the messages that I do not agree with — and I have to take responsibility for the way my choices impact those who do not have the same freedom of choice that I have enjoyed since birth.
For many, Trump is not responsible for the recent rise in hate crimes and hate speech. But, no one can deny, as the president elect, he has the responsibility to condemn these acts in the name of all Americans.
I have to own this responsibility too. Here is how I am going to take responsibility for my freedom of choice:
If I see something, I will say something. I will make sure everyone in my community who no longer feels safe knows I am there as an ally and to provide whatever shelter I can from what storms may come. No matter how uncomfortable it is, I am going to be there to stand up and say “No” when I see hate in my community.
I will understand but I will never accept. I will build empathy for the anger and pain in our country on both sides of the political divide we see today. I will respect and love my fellow citizens as Americans and as human beings. However, I will NEVER NEVER NEVER accept or legitimize the scapegoating that pain (and our country’s history) engenders.
I will use my voice. I will make sure my network, colleagues and friends know what I am doing to take responsibility and the choices that I am making. I will talk to them about 1 and 2 and will ask them to support me or, if they are white men, to join me in this effort. I will also listen fully to those that disagree and be sure that I know why they are making a different choice.
It’s a pretty special position of power to be able to choose to look past actions and words against minorities, women, and people with disabilities, not to mention anti-LGBTQ.
I could choose to occupy this position of power, but I have made a different choice.