I Get It Now: The Silence of the -Isms

Wow. I just got slammed with an epiphany. It happens when you go into other people’s cultures experience their experience, see what you see or don’t see, hear or don’t hear. For the past few months, I have been a visitor to women’s (political) land and the weirdest thing happened. I got to experience… nothing, crickets, and then apathy about the crickets, and then worse — anger for people speaking up, blaming the victim.

That is the Elizabeth Warren campaign. Even reporters and pundits were saying that they had never seen anything like it. Warren is, among all of the candidates, the smartest, most practical, and, in my mind, therefore, the best candidate out there. She has plans for all kinds of things. Further, it has been incredible being part of the phone call set for Warren. The community of supporters is wide. In Star Power, she had John Legend. In the debates, she had great moments and took down Bloomberg’s billionaire campaign. In coverage? Crickets. In votes… very little. In delegates, not enough to count. Joe Scarborough, who I generally agree with, was furious that she was still in the race at all, and furious for being called sexist. Mika Breszinski, his wife, was less so, but agreeing in the background. Dang!

People can reasonably argue that America is ready for a woman President. For instance, Hillary was popular. Klobuchar was in the race for a good long time. People respect Kamala Harris. But, after Hillary lost, everyone thought — to some degree — that the moment for a woman President was gone. That put Harris, Klobuchar, Warren, Williamson and Gabbard at a disadvantage all to start, simply because one person with their gender lost once. That’s the sign of an -ism at play!

When it looked like one of the women might win, the establishment and Capitalists like Bloomberg worried, and threw their money in, forcing out Harris. One could say that Warren’s anti-establishment ways pushed her down. But that didn’t happen to Bernie Sanders, so I would say I don’t think it’s that. Pundits like Scarborough and “establishment” democrats really seem to hate progressives. Bernie got publicity with his hatred. Elizabeth got crickets.

She got un-listed because she wasn’t a threat any more. She simply didn’t exist.

It is that that clicked it for me. Here’s a story to illustrate the point. Years ago, in one of the most consequential experiences of my life, my friend Greg Coles and I went to an upscale restaurant outside of Rochester, NY. Greg drove a beautiful Saab and I drove a beat-up Ford. Greg knew about this restaurant. I didn’t. In short, the place matched Greg’s personality a lot more than it did mine. We sat down at a table and waited to be served…. and waited… and waited. 15 or 20 minutes went by. I asked Greg what was happening as waiters walked on by us. I attempted to get one to serve us and Greg just rolled his eyes. Greg is Black. He shook his head and I said, “No, that can’t be”. Greg said it was — racism. We just left, and never were served, never even acknowledged.

Later, when I moved to Bridgeport, I decided that I wanted to work with Black pastors because they were there. 50% of Bridgeport is Black. At first, there was some sort of nod to the work by my White colleagues, especially the men, who would volunteer their opinion. But after awhile, as it became clear that this wasn’t a flirtation with political correctness, but an actual part of my ministry, those same pastors asked me, “Why would you work with them?

Again, it’s more complex than that, because African-American pastors in Bridgeport are, by and large, charismatic in their faith. Still, as time went by, I felt more isolated from my White, denominational, male colleagues. When I left Bridgeport, my Black colleagues came, en masse, and my closest White clergy friends came. My Black friends never said to me, “Why do you hang out with them?”, so I came to see, in balance, that there is more of a problem with Whites ==> Blacks than Blacks==> Whites, but to read the paper, it’s exactly the opposite.

So, here’s the thing: it’s not the anger or the overt action that makes an -ism so powerful. Those things are horrible. Don’t get me wrong, they are worse than being left alone. The difference between abuse and neglect is obvious. Abuse kills the body, but neglect kills the soul.

It’s the silence, the blank stare that doesn’t even get noticed by most people, the unopened doors, the not-considered applicants, the unacknowledged talents, that make the difference. And because, like neglect, it’s hard to prove, it’s hard to see privilege, unless you go into a community not your own. That is why doing so (seeing others) is so important to develop compassion. For those people who aren’t nasty to others, the silence looks the same as their actions. This is why privilege is hard to fathom.

Back to the election and Warren, there is a final piece that made a difference: fear. Because people fear another four years of the destructive Donald Trump, they wanted to make their vote count. They worried that if they didn’t get the right answer in their vote, there would be consequences. In that case, “electability” became an issue, so voters went back to “traditional” (I.e., safe) voting. Why women are considered a less safe bet is because of, well, sexism.

This is all complex, but it’s also a problem for half the population. Throw in Black folk, and more than half of the population isn’t served by it. It’s not working for more people than it is working for.

We have to do something. We have to …

Resist with peace,

John

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