I’ve had this “button” for years. It’s always driven me nuts, and it continues to this day. I hated it when I used to hear, “It’s a ________ thing. You wouldn’t understand”. I still hate it, but now I mostly hear it from liberals and members of “the oppressed” (non-White, non-male, not Cis-gendered. In other words, people aren’t like me and who don’t know me. The implication is that I can’t understand and I don’t want to. I believe with all my heart and soul that both of those things are false. This has many levels to it, both personal and professional.
I consider myself a “Christian” — a follower of Jesus— first and foremost. I may be other things as well, but all of them, as I understand it, are supposed to be subsumed by that particular characteristic. I’m one of those people who hears “I don’t see color” and translates it in my head to “I’m not supposed to see color”, trying to give people the benefit of the doubt. Even as I say that, I can picture the eye rolls in response. Oh, well.
And why is it that if I say “I don’t see gender” no one gets offended? Because no one does say it? Well, I think everyone should. If a woman wants to be a pastor, I think “Should that person be a pastor?” There are more than enough people saying “No”, like they are God, and it’s their place to judge. And what if I’m working with a poor person? Should I say to them, “I’m not poor, therefore I can’t understand or help you? Of course not! In fact, I think that’s at least partially what’s wrong with society — the rich don’t know the poor and say things “they need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps they don’t have”. Is not helping them helping them? If so, only indirectly. They can develop a sense of identity, but they’re more likely to do so if they don’t have to worry about dying of starvation or the elements first.
One of the further challenges faced by those who work with categories/demographics in determining identity is that people are more complex than that. One of the challenges in the town I live in is that many children have mixed race parents. When the town is counting diversity, we don’t have a box for that. Why? What does it mean. What’s an identity? It’s what ever people say they identify with.
If someone needs support and I don’t give it, that leaves the person who needs help either a) not getting any help or b) getting help from someone else who claims my religion but is a jerk or c) someone who claims to not believe. If I’m supposed to be speaking up for/aligning with the narrative of “help = follower of Christ”, then that’s my job. If I don’t do it, I’m not doing what God wants. It is as simple as that.
Furthermore, I’m supposed to be kind to people that are not like me and/or people I don’t even like. That means anyone. LGBTQ+? Yup. Trans? Yup. Black, White, Red, Yellow, Brown? Yup. Crazy? yup. Sane? Yup. Poor? Yup. So, if you tell me I can’t be your ally, I disagree. If you tell me that I don’t want to be, again, I respectfully disagree, because I know me. If you tell me that you don’t want my help, then I must respectfully agree. You know what you need. I don’t.
In no place in the Bible do I remember Jesus telling the parable of the Polite Liberal Who Refused To Help. Instead , we see the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Two religious people refuse to help their “neighbor” and one of questionable ethics for the time does. Who are we supposed to be like? The one who helps. The one who acts out their faith, rather than simply proclaiming that they have it.
In fact, I don’t know of any parable where Jesus refused to help others — any others. There’s an odd argument with a woman but, even there, Jesus capitulates, and helps her. As I understand it, the apex and core of my religion is this: If you ask for help, I’m supposed to give it. It’s very simple. If I see a problem, I’m supposed to ask if that person needs help. If they say “no”, that’s fine. I did my job. If they say “yes”, I’m supposed to help them.
THE SUPREMACY ARGUMENT
In more modern culture, in the place where I have most felt my faith, Bill Withers sang, or we campers sang, ” Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show. You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on”
If I help you, I’m not saying I’m better than you. I’m saying that you need help now. At some point, I’m going to need help, too. My aim is mutuality. And if you can’t do that now or in my way, so what? Everybody has something they can do, something they know, that I can’t or don’t. I will benefit from you in some way, at some time. I’m still supposed to help you when I can. In the communes friends used to live in during college, there was one pickup truck. It was important that someone have one, but it didn’t make them more important than anyone else. There might also be one cook, or one dog to play with or one person who could play guitar, or one with knowledge about farming.
I don’t assume that my culture is better than others I know. In fact, there are parts of many cultures other than mine that I like better than my own. I’m more familiar with mine. In that sense, it might be more “normative” but that doesn’t mean I like it. If you think I’m claiming that I’m better than you, — that I have or want supremacy — then that’s on you. I don’t think that, so I don’t want you to think that. We’re all not God and we’re all talented in something unique.
THE PERFECTION ARGUMENT
One of the implied things in identity politics is that people should only work with their own kind. More nicely stated, people who understand a culture do the best work with that culture. I agree, in theory. In fact, I agree in reality, most of the time. But what if there’s no one “of their kind” to work with them? Am I not supposed to help them? Even assuming I’ll do a less than good job, aren’t they somewhat better off than they were if I help? If I waited until I was exactly what they needed, I’d work a lot less, maybe not at all.
Then there’s the idea that people of any demographic can be jerks. Just because someone fits one demographic for understanding, doesn’t mean that they have the one that counts.
Will I know everything I need to know about a particular person? No. One of the prime beliefs I bring to therapy, for instance, is that I only know the part of you that you choose to reveal. Another is that it’s my job to figure out as much as I can and check in with you to see if I’ve got it right.
OTHER SPECTRUMS OF CARE
Engage, watch/ listen, disengage or vice-versa
If there’s a group that I want to help or be a part of, I have come to understand that they may not trust me at first. Oppression is all around us, and many people are more abused more frequently than others. If you don’t trust me, but you think you might want to, I can wait. I can watch and listen to see how it all works. Under no circumstances, though, am I to take advantage of your trust. I try to ascertain where you’re at, and then I approach and wait for more input.
Good at it, bad at it
There are some populations that I just cannot work with. People with OCD, for instance, drive me up a wall. People who like hurting others? I don’t know what to do with them. Actions, I don’t have to like. Identity, I’m supposed to, because your identity is “human” and/or “created by God”. That said, even I have my triggers: a person might look like someone who hurt me once. As I understand it, the goal there is to get over myself. If I can’t do it right now, it’s my job to let you know that and work towards getting over my issue. If that’s the best I can do, then it’s the best I can do.
So, here are my choices as a Christian: 1) help and be helpful or 2) don’t help and be a jerk. I also have the choice to 1) be an ally, 2) be an enemy, or 3) not be in relation to you. As a Christian, I’m really only allowed numbers 1 and 3. If I feel myself becoming your enemy, it’s my job to disengage before it gets violent: “First, do no harm”.
So, that’s my “button”: If you want my help, don’t tell me I don’t want to, or that I can’t. If you don’t want my help, I’m ok with that. There’s plenty of other stuff to do and other people who need my help. Just don’t tell me I’m bad for wanting to.
Resisting With Peace,