Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When It Comes to Life, There Is No "Them" or "They": Only Us.

They (plural pronoun) 1. people in general                --Random House Dictionary

Have you heard? Have you seen?   “They” are taking over. Increasing in numbers. “They”. No, really.   “They” are, and it’s only a matter of time before me and mine, my way of life, my clan: we won’t matter anymore. We’ll lose power. We’ll fade away, get pushed to the side.   And why? All because of   “them”.   The ones who look different than me and speak a different language than me and have an accent I just can’t understand. “They”: who worship a different God than I do, a God I’ll never understand.   “They”: their family certainly doesn’t look like mine, not even close.   “They” don’t love how I love. 

They.  They.

Who is “they”?   Take your pick.   A race different than your own.   A faith different than your own.   A culture different than your own.   A lifestyle different than your own.   The key descriptor is always the same: “they” are different, and therefore they are less than and therefore they are a threat and therefore they need to be stereotyped, categorized, lumped all together, and most important summarily judged and then dismissed.   But thank God we’re not like that anymore.

For the social myth is that in 2015 we’ve somehow finally gotten beyond such ugly, ignorant characterizations, that our nation is on the way, maybe even now, colorblind, faith enlightened, and diversity accepting.   Kum Ba Yah… were it only so. Take a recent New York Times story about a debate which happened in a setting we’d like to think is enlightened, a college campus, the University of California at Los Angeles.   On February 10th, a student there, Rachel Beyda, by all accounts a smart and committed young woman, stood for election to the university’s Judicial Board. No problem, right?   But then it was time for questions from her fellow students.

From the article: “’Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community,’ Fabienne Roth, a member of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, began, looking at Ms. Beyda at the other end of the room, ‘how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?’ For the next 40 minutes, after Ms. Beyda was dispatched from the room, the council tangled in a debate about whether her faith and affiliation with Jewish organizations, including her sorority and Hillel, a popular student group, meant she would be biased in dealing with sensitive governance questions that come before the board, which is the campus equivalent of the Supreme Court.’”

To Beyda’s fellow students, I guess she was apparently just one of “them”, in this case one of “those” Jews bringing all that baggage and bias to the board.   It got worse. The board voted to reject her appointment.   Later the students reversed their decision and Beyda was elected.   But the damage was done.   And a veil had been pulled back revealing a conversation about “them” which still happens every day in places like that college campus.   Or in a corporate board room.   Or a high school locker room.   Or at a polite dinner party.   Or when sharing a beer after a neighborhood softball game and someone cracks a joke about “them”. 

“Us” talking about “them”.   “We” judging “they”.

When I read such stories, hear others tales of the same ilk, I wonder what it is about the human condition which causes us to so often see anyone different than ourselves as a threat; to view diversity not as a God-given gift to be celebrated, but as an obstacle to be somehow overcome. I wonder what it is like to be stereotyped as one of “them” like Beyda was, how heartbreaking and frustrating it’s got to be: to be judged on a regular basis because you do not somehow fit in with the majority. 

Gender. Race. Religion. Sexual orientation. Ideology. Class.   I’ve never experienced any prejudice for who I am or what I believe in or how I live.   That’s hard to confess but true.   But this I do know and believe.   When God finished creating the world after six days of hard work, the Bible reports God’s delighted response to the diversity which marked and marks Creation.   “God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good.”   Not just ok, or fine, or passing or even good but very good, and not for its singular sameness but instead for its declared diversity. All of it. Very good.   Whole, as is. Every last person, every last living thing, blessed, because the Creator made it so. Seems to me that may be a good place to start in figuring out just how we can get along with each other. 

There is no “them” or “they”. There is only us.  

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