Oremus Pro Invicem

One of the most entertaining and subtly illuminating moments of last night’s Academy Awards presentation was when a beautiful woman named Stacy Dash came out under the fake announcement that she was heading the Academy’s efforts for racial diversity. My initial response, and likely that of many other people, was that the actress herself was not black. But later investigation demonstrated that she was part black, and that furthermore she was well known as a critic of Black History Month and the #OscarsSoWhite controversy I have commented on here before [1]. What had appeared to merely be a humorous gag turned out to have a deeper meaning, in that Miss Dash is in an ambivalent place, white enough that she could easily pass as white and not be seen as black at all, and certainly white enough that her speaking about “black” issues, and her independence from narrow tribal political identities an aspect of what is judged to be white privilege, but at the same time she is black enough that her own success would be viewed as being part of the success of the larger group that is unwilling to welcome her as a full member of them. To the extent that she speaks about being black, she comes off as being ironic, but it is a true aspect of her complicated identity and background.

In truth, this is a matter I understand all too well from my own personal background. Although my own looks and manner of speaking and demeanor would demonstrate to others that I have a background that includes a fair amount of English, Irish, and German, all of which are very large aspects of my own mixed background, there are smaller parts of my background that have had a serious influence on my own life and on my family background. On my mother’s family, there is a notable strain of Levitical ancestry that has greatly informed my own personal identity, not least as someone who was circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with the Levitical law and someone who from childhood has been instructed in God’s ways, and to respect, honor, and obey God’s laws to the best of my modest ability. Likewise, on my father’s side of the family I spring from a particularly paranoid and anxious branch of the Eastern Cherokee, too paranoid to sign a treaty that would have given me the right to claim tribal ancestry. It cannot be doubted, though, that some aspects of my family’s struggle with alcoholism spring from difficulties in properly metabolizing alcohol, which has played a major influence in much of my own family’s generational patterns of misery. It is even more certain that the lack of trust towards the authority of governments and the fear of being dispossessed and thrown out of one’s home and into bitter exile has been a heavy burden passed to my shoulders from those who have come before me. Like Stacy Dash, though, to speak of the burdens that spring from a Jewish or a Cherokee identity coming from a someone who looks like me can only appear ironic and disrespectful to those who more visibly have such identities. To whatever extent my complicated personal background has given me more anxieties and distress than would readily meet the eye, it has done so invisibly, allowing me to pass as something that I am not, at least not completely, allowing me to feel an outsider while looking like an insider, and belonging nowhere.

This is not an isolated problem. This past weekend many of my female friends and acquaintances in my congregation and neighboring ones spent the weekend among themselves, as is their yearly habit. I have long been the awkward audience of my friends and acquaintances speaking about feminine complaints of which I have no knowledge, and no ability to do anything but sound vaguely sympathetic but simultaneously glad that at least some spectrum of human suffering was beyond my comprehension and experience. We are born what we are, and have no say in the matter. I was born a white man in a disastrously dysfunctional family. Neither the privileges of my own status nor the horrors which I suffered from my particular background were my doing. Neither the gifts I was given by God, both personal gifts and talents as well as those privileges that spring from my identity were in any way deserved. Neither were any of the burdens I was given as a singularly unfortunate infant. The same is true for everyone else. We cannot speak about the perspective of others because no matter how deeply we may care about or sympatheize with the situation of others, we see things through our own eyes based on our own state. To the extent that we cannot fully enter into an understanding of what others go through, we cannot speak on their behalf. They must speak for themselves [2]. On the other hand, a woman, as a woman, cannot speak intelligently about the way that life works for a man. If we wish to require others to respect the authenticity of our own reports about our own experiences, we must grant others the authenticity of speaking from their own experience. If we wish to defend our own legitimacy as human beings regardless of the brokenness and difficulty of our existence, we must grant those whose lives have been more whole and less troubled than our own to speak of such experiences, not so that we may view them with envy and loathing and contempt, but that the testimony of wholeness where it may be found in this world may be an encouragement to us to leave a better world behind us than we found it, a world that does not feel it necessary to tear down those who have been given a boon they did not deserve by coming from intact families with identities that provided no particular burden to socioeconomic or relational success. It is far more healthy that we should admit our longing to achieve with great difficulty what they have been given, even if we do not know the road from here to there.

What, then, shall we do? If we do not want to rage against what little wholeness and respect and honor can be found, and if we do not wish at the same to deny our own wishes to enjoy the blessings that we see others enjoy around us, what can we do that gives us respect and honestly honors our own longings, and expresses at the same time the wrongs we have suffered and the horrors we have experienced? If we are godly people, we do not want to destroy all that is noble and good in the world around us—we merely want to enjoy goodness and nobility in our own lives, to be treated with kindness and love by others, to have our thoughts heard, our views respected, to be treated as children of the Most High in whose image and likeness we are created. We want to have our position raised, not merely out of some sort of socialistic commitment to radical egalitarianism, but because we wish for the righteousness of God in love for all of mankind to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. We do not begrudge that some should enjoy a partial fulfillment of the blessings of love and peace and well-being, but rather we want those blessings in our own lives. And how are we to achieve such a boon? We must stop tearing each other down, envying each other, treating others with spite and hostility, and must stop seeing our fellow human beings as the real enemy. For we are all brothers, and any violence we do to others in word or in deed only create more wrongs to be avenged, more wounded souls that lash out in bitterness and fear and anger, and make the burden of our brothers and sisters more heavy than it already is. Oremus pro invicem; let us pray for each other.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/why-are-the-oscars-so-white/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/the-value-of-perspective/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/djavlen-star-i-alt-som-minder/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/book-review-bearing-the-unbearable/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/a-case-of-mistaken-identity/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/names-i-call-myself-a-musing-on-the-politics-of-self-identity/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Oremus Pro Invicem

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Cherokee Nation: A History | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Cherokee Syllabary | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Fauxcahontas Strikes Back | Edge Induced Cohesion

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