The Front Lines of Acceptance
I grew up in a white, elite, and liberal America. That elite liberalism shaped my views. I was politically involved and cared about the world. I was somewhat aware of my privilege and was eager to fight for people who didn’t have what I had. I would like to think I grew up around folks who were “woke.” I was taught in school what it meant to value equality although I was confronted with limited diversity.
Although I still believe they truly care and did make a real difference in the world, I have now become aware of the choices they made to segregate themselves from the communities that they were fighting for. There were exceptions to the white world I grew up in. I am brown for instance and I was largely accepted, but it wasn’t something that was at the forefront of their every interaction. They weren’t forced to confront the injustice on a personal level. They chose to confront racial barriers theoretically and politically. They had learned to accept through their schooling.
Mark Twain famously said “Never let your schooling interfere with your education.” The work of integration and the fight for equality in less elite communities is different. Acceptance comes out of personal experience rather than education. It is a path to acceptance similar to Huckleberry Finn. When Huck was floating down the Mississippi river with Jim, a black man, his acceptance came out of his dismissal of society. He attributed this ability to accept a black man as a product of his poor education. As he decides not to let Jim be sold into slavery, he says “It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell” — and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming” (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). His knowledge of what the right thing to do was because of society and education spoke against his own moral growth from his experience. It is a truly American path of acceptance through experience. It is one of dismissing esoteric texts for practical and efficient change. It is a path to diversity through a dismissal of norms rather than the theoretical utopia. It is a path to acceptance that hinges on personal experience. Diverse coworkers, friends, and neighbors lead one to challenge stereotypes. It is a rawer confrontation of injustice than I grew up with and one that is absolutely essential in our continued progress.
My social circle remains largely elite and privileged, but I have since been embraced by worlds which are more diverse than the one I grew up in. I have been embraced by worlds that have not only spoken about acceptance in theory, but have had to confront it in practice. Individuals who don’t have the means to move or segregate themselves from those who are different than themselves are forced to confront implicit biases and whether they will tolerate difference are accept it as a part of their own identity. Inspired by Huckleberry Finn, I would like to be not only schooled in diversity but educated at a real and personal level.
When I lived on the south side of Chicago, I was forced to confront the prejudice I preached against. For example, I was compelled to cross the street when I saw a black man approaching me. I knew the racial make up of my neighborhood. I knew what race meant about socioeconomic status and what stays meant about my safety. I knew it was against everything I stood for but I would always contemplate what my personal safety was worth. But I also knew that sacrificing the work of true acceptance for my perceived personal safety was misguided. The fact that I thought it was a sacrifice for my personal safety demonstrated my prejudice. It demonstrated the truth I saw in the statement. I was forced to confront my implicit bias. I was forced to confront what I preached.
The front lines of acceptance happens in individual communities. It is the tolerance people show for their neighbors. It does not come from the esoteric talk of policy which is needed to create the change which facilitates acceptance and integration. The people with the talk are not the ones confronting the bias. We separate ourselves from each other, both intentionally and not. We draw lines between each other based on ethnic, socioeconomic, political, and so much more. We find community through similarities, which is human and necessary. We rarely find community through our differences.
We force a progressive agenda from the top, and maybe this is for the best. If we left progress to individual communities, there would still be Jim Crow laws in parts of the south. But those at the top aren’t forced to confront their implicit biases. We are not forcing ourselves to confront our implicit biases and we honestly don’t think we have them.
The elite fight for justice is important. It is putting influence toward issues that need the influence. It is valuable to have that as a part of the fight and they add weight to issues. Even if they are not forced to confront the injustice in person, the elite voice helps the fight toward equality. There are plenty who segregate themselves and forget, and it is wonderful that there are people who are willing to see beyond their own situation. The elite society