Walking and Other Privileges

There were several moments this week when I felt compelled to add my voice to the ones asking for justice for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. There were also several moments when the cynical side of me wondered what good it would do. This morning, as I began scrolling through my Facebook feed, it became painfully obvious that while so many of the posts were calling for justice, few were using this opportunity to begin the conversation that needs to happen about race and privilege. Even in writing this, I wonder if there’s a certain privilege that I afford in being able to do so. It’s not something I asked for; it simply is. And it is something that I am committed to learning about as my eyes continued to be open to seeking shalom in our world.

Privilege is something that I never thought about before I came out.

To be honest, living paycheck to paycheck, in a mixed race marriage, in Fresno, with three kids gave me a false sense that I wasn’t as privileged as others. And that’s how it is, isn’t it? It’s easy for us to look at other people who have it better than us - and use that to blind us to our own privilege. I mean, I heard about it, but I never considered myself privileged until I began living as Ellie.

Suddenly, not only did I have to take into consideration the fact that I no longer was afforded the same privileges afforded to cisgender men. I was quickly informed about how I could no longer walk outside in the dark parking lot on my own to get to my car. I wasn’t trusted to understand the itemized invoice for myself when picking up my car from the mechanic. I couldn’t wear whatever I wanted out of the house, because it “wasn’t appropriate for my body type.” And this was just what I heard about living as a woman.

Being transgender is a whole different ballgame. Gone were the days of being able to do something as simple as going to the bathroom without being worried about being called out - or even worse - about not being “female enough.” Whereas I used to be able to walk through the doors of any church before, I now have to check myself at the door to see if I’ll pass as female so I won’t get bothered. And it’s in this realm that my eyes were opened to the privilege that exists in the world. The levels of power and how it runs our world and how we approach the world.

So I struggle with talking much about Ahmaud.

There is a very real sense for me that the privilege I hold as a woman living in a middle-upper class area of Southern California is nothing like the lives of my friends living in the South as people of color. The fear that I face walking out the door of my supportive and quiet suburban neighborhood in light of the hundreds of trans people who are murdered every year is nothing in my world as it is for my friends who worry if a simple morning walk - which I enjoy every morning - could be their last.

It’s for this reason that I don’t feel like I’m qualified enough to talk about Ahmaud. I can join my voices with those who are calling for justice, but just clicking “sign” and “share” to social media is a privilege in and of itself. No, today calls for something deeper. It calls for sitting in the middle of this pain. Because, collectively, it’s all of our pain. We can’t just sit and say “we are all parts of one body” (1 Cor. 12:12-27) on Sunday and then ignore that parts of the body is hurting and dying on the other days. It’s a call for us to all sit and listen to the pain that the black community is experiencing in the midst of this tragedy. It’s sitting with parents and hearing the fear that when they send their kids out the door to play, they may never come home. It’s sitting and hearing the fears that our friends and neighbors have about things that we might be able to do without a second thought. This is how we grow. And so, with that being said, I wanted to share what my friend Brit Barron shared on her Facebook page earlier today, because the best thing I can do with my own privilege is to elevate and give space for the voices of people who need to be heard, rather than trying to speak for them. So here’s Brit:

Hey friends, if you have been following me for a while you know that I started running at the beginning of quarantine and I started with not being able to run 1.5 miles all the way to knocking out 8 mile runs and I’m so proud of myself. But today was easily the hardest run I’ve ever had in my life.As I ran 4 miles through my neighborhood all I could think about was #ahmaudarbery All i could think about was the fact that me, running a slow ass 13 min mile could be threatening enough for someone to take my life because I’m black. And even though I ALWAYS know that my life is at risk because I’m black today just hit hard because I was doing the same thing that he was doing.

At first, I didn’t know what to do and so I smiled and waved at everyone I passed so they would know I wasn’t a threat, then I got so mad thinking about the fact that I had to do that so I just stared straight ahead making no eye contact with anyone but then I got scared about how someone would interpret that and at one point I just stopped and let tears roll down my face. I was and I am so exhausted. These four miles represented how it feels to be black in America - I’m doing what millions of other people do everyday but my brain needs to be moving twice as fast just to keep myself safe.

So listen, I know so many of you have reposted and shared hashtags and that’s great, but let me ask this of you - if you happen to be white and you’ve never been on a run and wondered if you’d come back alive then I ask you to sit with the feelings that brings up. Before a repost, before the easy social action that twitter offers - I want you to feel it. Today on my run I felt sad, angry, desperate and scared to my bones and that feeling is what fuels my work - those feelings fuel me to real life action. So feel your feelings and whatever you feel, keep feeling it until it hits your bones and then ask yourself - not me - ask yourself what to do about it. My guess is that it will go far beyond social media posts and good thing because we desperately need some action to go from these squares and into our real lives.

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