Get Closer: An Essay

I've struggled to come to terms with the last week. The inauguration of our new President. The executive orders. The hurt. Individually, the acts have stung, but when you consider them all together it almost knocks the breath out of you. Almost. 

Friday, I sat cross-legged at my desk speaking to a young woman about nothing of importance; school rules, small businesses and hometowns. It was the latter that made me wrinkle my nose up. As she told me about the city her mom had grown up in, she jokingly referred to it as hood-adjacent. As the words left her mouth, I knew it was meant as a joke, but something within me felt weird. Maybe it was because I knew the privilege of her background. Or maybe I wondered if I were the reason she'd chosen to tell such a joke. So many thoughts. I didn't laugh, but I didn't press it either.  She was a young woman and still learning what that meant in this world. I was 22 once. 

But that conversation, albeit weird, led me to this conclusion: So many of us are just adjacent. We live near difference. We know of diverse groups. But we aren't close. 

And that's how we end up supporting and/or making unfair rules for a group outside of our own. I have truly been perplexed at how people can support things like a Muslim ban or laws that will take away women's rights. How can one blantantly put their agenda above others? It infuriates me. It makes me want to scream. Now, I get it's because those people aren't us and they aren't close to us. That's how the major -isms of the world keep on keeping on. 

And we all do it. 

We do it as educators when we require some expensive book or supply for our class knowing that there are students who don't even have food at home. We do it when we plan a work party that requires everyone to bring a $10 gift when we know that there are people struggling to come up with gas money/bus money/train money to make it to work every day. It's easy to forget because it's not us, but we don't make much of an effort to remember. And God forbid if anyone calls us out on it. 

There has always been talk about Sunday morning being the most segregated hour in America, but what about Monday through Saturday afternoons when we've all tucked away into our homes? How many of us are inviting people over for dinner or game night who don't look like us? Better yet, who don't worship like us? How many of us are close to anyone who truly shares different beliefs than we do?

I thank God for giving me the opportunity to study in Washington, DC for college. I got close in those four years. Not only was I surrounded by amazing Black and Brown people from all over the world, I was surrounded by a city of people that were the very definition of diverse. I sat in diners and cafes as languages I had never heard swirled around me. I hopped on planes with my classmates to places I'd never even thought about (hello Slovakia) to sing with and talk with people that I'd probably never see again. But I was close. And because I got close, I was able to understand that just because someone looked, spoke and believed differently didn't make them less. 

I think that's the real problem. When we don't get close, it's easy to think we're bigger, better. But the closer you get to a person, the more you're able to see they're human just like you. 

But that's not enough. Since being back in Alabama, all of my friends look, believe and think very much like me. There's no challenge in that. I'm merely adjacent to everyone else; neighboring, but not close. 

My challenge is that we all get closer. Get real familiar. Whether we know it or believe it right now, I think we're going to need each other over these next four years.