Recently, I was confronted with a post expressing anger with any comparison of the LGBT civil rights movement to that of African Americans. The post expressed that their struggle should be “kept in its place.” For me, those words stirred memories. Memories of a time when African Americans were also told that they should know their “place.”
Now, I don’t profess what it knows like to be black or gay. I am neither. I am white woman, born in the sixties, who merely witnessed some of the struggles during that time. I am the former wife of an African American man born to a mother who was subjected to the Jim Crow laws as she grew up in the South. I can never know what it is like to be her and I never presumed to know her struggle. I just knew I loved her son because of who he was, not because of what color he still is. He was my first love. The initial distrust was replaced with respect and then love. She was a no nonsense straight shooter shaped by her own experiences as I was mine. The relationship with her son may have ended for reasons unrelated to color, but my admiration for her never did.
That relationship, however, gave me an inside view into a world I never knew. The prejudice… the daily injustices. A world colored by distrust. I remember once I was out with friends when a man approached me and began talking disparagingly about the interracial couple at the next table. His thesis was that only ugly white women date black men. After exploring this with him for a bit, I asked him whether he thought I was ugly. When he said no, I calmly blew his thesis apart by telling him my boyfriend was black. Needless to say, I never saw a man move so quick.
But even though I was allowed into this world, I never was truly a part of it. I could always walk away. My ex could not escape his skin color any more than I could escape mine. His struggle was uniquely his own.
Maybe that is why I found the comparison of struggles so troubling. I don’t know what it is like to be subjected to suspicion because of the color of my skin anymore than I know what it is like to be subjected to hate because of sexual orientation. But here is what I do know. I know that everyone has their own intensely personal unseen struggles. Struggles that remain hidden because of feelings that no one could possibly love them if they know. I know that, even if someone allowed me to be a witness to these internal struggles, I can never truly understand. I know that skin color and sexual orientation are not a choice. I could not choose to be anything other than the white heterosexual woman I am. I don’t presume to think that it a choice for others when it is not for me.
I also know that that judging which struggle is more valid is pointless. It creates divisions and ill feelings. It tears us apart instead of bringing us together, in the spirit of understanding and love. I know that when we judge, we are the farthest from the Divine. That is a location I wish to avoid.