When it’s not Safe to be You
Earlier this month, I gathered with new friends in Denver for the Interfaith Roundtable, a gathering of leaders from different faith traditions that are united by the work of their member organizations in the health and human service fields. Jewish Family Services of Colorado graciously hosted us at its offices, and during a discussion with the Anti-Defamation League, the question was asked if it was safe to put the identifying word “Jewish” on buildings that serve the Jewish community — for fear of becoming targets of hate crimes and violence, recalling the horrific events in communities near Fort Worth, San Diego, in Pittsburgh, and other places. The question sparked the realization that it is not safe to be Jewish. And as we talked, we recalled acts of violence against other marginalized people, how it’s not safe to be black, or a woman, or LGBTQIA, or Muslim, or poor, or Latinx, or unhoused, or disabled, or Asian, or living with mental illness, or Indigenous, or Pacific Islander. All of us can recall recent acts of violence against each of these marginalized groups, and sadly this list is far from complete — it’s the realization that it is not safe to be “other.”
So, in this land where the self-evident truth is that all are “created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” we cannot begin to have a conversation about rights, liberty, and happiness if the basic need of safety is not met. In the hierarchy of needs, safety is as basic as it comes, and a basic function of government is to provide for the safety of ALL its citizens. But what do we do when the institutions charged with keeping ALL people safe not only fail to do so but often are the perpetrators of that violence? How can we expect people to feel safe in their authentic bodies and identities? What’s more, why should people have to blend in, conform, and hide who they are for fear that if they bring their whole self to this life, that life will be threatened? This is the sad consequence of “othering.”
None of this is new because “othering” is what this nation is built on. It is entrenched in our policies and institutions, and has been since this nation’s inception. It is ingrained in our interactions with each other, an efficient hate-fueled machine that remains in perpetual motion. We must cut off hate’s fuel supply by confronting injustices whenever and wherever we see it, in our organizations and workplaces, schools, and even amongst our family and friends. We can’t remain silent because it is easy, or convenient, or comfortable. Each time bigotry goes unchecked, we validate it as the norm and embolden the hate that leads to greater atrocities. Often, it’s only after a tragedy that people recall the unchecked warning signs along the way, that “innocent” joke at the water cooler or on the schoolyard, that inappropriate social media post that was quietly dismissed. That is how we all lose our safety. So, let’s commit to creating a world where ALL know they are beloved by God and are truly safe, free to be their whole and authentic self. Let’s boldly confront the hatred, bigotry, and injustice we see in our lives daily, and not leave it to those harmed by the system to fight the system alone, because silence is not safe for anyone.
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