Friday, December 10, 2010

Silence and Intolerance



Let's not talk about it. Let's not discuss it. Don't even bring that shit up!

I'll never forget, in sixth grade I was the scholarship kid in a room full of wealthy suburbanites. I took two public transit buses alone to get to school everyday while the other girls carpooled in from the far reaches of Massachusetts just to attend the prestigious private school for girls in the heart of the city. We'd been exchanging stories. I listened through frustrations over cleaning ladies and descriptions family vacations to the Caribbean, while contemplating my own frustration of having to clean both mine and my sister's mess in our shared room and the fact that a good family vacation entailed finishing a 1000 piece puzzle with my mother over Christmas break.

I was the token inner-city negro and the bearer of significant difference. So during one of these discussions, I, in a nutshell, described what poverty looked like. I guess their minds were all blown by the very thought that it was probably their parents' taxes that paid for my basic necessities like MassHealth and their donations to the school that made it possible for me to even be there. Within that week I was called to the headmistress' office. "We don't talk about that stuff here," she instructed. Her smile was evil. Her words I'd never forget. It was like being told that I don't exist.

Interestingly enough I was in a progressive school environment where "diversity" was the favorite word. A lesbo-friendly school, it seems that homosexuality was a level of difference they could handle. But why would they want me to shut up about government assistance, taxes, and crammed apartments along Blue Hill Ave? We avoid really delving into difference because it would require some social responsibility. The girls in my class probably went home to ask, what's up with the poor people in the ghetto and do we have to do anything about it? With a sense of homogeneity, then we're all fine. There is nothing wrong with my lifestyle, becuase everybody lives it.

I was actually reminded of this story when talking to an atheist. I told him that I hate talking about religion so let's not talk about it. He in turn described the frustration of being frequently silenced by religious types. For the first time I realized that in terms of religion, I am amongst the majority. No! I thought to myself, I'm the victim! I'm a Black woman, meaning that I am the embodiment of the term socially oppressed minority. But I was challenged by the atheist to consider that there is a difference between tolerance and silence.

Having been raised Christian I know that the very idea of atheism or non-Christianity weasleing its way into the dominant ideology is a sign that the world is increasingly being destroyed by sin. Herein lies the problem of coexistence. It challenges our religious beliefs. Human decency, and allowing one person to believe as they may, comes against the belief that he is ruining the earth with his beliefs. Yikes!

In America, despite the seperation of church and state, socially and politically we still cling to Christian ideals. In France, I don't know if the law past but only a couple of years ago there was a bill to ban Muslims from wearing headscarves in public. Both governments have made an effort to ensure homogeneity, but as Muslims in France and impoverished sixth graders in the wealthy girl's school will tell you, homogeneity is oppression and we cannot avoid having the uncomfortable conversations that challenge us socially. Perhaps if we allow for difference, we can improve the social experiences of a lot more people.

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