“You’re not from around here, are you?” It’s been a while since I’ve heard that comment but it was directed at me recently as two of us introduced ourselves to each other. Upon hearing my last name, the other said, “Wow, that’s a doozy. Think I’ll just call you Robert.” Then, with a smug little chuckle he added, “You’re not from around here are you?” Being overly blessed with a competitive wit, I looked the guy in the eyes and began to sort through six or eight possible retorts. Thankfully, before any of those comments were expressed, a friend of mine standing next to us said, “Well, he’s been here 20 years but he’s from South Carolina.” The man seemed relieved somehow. South Carolina apparently had more credibility than the places he was imagining me to be from.
I am a person of privilege. I work in a prominent place with a good reputation. I’ve had a good record in that place and have built up some trust in various relationships. By virtue of my office, I am included in the inner circle of much of what goes on in this small southern city. Yet, occasionally, because I do not live in the same town that my ancestors lived in, and by virtue of a name that is unusual in these parts, it will be made clear to me that I am regarded with less value. For some reason some folks think that being from here is better than being from somewhere else.
Ironically, the same sort of thing has happened when I have been in other parts of the country and been introduced as being from Alabama. More than a few people seemed to have been genuinely surprised that anyone with a lick of sense could actually live in these parts. “Wow. Is it as bad there as everyone says it is?”, I have heard in reference to living in the South. Being judgmental and closed-minded is not limited to our neck of the woods.
I really don’t think the man who said this to me meant all that I heard implied but his comment put me on the defensive and it felt like a wall had dropped between us. What I heard was: “You don’t belong here.” “Don’t come in here trying to change things.” “The South is better than the North.” “My people are better than your people.” “You are less valuable than me.” All that was communicated even if not intended. I have a busy life and receive many affirmations so it was easy for me to move on. But if those words stung me, a person of privilege, what might similar words express to some whose whole lives are full of such derogatory statements?
I’ve heard it said lately that people are getting their feelings hurt too much these days, that the hearers of negative comments are more responsible for any pain felt than the speakers of those hurtful words. I hear that people who are spoken of harshly should just get over it. When someone is careful to be inclusive in their language or simply respectful of a group of people not traditionally respected, they are often dismissed as being politically correct.
Sharing privilege is difficult for us to do. We tend to think it is a limited commodity and that there will be less of it if we extend it to others. The Christian ethic is one of respect and regard for all people, period. “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”, we are asked in the Baptismal Covenant. It’s a big world, full of wonderful people diverse and different. Whenever we take time to sit with someone outside our little world, we come to know more about the being of God. Look beyond your little perspective. May the Christ in me greet the Christ in thee.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Congratulations to the 7 elected to the Vestry in the Class of 2020:
The Vestry has elected Mark Harris to serve as Senior Warden, and Jim Marshall III as Junior Warden, for 2017.
Holy Cross Episcopal School Open House January 29, 1:00-3:00
Holy Cross is an academically challenging, spiritually nurturing elementary school, Pre-K through 6th grade. Come visit on Sunday afternoon if you have children or grandchildren approaching enrollment age or if you’d just like to see the school. A 10% discount is given to parishioners of Episcopal churches in the area.