Edging Towards the Margins, One Blog Post at a Time

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“I am letting go of the fiction that I can achieve my way out of my privilege.”

Women I read Christena Cleveland’s call to read blogs by people of color with a surge of chutzpah.

“Absolutely,” I said to myself. “I just didn’t know where the people of color were blogging. I will get right on this.”

Later that day, I added the twenty-odd bloggers to my feed reader. I felt proud. I was sticking it to the man. I was living in solidarity.

I clicked through some of the posts, and read with enthusiasm. I loved it: a window into other cultures, experiences and points of view. It was awesome.

A few days later, I clicked over to those blogs again.

I was disappointed to feel a little bored. The few headlines that seemed interesting left me cold after a few sentences. I felt like I was stepping into a conversation I wasn’t included in. I didn’t know the context; I didn’t get the code words; I felt left out.

They weren’t speaking to me.

Hmm, I thought. Maybe I need to thin these blogs out a little bit. Look for the ones where I’m really the audience.

And then it hit me.

The whole point of the exercise was to—for once—read something where I wasn’t the intended audience.

And I couldn’t do it for 20 seconds without getting whiny.

Until that moment, I don’t think I got the literal meaning of “marginalized.” It means being in the margins, instead of front-and-center. I shouldn’t have to be that obvious, but the meaning had really escaped me.

Being marginalized is not being the primary audience. Being marginalized is not belonging.

I experienced 20 seconds of the most benign marginalization possible, and I couldn’t hang with it.

My chutzpah shriveled into embarrassment.

I decided I needed to keep all the blogs all in my reader and be persistent. I am humbled at how hard that is. “Doing justly” and “loving mercy” sounds a lot better than “reading blog posts I don’t always connect with.”

I wish I could say that reading the blogs is making me more confident that my sense of entitlement is a one-off event.

Instead, I’m finding it’s a theme of all the posts talking about relations with privileged people. That if, in fact, I continue to seek relationships with less-privileged people, I can expect to bump up against that kind of mundane ugliness inside myself regularly

Ironically, the more I try to engage with people unlike me, the more chances I have to biff it and be oppressive.

This idea of continuing to oppress scares me. The verse from Philippians keeps running through my head: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” I am trembling because of my cluelessness.

Why? Maybe because I’m in love with the idea of being nice. Recognizing I’m not-nice in all kinds of entrenched ways is hard to swallow.

It is tempting to stick my fingers in my ears and pretend I am not learning these hard lessons about myself.

But every time I gain new knowledge, let go of patterns that are harmful, repent of my sin, I feel like I’m purging toxins out of my soul. These entrenched attitudes are not just oppressing others. They’re poisoning me.

I am letting go of the fiction that I can achieve my way out of my privilege. As I’m humbled by the broken assumptions I’ve grown up with, I’m on my knees. I’m more and more aware that all this is beyond me.

That is starting to feel like the sanest, most faithful attitude I can cultivate.

So I’m starting here: Instead of having grand plans, I can start by thinking about how to humble myself.

By learning at the feet (or blog posts) of those who know better.

By taking very small baby steps.

By pleading with God to change my broken heart.

By asking God to open my eyes.

By asking God to settle me in the margin, and give me the maturity to stay there, in the half-blindness, in the incapable, and the humility of much-too-much to learn.
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Image credits: European Commission, Vox Efx, Emily Poole

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Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer and artist from San Diego who is happily content with being an awkward Christian. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, "Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri

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