Building bridges or mending them? | Guest op

  • Friday, April 28, 2017 10:30am
  • Opinion

By Irma Fritz/for the Auburn Reporter

Lately we have been speaking of building bridges. What can a city, state, church or community do to help newly disenfranchised groups, i.e. refugees, families torn apart by deportation, or those affected by hate crimes?

While building bridges is much needed, we also need to mend them with long established members of our community who have traditionally been discriminated against. Many people of color, who have every right to be here, suffer discrimination in every aspect of their daily lives, such as housing, wages, opportunities for advancement, disproportionate arrests leading to incarceration and even death. Many have experienced a form of personal terror unknown to white Americans.

I have observed that some of my African-American neighbors feel a helpless rage, an emotion they often find hard to articulate to someone of another race. Just the other day I watched a black mom confront a white employee at the YMCA after he told her children that they could not use age-inappropriate equipment. He was polite and not aware that the mother was nearby. The woman became outraged and said he should have addressed her directly and demanded he show her and her family some respect. After that outburst, she gathered her children and left – leaving all feeling abused and hurt.

As a female, my heart ached for the woman who felt the need to protect her family’s dignity. As a white woman, my heart ached for her children, who are taught to distrust a white person. And my heart ached for the white man, who in future encounters may approach a person of color with misgivings. Such a small misunderstanding, but for the black mom it must have been so much salt into old wounds.

While I know my neighbors in our multiracial neighborhood, I find little opportunity to connect in a meaningful way. I also know that “feeling another’s pain” is only a small start and no solution to our racial divide.

In addition, our current political polarization creates frequent disagreements between many of us who previously thought to have much in common. Recently an acquaintance spoke to me about the current climate of hate. Together we bemoaned this situation before we realized we were on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

How did it come to be that we now have incompatible meanings for the same words? How can we learn to speak so we understand each other again?

And to get back to the issue at hand, while residents of states and cities, members of churches and groups are uniting, marching and talking of building bridges for the newly disenfranchised, those of us who talk and march are too often people of the same color.

Let’s talk together, let’s march together, and let’s not forget that separate has never been, nor will it ever be, equal.

We must mend bridges with those who have never felt truly connected. We must ask each other uncomfortable questions so we can find answers. We must keep talking and learning. And how do we do this? How do we go from believing we’re all one nation to truly knowing it? How can we learn to speak the language of the heart and not the language of separation? How can we truly say we are one people when we are not connected to those who don’t look or pray or eat or dress or vote like us? How can we stop ourselves from pouring salt into each other’s wounds?

Maybe we’ll learn to welcome the stranger only after we’ve learned to open our hearts to those who have lived among us all along.

Irma Fritz is a writer and lives in Auburn. She is the author of “Irretrievably Broken.”

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