The Importance of Allies

I’sad-catve struggled this summer to share the stories of our family adventures because the news of the world has been so heavy.

It seems so pithy to say “hey, look at us, having a good time” while we, as a country mourn again. And because this blog is intended both to share about our family and include some of the world events that comprise our history, I’m going to take a moment and unwrap my feelings about the events of this week.

Thursday, we awoke to the news media sharing stories out of Louisiana and Minnesota about the death of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, at the hands of police officers. And, several hours later, we learned that 10 police officers in Dallas, Texas were shot by a sniper. Five of those officers died from the gunfire.

And, as I watched social media light up with empathy and rage, I also watched people nearly immediately take sides. Many profile pictures turned black in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement, while others posted the thin blue line in favor of law enforcement. And I felt torn and angry, too.

I am the daughter of a police officer and I will always admire, respect and support the important role that our police officers have to be guardians and protectors of our rights. I remember growing up and knowing that every night my dad went to work, he might not come home. When he would come home late from work, I knew my mom worried, wondering if last night was truly his last night. We cried at the funerals of other police officers, knowing each and every officer in the room runs towards gunfire and not away from it. And we prayed, often, for our dad’s safety and the safety of every officer who serves. For those of us who serve in public safety, we see first hand that the world is mad. We hear the 911 calls, the stories of unstable lives, the anger, the hatred, the desire for revenge that most people, in positions of privilege, don’t see in their everyday lives.

You probably just shuddered reading that I said “positions of privilege,” right? What do I mean by this? Is that me? Well, yes….

  • I have had access to a college education.
  • I am not in poverty by society’s standards.
  • I am white.
  • I am heterosexual.
  • I am a Christian, our country’s dominant religion.

And, I have had uniquely different experiences from my friends who don’t fit neatly into these 5 categories. I am torn because I can’t dismiss their life experiences. I have friends who are very well educated, articulate with great jobs, but who have been stopped as suspects of crime so often it is laughable. I have friends who have been arrested simply because their skin matched the suspect description even though they would never choose a life of crime. My friends struggle about what to tell their children when they are stopped by police because sometimes being respectful doesn’t change how they are treated by those who mistreat their positions of power. I haven’t lived in the shoes of my friends, but my heart hurts for their experiences.

I have had some limited experiences with what it might feel like marginalized. As a woman who has always worked in male-dominated industries like public safety and technology, people who don’t know me often will initially make the assumption that I’m the secretary or assistant to my male bosses. I have even had the experience of being told that “men just aren’t used to powerful women” and that has, at times, justified being belittled by derogatory names.

In my own story, I understand how those perceptions of others can affect my reality. I recently had a friend ask me why I haven’t pursued a director position in my field and I replied “I’m just more comfortable being an assistant” to which my friend said “Are you? Or is that all you believe you are capable of?” And that hit me in the gut, hard because I wondered if some of the cultural messaging has made me feel “safer” in support roles instead of leadership ones.

I have been fortunate over the years, as a woman, to have strong male allies in my world. From my early days in college, when debating with a female partner, we faced a lot of really tough rhetoric at times. But our male coach set a strong example for our male debate partners who supported us when we were told by judges that we should not be debating and instead should be making cookies for the men on our team. The presence of both awesome men on our debate team and in our NW community affirmed that we could and should use our voices to be strong women (and I am thankful to count them among my friends still today, thanks to Facebook). In career moments where I have struggled with how people view me, I have also been blessed to have peers and directors who patiently redirect others making poor assumptions about my role with my agency. While they may view these actions as small, their support means the world to me when I feel “less than” others.

So, how does this relate to the news stories of today? I have been struggling with how to respond to the heavy news of this week. It’s easy to simply say “the world needs God” and “we should pray for everyone,” but I think we have a larger role to play every day in the lives of the marginalized. When we see it happening, we must step up and be an ally. We need to say that it is not okay to marginalize others.

If we find ourselves in the role of the privileged, we can’t just choose a side as if we have nothing to learn from each other’s experiences. We must be cautious of blithely saying “all lives matter” because in doing so, we marginalize the experiences of those who don’t feel like they matter. When “everything” matters, nothing is addressed. We have issues in this country that need to be dealt with and discussed.

I should be able to say that “black lives matter” and wish for an accountable police department in the same breath. And, by accountable police department, I know there are amazing police officers in every department. But I also hear the stories that suggest the management of many police departments is fraught with disciplinary actions that have been overturned by judges and arbitrators so while upper management wishes to hold their staff accountable, this isn’t always so easy. Police departments also face huge staffing shortages in a day where they are being asked to do so much more than they were years ago. While these tensions are tough to solve, they also have to be part of the discussion.

While my heart hurts this week, I vow to be an ally, from my position to ensure that…..

  • Black Lives Matter;
  • Police Lives Matter;
  • Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Lives Matter;
  • Women’s Lives Matter;
  • Children’s Lives Matter;
  • Human Lives Matter through building supportive relationships, friendships, listening and holding space for all experiences, encouraging positive community conversations about how to effectively address and be intolerant of racism, violence, fear, discrimination and abuse that faces each of these groups.

Okay.

Rant Over.

More trivial summer stories soon.

I promise.

1 Comment to "The Importance of Allies"

  1. Tom's Gravatar Tom
    July 10, 2016 - 1:24 am | Permalink

    Wow…you write so eloquently. Things I truly believe…you put them into words. I hope can be an ally when it matters. The marginalised need our support now. Love you wise, brave , awesome cuz xxx

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