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Moving Beyond “Us vs. Them”

“I have a dream that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (August 28, 1963)“

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

—Audre Lorde

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my nephew, Kevin. I’m wondering what pressures he faces as a young teen who physically appears black but whose mother is white. I’m wondering how he feels when he hears black people condemning white people. I’m wondering how he feels when he hears white people disrespecting President Obama because of racism. How does he feel when white teachers or white police officers label him? How does he navigate that world of apparent opposites?

After watching two recent movies—42 (a baseball movie about Jackie Robinson) and The Butler (a movie about a black butler who served at the White House through multiple presidencies)—these questions are on my mind. How do we raise issues of injustice and prejudice, while remaining respectful and loving toward those who are of a different race, class, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation?  How do we live so that at the end of the day, we feel good in our hearts about our actions? Are we brave enough to stand by those who are treated unfairly, when it is not easy to do so?

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who refused to take sides during the Vietnam War and instead went into the war torn areas of Vietnam to help all people, teaches that we must speak out about situations of injustice. For him, sitting in meditation and remaining apart from the people who are suffering is not sufficient. He engages the world with his mindful and loving spiritual presence. For his peaceful stance during the war, he was exiled from his homeland.

All of humanity experiences suffering (along with loss, love, joy, and sorrow). All people want to be happy.

Is there someone outside your “tribe” you could reach out to in love? Is there another human being for whom you would risk exile from the comfortable places in your life . . . because you showed that outcast person kindness? How do we walk the talk of our faith? What is calling for our collective voice, today?

If you have the opportunity, listen to ‘Same Love,’ by Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis. There’s a wonderful line in the song, “It’s human rights for everybody. There is no difference.” Audre Lorde, who worked fiercely to break down racial, gender, and sexual stereotypes, would no doubt agree. “In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”

In joy & gratitude, 

Diana J. Ensign

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