Friday, June 19th, we hosted an engaging conversation on zoom with four speakers and over 30 participants. It was a wonderful coincidence that our conversation happened to take place on Juneteenth – also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day, which is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. The conversation centered around the topic of “vulnerability and the power of privilege”, against the backdrop of Covid-19. The speakers, all from vastly different backgrounds, brought forward a range of perspectives on many of the core challenges we see in the world today, including racism, discrimination, inequality, unemployment and much more.
A white man in his sixties living in California, shared honestly about how this Covid-19 crisis has affected him and his life, and all the different feelings this has brought forward in him, including fear, hope, joy, grief, admiration, love and humility.
“I have felt fear of catching the virus; hope watching the world adapt and seek new creative ways to connect; joy at being able to connect intimately with others that was not possible before through Zoom with people all over the world; grief for those who have died or lost their jobs; admiration for my wife of 48 years; love for those who put their lives at risk to save the lives of others; humility in face of worldwide protests that Black Lives Matter – it has been the voice of God, who loves justice, stopping the world in its tracks to say “enough is enough”.
Brian Morgan also highlighted the importance of stories in counteracting our tendency towards racism, discrimination and other-phobia.
“Anyone you know, you love, and love is fed by knowledge. Ask God to transport you into their situation, listen without judgement, and empathize. It gets us out of isolation. You can do this without leaving home. I feel like everyone has something to teach me, and the older I am, the more I depend on other’s stories to teach me.”
A 23-year old Romanian student of Puppetry at the University of Arts, talked about what vulnerability and privilege means to her, versus what it means to others. She explained that she used to feel privileged as a child, because she grew up in a loving home, but when she grew older she discovered that the society did not consider her privileged at all, because of her family’s socio-economic status. Georgiana, who works with children with special needs and from underprivileged areas, helped us understand that the ability to be vulnerable is itself a privilege, and emphasized that we should use our own vulnerability and privilege to help others grow.
“I was disappointed to discover that I can’t make people love. However, I realized that I just need to keep going “door to door” and try, because you never know who you might inspire.”
Margriet and Bert Looij shared from their experience of working with the underserved Roma community in Pata Rat, a garbage dump that has been transformed into a village in Cluj-Napoca. They explained to us how the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic have greatly affected the Roma community.
“While no one in the Roma community has contracted Covid-19 yet, they have been greatly affected by the restrictions imposed by the government, losing income and educational opportunities. We have even broken the restrictions a handful of times to help those who literally had no food or medications. We have seen first-hand the discrimination that the Roma endure because of their ethnicity, and this crisis has made their suffering worse. “
Margriet and Bert also expressed how they themselves felt very vulnerable because they were cut off from the people they love, the people they have devoted their lives to serving.
A “black-and-white” (as she calls it) single mom from California who works in law enforcement, shared about the structural and systemic racism in the US. She highlighted how the Black and other communities of color have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, in terms of infections and deaths, as well as financially.
“The unemployment rate due to Covid-19 is twice as high for people of color (POC) than for Whites. The service industry was hit hard and many POC work there”.
Heather also touched upon the issue of police brutality, and how the incident with George Floyd made such a powerful impact on people across the world. “Figuratively, the US has had its knee on black people’s necks for a very long time, and the rest of the world finally got to see it literally happen with George Floyd.”
In the days leading up to this event, I dedicated some time to read about white privilege, white supremacy, racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. I was curious to discover that many white people seem to immediately reject the thought that they might have some privilege because of their skin color. I wonder why that is.
Perhaps they reject the thought of “white privilege” because it makes them feel uncomfortable, or because, if they accept it, they would then have to assume the responsibility that comes with having privilege. Maybe their defenses come up because they experience it as an accusation, as if it was their own fault somehow. But “white privilege” is not an accusation; it’s a fact of life. I cannot do any more about the color of my skin, than you can do about the size of your feet. After all, each and every one of us have some level of privilege granted us from the very beginning, that we never had to work for, and it’s not only related to skin color. Rather than pointing fingers and shifting blame, wouldn’t we be better off accepting our own privilege, and using it to help each other? Equality is not a zero-sum game. We can all gain something from supporting each other, speaking up on behalf of the injustice that affects those who are different from us as well as ourselves, and lending a helping hand wherever we can. We’re all human, after all.
“Through all of this, I feel like I am just one person in a small town. What can I do? When you take a stone and throw it in a pond, it’s just one stone, but it creates a ripple. I want to be that stone that creates a ripple and reaches others. You don’t know who your actions and words affect, how they are affected, and how that ripples out to others” (Heather Belton).