Just before we head to bed, we hear the echoing mew of a kitten. It is pitiful and anxious, a mournful sound on a cold night. The sound reverberates through the hallway, as if to voice all the sadness and loss of the world.
My husband steps out into the cold hallway and there on the landing is one of the family of kittens that we had fed earlier in December. While we were away during Christmas break the mama cat found another place for her babies. This kitten wandered back to the first home she knew, and there, lost without her family, all she could do was cry.
He fixes some bread and milk and takes it to the stairwell. He comes back inside and asks me if we have a spare towel. We do, and with it he creates a bed of sorts in an upstairs area for this wandering kitten.
The kitten is pure black with yellow eyes and reminds me of the cats we had while growing up in Pakistan. There were several – favorite family pets through the years. Soon after the kitten is joined by her sibling, a golden/black mixture of fluff.
Sometimes all you can do is feed two kittens whose mother is nowhere in sight. Everything else is too big, too hard, too complicated. Everything else will take years for you to see results, but feeding kittens doesn’t seem impossible. So many other things are so far outside of our capability.
We can’t cure the cancer that is slowly taking the life of a friend’s family member. We can’t move the process of grant funders to get them to make a quicker decision about funding that we have requested. We can’t finish building the hospital that sits, less than a mile from us, desperately needed but sitting unfinished because of lack of money. We can’t change some of the societal values that hurt women. We can’t heal the sick, bring sight to the blind, and restore the lame.
But we can feed kittens. And sometimes that is enough. At least for that kitten.
The cynic might scoff: “Don’t be a white savior!” The realist might chide: “It’s a bandaid on an ulcer!” The social justice warrior might shake their head in disbelief: “But what about the really important things?” The idealist might challenge: “Dream bigger!”
But for us, for today – it’s our choice. And so we feed the kittens.
The peach looked beautiful. It had the feel of a peach that was ripe but not too ripe and it smelled perfect. Inside it was rotten to the core. I discovered this as I was cutting it into slices.
So beautiful on the outside, so rotten on the inside.
How like the United States, with its rhetoric of greatness and it’s perfect exterior. Well trimmed lawns, good highways, fancy buildings, plenty of goods for consumers, coffee shops by the thousands, grocery stores by the million, parades and protection are all a part of the eye candy that is the U.S. Yet it takes but a moment of digging to uncover the rotten interior. From rates of abortion to treatment of foreigners we live in a society consumed by self and misguided protection. We daily watch men and women with little soul and even less integrity mismanage a nation in crisis.
Bullet holes in black boys haunt our collective psyche as we try to dismiss of racism. We hear the cries of children ripped from moms in wombs and at borders, breastfed babies panting for milk from mothers who are nowhere to be found. Pride and corruption are rampant and the innocent struggle for justice.
Cries of “I can’t breathe!” fall on our ears. Coffins fill with black bodies and we try to justify this by focusing on rioting and violence, claiming they are not the way to handle this. How dare we. How dare I. We listen to the voices of white theologians and dismiss the voices of prophetic black theologians, because they might make us uncomfortable. How dare we! How dare I!*
Like the Old Testament prophets we cry “How long O Lord? How long?“
Tears dry on faces that look up to the Son for justice.
We plead the cause of the orphan, the immigrant, the falsely accused, the unborn who were never given a chance, the dead who can no longer speak.
We plead and we pray.
May we allow the surgery of confession and repentance to root out the rotten core. May we fall on our knees in humility and repentance. May we see with eyes of justice and love with hearts of compassion. May we act with hands of mercy and speak with lips of wisdom. May we pray for our leaders and for ourselves.
May we, like the prophet Micah, do justly, love mercy, and Walk humbly with our God.
The meme above was shared widely on social media a couple of years ago. The other day as I was thinking about immigrants and immigration reform, I remembered it. While the meme is about things, I began to think about all the people in my life who are immigrants. As I made the list, I started to laugh. It’s unlikely I could function without them.
My doctor is from Jamaica, my surgeon is from Greece, my hairdresser is from Albania.
I occasionally get my nails done by a woman from Vietnam; I buy fruit from a man from Albania.
The advisory board members on a project that I am responsible for at work are from Syria, Iran, Algeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, and the Azores. A consultant who also works with the project is from Somalia.
My colleagues are from Portugal, the Azores, Brazil, Haiti, and Malawi – and that’s only a few of them.
Daily I say hello to hotel employees from Guatemala, Haiti, and Egypt. The restaurant next to my work that sells excellent falafel and shwarma is owned by Iraqis.
My friends at church are from Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Lebanon.
Other regular friends in my life are from Pakistan, Israel, and Iran.
What’s more, my maternal grandfather who died many years ago is from Poland….
Everyone of these people contribute positively to their communities and to the workforce, a fact that validates what studies have shown – that immigration has a positive effect on both economic growth and productivity.
In 2004, a satirical film was released called A Day Without a Mexican. In the film, the state of California wakes up one day to a thick fog and no ability to communicate beyond its borders. They soon find out that one third of the state’s population is missing. What follows is a comedic look at how the California dream is only made possible by the Mexicans who serve in every capacity – from entertainment to politics to service industry. As California ceases to function effectively, those left have to face some hard questions.
While the film was produced over 13 years ago, its message is just as relevant today, perhaps more so.
Any nation has a right to have laws in place around immigration and resettlement, but border arrests and hardline approaches by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are not helping. We are desperate for comprehensive immigration reform and these impulsive and poorly thought out actions are keeping us from pushing for a bipartisan approach that is wise and doable.
Worldwide, we are in a time of unprecedented displacement and crisis from war, famine, and political instability. It is more important than ever that our policies and borders reflect this and that our responses lean toward mercy. It is critical that our conversations are reasoned and based on fact.
“CIR (Comprehensive Immigration Reform) is caught between the politics of justice and the ethics of mercy.”
There is far more to think about and write about when it comes to immigration reform, and I am not the one to write comprehensively about it. But I do want to offer this challenge – think of the immigrants you know and how they contribute to your daily life. Then, write your own meme.
Because sometimes we need to open our eyes to what and who is around us.
In the United States, Charlottesville, VA has occupied the top news for over 48 hours. This is not a cause for celebration, but a tragic reality where a rally largely controlled by alt right racists turned violent and ugly. The city is now mourning the death of a young woman who died needlessly as the result of a car attack.
The racism displayed was blatant, proudly worn without hoods or disguises. There seemed to be no shame, no lowering of the eyes, no regret. Instead, it is animal like and brutal.
“What have we come to?” So many shake wounded heads and sigh as they voice those words. Alternatively, many rightly respond that this is nothing new; that if you are unaware of the racism in this country then your eyesight needs to be healed.
“It is not the episodic marches and rallies that define white supremacy, it it is the ordinary, dull ways that society props up the racial caste system that lead to the most egregious offenses. American citizens, particularly white people, have to realize how they unintentionally allow Charlottesville and white supremacy to happen.” From RAANetwork.org
I am on my own journey and have much to learn, but I have learned this: As a white woman I must speak up. I must do these three things:
Point out injustice
Recognize I walk through the world differently than my friends who are people of color.
Influence people in my space
I wrote the words below exactly a month ago and I am reposting. Why? Because in my current reality, it’s the only thing I know how to do. That and to pray those ancient words: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on me, a sinner.
“There was a darker side to high tea I would only confront much later. This pleasure that so delighted me as a little girl was a survival of Pakistan’s colonial past. The “British Raj” era, or the era of British rule, lasted for almost 100 years. It included the entire Indian subcontinent. Pakistan was born in 1948, and my parents arrived only five years later. I was completely blind to my privilege as a little, white, English-speaking girl. I cringe now at what I took for granted.
In recent years, I have done a lot of thinking about how I view the world. Part of this came as I began to write. The more I wrote, the more I articulated my perspective, I was reminded that that’s what it was – my perspective. I viewed the world through a particular lens and that lens affected all my experiences. As I moved on to writing Passages Through Pakistan, an excerpt of which I’ve included above, I realized how my childhood was affected by growing up in a land that had been colonized not many years before I came into the world.
Another significant part of this journey has come through friendships with, and reading about, people whose life experience has been a stark contrast to my own, due to nothing other than the color of their skin. In other words, I realized that I experienced privilege of which I was completely unaware.
when our eyes are open, we can make wrong situations right.
I know many of us who are white may get tired of words and phrases, that there are times when we want to shout “Not me! I’m not like that!” when we are confronted by stories of racism and bias, but I’ve been learning how important it is to remember that I, as a white woman, walk through the world differently than people of color. I see the world through a lens of privilege. And because I walk through the world differently, I have a responsibility. It’s not a responsibility born of guilt, it’s a responsibility born of privilege.
“Privilege means that you owe a debt. You were born with it. You didn’t ask for it. And you didn’t pay for it either. No one is blaming you for having it. You are lovely, human, and amazing. Being a citizen of a society requires work from everyone within that society. It is up to you whether you choose to acknowledge the work that is yours to do. It is up to you whether you choose to pay this debt and how you choose to do so.”
It is with this in mind that I want to share a short, three-minute video. In this video three things stood out to me. They are clear and they are actionable.
Point out injustice
Recognize we walk through the world differently
Influence people in our space
We think we can’t change the world, but, when our eyes are open, we can make wrong situations right.
“And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”Elie Wiesel
There is a verse in the Old Testament that I learned when I was a teenager. I have memorized it, quoted it, and written about it. Because it is what distinguishes empty religion from true faith. The prophet Micah has been asking rhetorical questions about sacrifice, wondering what God requires. In the verse I love, he answers his own question and the words have been recited and inscribed through time.
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God.
And that’s exactly what we are called to do: Do Justly. Love Mercy. Walk humbly.
Note – this article has been updated since it was originally posted to include new thoughts and new links.
These past two days I’ve been at a summit on race and equity. Specifically, A Call to Government and Community. The conference goes across spheres and participants represent housing, justice, immigration, education, the arts, and health. It has been full of stories and ideas –ideas that I agree with and ideas that I don’t agree with. Overall, I feel privileged to be a part of this conversation.
Taking ownership for my part in racism is not easy. There are times when I think “Well, I didn’t do that” or “I don’t think that.” But, as difficult as it may be for me to admit it, I am part of a bigger picture that benefits white people.
When white people don’t recognize how our position of cultural dominance influences us – when we don’t know that we’re being white – we can be like bulls in a china shop, throwing everything in our wake askew without even realizing what we’ve done. For us, this understanding begins with learning a perspective of cultural humility and seeking to understand another’s experience without judgment. May more of us boldly begin to walk on this long and winding path.
Part of what the last two days have been then, is a soul-searching on what this means to me personally and professionally.
The report was a landmark study that documented the disparities that racial and ethnic minorities experience even when their insurance and income are the same. Prior to the study, many thought that the narrative of disparities verbalized by both patients and health professionals was just that – a narrative. Or they thought that it was about health care access. The conventional wisdom was that if you give a person health care access the disparities will go away.
In fact, they found this to be categorically false. In compiling hundreds of studies across the nation, documented disparities were found in almost every area of health care. The results were absolutely clear: Racial and ethnic minorities get poorer quality of health care then white people. Here are just a few of the disparities that were found:
Receipt of appropriate cancer treatment
Pain control – Minority patients more likely to be under-medicated for pain than white patients (65% vs. 50%), more likely to have severity of pain underestimated by physicians
Mental health services – “plagued by disparities.” One study indicates 44% of White English speakers to 27.8% of Blacks received treatment after a diagnosis of depression.
Heart procedures – including bypass surgery
Diabetes – from diagnosis to amputations disparities were found in diabetic care
Pediatric Care – Less satisfaction, cite poorer communication, perception of lack of response
It is a thorough report that shows many factors contributing to these disparities, some of which are stereotypes, unconscious bias, and lack of cultural competency. The report gave a number of recommendations and also demonstrated that we have a long way to go to provide equal treatment for the minority populations in the United States.
And that brings me to Tuskegee.
Between 1932 and 1972 the public health service of the United States enrolled 600 poor, black men into a study to document the effects of untreated syphilis. Approximately 400 of these men had syphilis before the study began. The men enrolled thought they were receiving free health care from the government and they were promised food, burial insurance, and medical care for participating in the study. They were merely told they had ‘bad blood’ and were never treated for the disease. In the early 1940’s Penicillin had become a standard and effective method of treatment for the disease. None of these men received penicillin, in fact – treatment was never offered for 40 years. The study is known as the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.
It has been 42 years since Tuskegee and to this day, it is difficult to get African Americans to participate in research studies. It does not take a rocket scientist to wonder why.
It was 30 years after Tuskegee that the report Unequal Treatment was released.
“For a serious offense,” writes psychiatrist Aaron Lazare “such as a betrayal of trust or public humiliation, an immediate apology misses the mark. It demeans the event. Hours, days, weeks, or even months may go by before both parties can integrate the meaning of the event and its impact on the relationship. The care and thought that goes into such apologies dignifies the exchange. For offenses whose impact is calamitous to individuals, groups, or nations, the apology may be delayed by decades and offered by another generation.”*
I am a white woman. Anyone who reads this blog and has seen any pictures knows this. I did not grow up in this country and did not think about race – ever. I was raised as a privileged white minority in a country that still had memories of British occupation where whites ruled and were regularly sent to the head of the line. I now work as a nurse in public health with minority populations and regularly confront issues of racism and unequal treatment in health care.
The disparities that happen in health care have historically been wrong. The disparities that occur these many years later are wrong. There is no other word for it. They are wrong and a corporate apology is in order.
And I want to apologize. It doesn’t matter that I was not involved with Tuskegee. It doesn’t matter that I was not one of the care givers in any of the studies documented for Unequal Treatment. What matters is that I am part of a health care system that has routinely discriminated against people because of their color; a system that has treated people unequally based on their outward appearance, not their presenting symptoms.
To use some of the words of Aaron Lazare who I quoted above – these offenses were calamitous to individuals, to groups, to our nation as a whole.
In Notes from No Man’s Land, author Eula Biss talks about being a teacher at a public school in Harlem. A young boy a foot taller than her hissed at her in the hallway. As she sat in the principal’s office, waiting while the principal went to “hunt him down,” another kid stepped into the office. She writes the following about the interaction:
“I’m sorry I sexually harassed you.” I stared at him. He wasn’t the same kid. “But it wasn’t you.” I said finally. “Yeah,” he said as he pulled down his baseball cap and started to walk away, “but it might have been my cousin.”*
So today, as the conversation on race and justice is at the forefront of my mind, I borrow from the last sentence of Eula’s book. I apologize for the unequal treatment that is a present part of our health system. I apologize for Tuskegee. Because no – it wasn’t me — but it might have been my cousin.
With our daughter Stef home from college accompanied by a friend, our house has been full of activity this week. The walls are bursting and the dishwasher is forever running. Accompanying this was our first summer-like day of the year. With temps in the low eighties on Thursday and now in the seventies, it feels like all things are possible. And I’m so looking forward to summer – longer days and warmer nights; where Sangria meets porches in twilight and life takes on new hope.
On to wrapping up the week.
On violence and neighborhoods: There is much to read in the debate on guns, but I loved the article “Gunshots on Warm Spring Evenings” for its poignant reminder that life continues to go on in neighborhoods where there is violence. Where gunshots are fired and the wounded continue to walk around and live life – because they don’t have a choice. Here is a quote from the article:
“My heart ached for him. I’ve spent many years reporting on Newark, and I consider myself pretty well acquainted with the havoc that gun violence wreaks on a community. But it’s not just about blood and mayhem. The effects include a gradual acclimatization to violence that makes it seem O.K. to let your kids play 100 yards from the spot where someone just squeezed off a few rounds. It twists your perspective. Alters your perception of danger.” ~ Jonathan Schuppe, Oped piece Gunshots on Warm Spring Evenings
On Social Justice: Christianity Today published an excellent piece this week on social justice. “You Can’t Buy Your Way to Social Justice – Or Why the Activism of some Fellow Americans Scares Me” is a must-read. I won’t be able to do this article justice so will give you a quote that I hope will lead you straight to the article to take a read:
“If my generation cares so deeply about global issues of justice and poverty that they are willing to change eating, clothing, and living habits, where are they? A significant challenge for nonprofits and ministries remains recruiting people who will commit to serve long-term outside the United States.
I know there are a plethora of good reasons that concerned American Christians can’t just uproot and leave the States, from family to health to finances. I know I simplify. But I have a theory about what is partly contributing to the dearth of young Americans willing to spend their lives on behalf of others. They think they already are.” ~ Rachel Pieh Jones in You Can’t Buy Your Way to Social Justice
On my bedside stand: Travels with a Tangerine – From Morocco to Turkey in the Footsteps of Islam’s Greatest Traveler by Tim Mackintosh-Smith is part travelogue and part history as the author traces the journey of Ibn Battutah, a 13th century Arab traveler. It promises to be a fun and informative look at travel throughout the Middle East as well as a great way for this non scholar reader (me) to learn more of the history of the region. Along with this book I’ve begun a small volume by Saint Athanasius called On the Incarnation. It is excellent in its wisdom and explanation of the mystery of God in the Flesh.
So that’s it – have a great weekend and thank you for continuing to read Communicating Across Boundaries, offering your perceptive comments and views!
Pakistan is an amazing and complex country and a country of extremes. It boasts some of the highest and most beautiful mountain ranges; invites one in to incredible and gracious hospitality; arguably has the best food in the world and, with all that, has some tremendously difficult situations for women.
So it was early on in life that I met women with tremendous disadvantages, many in situations that seemed hopeless. It was before I turned 20, while volunteering at a women’s and children’s hospital in Shikarpur, Sindh, that I first met a woman who had a fistula. By definition a fistula is “a medical condition brought about by obstructed labor and/or trauma leaving a woman with incontinence,” The resulting symptoms are that the woman constantly smells like urine and can never get clean. But that is just the medical definition. The practical definition is loss of family, isolation, being seen as a pariah, and relegated to a cursed position in areas of the world where being a woman brings challenges from the first days of life. Fistulas are indescribably awful for the woman who has one.
”These are the women most to be pitied in the world,” said Dr. Hamlin. ”They’re alone in the world, ashamed of their injuries. For lepers, or AIDS victims, there are organizations that help. But nobody knows about these women or helps them.” (Alone And Ashamed, by Nicholas D. Kristof, Published: May 16, 2003)
Consider these sobering statistics about fistula:
It is estimated that 90% of fistula patients consider suicide as a solution. (Kristof and WuDunn, Half the Sky)
The World Health Organization estimates as many as 50,000 — 100,000 new cases of fistula each year, yet the global treatment capacity is less than 20,000 cases a year. (Hope for Our Sisters)
The treatment is a surgery that has a 90% success rate if there are no complications and with complications the rate is still fairly high at 60%. It is not an exaggeration to say that the treatment saves lives. In a world where these women have been cast out like garbage, alienated and isolated, this surgery brings a hope that radiates through their world, forever changing their future.
“Nothing can equal the gratitude of the woman who, wearied by constant pain and desperate with the realisation that her very presence is an offence to others, finds suddenly that life has been given anew and that she has again become a citizen of the world,” Professor Chassar Moir. (Hamlin and Little, The Hospital By The River)
So why on a Saturday am I bringing up this serious topic? Because today at 1pm eastern time my niece, Christi-Lynn, a nurse and woman who is passionate about women’s health worldwide, is holding a special tea to raise money so that one woman can receive this surgery. The cost of surgery is $450.00. That’s the equivalent of 2 months worth of cell phone service for a family of five. It’s nothing. A tiny dent in a budget – and it changes a life. I have only raised awareness for causes a couple of times, but I believe that those who read Communicating Across Boundaries have a unique love for the world, and for women. So even though you can’t attend – if you can give to the tea party “An Afternoon of Hope” to raise money and awareness of the problem of fistula’s for women around the world, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blogger’s Note: The organization that my niece is working with is called Hope For Our Sisters: Changing the Lives of Women One Woman at a Time. Much of the information on this post was gleaned from their excellent site. Follow the link for more information including articles as well as information on how you can host a tea. One of my good friends, Judy Long, uses her talent as a photographer to create cards to sell with all proceeds going towards Hope for Our Sisters.