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Profiles in Privilege

In his column a couple days ago, Colin McEnroe writes about the Doug Glanville article in The Atlantic, I Was Racially Profiled in My Own Driveway. Colin asks if this was ”Cops Doing Their Job? Or Profiling?”

Colin, along with people who commented on the column, both on the Courant’s website, and on social media sites like Facebook raise some interesting questions. At what point does an officer reacting to a complaint and attempting to enforce an ill-considered law cross over into racial profiling? If the officer was just reacting to a complaint by a citizen, wasn’t he just doing his job? Unfortunately, the ‘just doing my job defense doesn’t always stand up, particularly if it is reinforcing some injustice.

Perhaps the bigger questions start with how much of a reaction is appropriate, independent of whether or not it is called profiling? Instead of talking about profiling we need to be exploring how each one of us contributes to, benefits from, and is damaged by unexplored expectations about the people around us based on their age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other factors.

Perhaps we need to explore how these unexplored expectations fit into laws, rules, regulations, and ways that our institutions operate that benefit one group of people and the expense of another group of people.

Lamentations and The Heights

Incipit lamentacio Jeremiae prophetae

Thus begins Thomas Tallis’ The Lamentation of Jeremiah, a piece we will be singing at church on Good Friday. In has been ringing through my mind the past few days. Today is my mother’s birthday. I would always call her up and talk with her on this day, and on my birthday, I would always get a card from her. Over the years, her beautiful cursive script slowly degenerated and became harder to read as the essential tremors became more powerful.

Last week was public health week and I went to a few health care related events. On Friday was the CT Health Foundation fellows spring retreat and the discussion was about health equity. From there, I rushed home to join Kim and Fiona in heading to the Amity High School production of “In The Heights”. As with all the Amity productions, it was amazing.

The musical was set in Washington Heights as immigrants to our country struggled to get ahead. By and large, I suspect most of the cast of “In The Heights” come from families that came to this country less recently and have gotten much further ahead than the characters they played.

I suspect that most of the students will go on to college or the careers of their choices without the struggles that Nina faced returning to the Heights as the shining student who managed to go to college and then struggled to keep up with the more privileged crew.

The winning lottery ticket and the death of Abuela Claudia struck home for me as I mourn my mother’s death and work on settling her estate. How can my siblings and I do something meaningful with our inheritance?

I remember my days in elementary school when my mother would come in and help. These days, when I write of my mother classmates of talk about how much they liked her, how kind she was. She didn’t come to Williamstown from the farms of Puerto Rico. She came from a farm in Northfield, MA. Of course, growing up, I always assumed that this was the family farm, land my grandfather had owned and had been passed down to him. In fact, someone else owned the land and my grandfather was a worker on the land. Although my ancestors have been in this country for generations, I am perhaps much closer to the new families in the Heights than I realized.

Like Nina, I was a good student, and headed off to college with much fanfare, although in my case it was amidst difficulties at home up on the hill in Williamstown and feeling somewhat of an outcast at school in my hand me down clothes. School musicals were one of those special times to be part of something bigger, part of the school community, and even though I always played bit parts at best, I loved the musicals.

Now, the curtain has come down. We move from public health week, to Holy Week. At church today, we will read The Passion. We will join with the crowds welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem. Shouting Hosanna, Save us, and then change our tune to Crucify Him as The Passion unfolds. I’m rarely one to go with the crowds so this part of The Passion feels less familiar to me. Instead, I find Peter’s denial much more resonant. Loyal, yet clueless the promise to never deny Jesus, and then denying him three times. I’ve done that way too many times.

convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum

Reconnecting Diversity: Cultural Competency in Politics, The Social Contract, The Social Network and The Body of Christ

It is National Public Health Week. On Monday, I went to a ‘Lunch and Learn’ discussion on Cultural Competency in health care. I came away with a lot of great things to think about.

For Christians in the Western tradition, Catholics and Protestants, next week is Holy Week. On Sunday, we will celebrate Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Episcopalians also call this The Sunday of the Passion. Not only do we celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but we recall how the jubilant crowd, stirred up by the religious leaders, shout “crucify him” just days later and how this relates to our own lives.

Recently, the CEO of Mozilla stepped down after an online crowd shouted out about his political contribution to a group opposed to same sex marriage. Now, those who oppose same sex marriages are calling this a blow to free speech. Perhaps all of this is connected.

First, let’s talk about freedom of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court considers spending money on political campaigns speech, and believes that billionaires have the right to speak thousands or millions of times more loudly than average citizens. The Koch brothers are taking advantage of this to make sure that their views are widely heard, a privilege the rest of us don’t have. Democrats have responded by highlighting how the Koch brothers make their money and the impact it has had on communities where the Koch brothers are spreading their message. Like with the stepping down of the CEO of Mozilla, conservatives are saying this is an attack on Free Speech.

In other words, they imply that free speech applies to them when they present their viewpoints, but not to others who criticize their viewpoints. It gets to the basic issues of any of our freedoms. Where do our freedoms end and another’s begin? What sort of responsibility comes with our freedoms?

Brendan Eich used his freedom of speech in contributing to a group that opposed same sex marriage. Supporters of same sex marriage used their free speech in highlighting this and calling for Eich to step down. When Eich did step down, opponents of same sex marriage used their free speech to complain about this. It’s all good, right?

We see similar things playing out with Hobby Lobby which is trying to avoid having to provide women coverage for contraception on religious grounds, even though they invest their employees’ retirement funds in companies that make this contraception. Others are encouraging people to avoid shopping at Hobby Lobby.

In fact, whether we think about it or not, we are all engaged in daily interactions around our beliefs, freedoms and wellbeing. It is the social contract. Here, I’m using the idea more broadly than just the Jeffersonian argument that governments derive their power from the people. All institutions do, including corporations and to a certain extent, event religious institutions.

We all make choices based on what we believe is in our best interests, as we cling to our lives and liberties and pursue happiness. This is where cultural competency and connecting diversity comes in. There are some that seek ideological purity, trying to avoid contamination of ideas from the outside. It may be simply living in some sort of religious ghetto as immigrants did when first coming to the United States. It may be religious groups that cut themselves off from the outside world, like the Amish, or like some religious cults. It may be the avoidance of diversity by people with certain political beliefs who distrust immigrants, people of different racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. Such beliefs taken to the extreme can result in holocausts or genocides.

The social fabric of our lives are changing and challenge our thoughts about the social contracts we’ve formed. We now join social networks where we can connect with a much more diverse group or people, or build our filter bubble and only befriend those with similar beliefs. We can make our shopping decisions based on whether or not people share these beliefs. We can clamor for the head of an organization to step down or complain about others clamoring that way. Is it all good?

How does this relate to cultural competency and connecting to diversity? How does this relate to Holy Week? In various places in the New Testament, Christians are told they are the body of Christ and reminded to embrace the differences that different members or parts of the body bring.

On The Sunday of The Passion, we remember how the crowds clamored for the destruction of the body of Christ. Perhaps we are doing this still today as we build walls and disconnect from those with different beliefs and backgrounds.

Last Sunday, the lectionary had the lesson about the death of Lazarus. The priest at the church I attend spoke about how ugly death is, about the stench of death. In modern American funeral homes, we’ve hidden that ugliness behind flowers and platitudes. She spoke about how important it is to face the ugliness of death so that we can more fully appreciate the resurrection.

Perhaps there is something similar as we think about our social networks and the larger body of Christ. As we shout “crucify him” about people whose beliefs differ from our own, as we tear apart our social networks, damage our social contracts, and tear apart any sort of body of believers we are part of, let’s look for resurrection and the opportunity to reconnect with diversity.

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