Thursday, July 26, 2018

Unknown Territory

There are plenty of people in Howard County that I don’t know. There are entire communities whose concerns don’t turn up on social media or in the newspaper. There are neighborhoods I have never visited. There are languages I don’t speak, fears and struggles I haven’t experienced.

I was talking with a friend the other evening about how important it is for the under-represented in Howard County to be seen and their concerns acknowledged. We talked about how the same small pool of community-minded folks keeps cycling on and off of local boards and committees while we have a continuing need for more diversity. How can those boards be representative of the community they serve when the same people are pressed into service over and over? What are we doing to bring other voices to the table?

My friend mentioned that he feels drawn to examine the places in life that are uncomfortable. Perhaps that means places where he or his world-view are in the minority. Most of us aren’t that brave. I know I’m not. I want to learn more about experiences that are not my own but when it gets messy or ugly I want to retreat and put them at arm’s length.

Discomfort at a distance isn’t a philosophy that facilitates community-building. If we truly value diversity—racial, ethnic, economic—we are going to have to allow ourselves to let other people speak sometimes. And then really listen to and process what we hear.

That can be uncomfortable. Especially since any pushback against our engrained system of privilege feels like pushback against those of us who benefit from that system, whether we acknowledge it or not. Those uncomfortable situations quickly escalate into:

“They’re saying that I’m a bad person and I’m not a bad person!”

That can easily be the end of the conversation. Once we make it all about ourselves then we go all out to defend ourselves and we forget that it really wasn’t about us to begin with. I say this not with some holier than thou intent. I am that person, too. I have to push back against my own discomfort and own my own squeamishness.

As we move towards the upcoming election in November and evaluate candidates I am looking to see how much they are willing to promote other voices.  Are they willing to go to those unfamiliar places that we don’t normally talk about in Howard County? We need leaders who model the kind of behavior that true democracy demands: We the People.

Not simply:

We the (White) people
We the (Male) people
We the (Affluent) people
We the people (with the right religion)
We the people (with the approved sexuality)

...and so on.

I’ll be looking for examples of candidates for public office who are willing to get out of their comfort zones in order to facilitate fair and inclusive local government. Have some to share? Send them my way.

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