I work in an interesting field. Not only do I work in social work where I witness all the breakdowns in society, all the policies that will inevitably fail, and how all the cycles of privilege and oppression play out… I also happen to work in the HIV field. (stay with me)
When people find out I work in HIV, they usually say 1 or 2 things…almost always.
- Oh my gosh, good for you, that must be so hard to work with those people. OR
- I’ve never known anyone who has HIV.
OK, so I could write entire post on #1, but for today, I’m gonna focus on #2 and maybe in doing so, will accidentally address #1. “accidentally”
So here is how I am going to address #2.
Ready for it.
I call Bullshit. That’s right, Bullshit.
We have a saying at work: “That you know of.” We see this all the time, new hires or interns or other clients will say “I don’t know anyone who is HIV+, Transgender, gender questioning, gay, queer, racist, a democrat, a republican, a Christian, a Muslim, etc.”
The list goes on and on.
And what I say to those people is: “that you know of.”
I was thinking about this the other day…if someone looked at me, they would think I am a white, female identified, straight liberal. They would believe I have never questioned any of these items. People use their eyes to determine other people. If someone hasn’t asked me in the last 5-10 years about my orientations, how could they know? What if I wouldn’t say I’m female? Or what if I like both men and women? What if I don’t hold to a political party? And what if I’m on board with the democrat agenda and fully love Jesus. I’m not saying any of these are true. But I am saying that unless you know me well…you can’t actually answer these questions.
You can’t know whether I’m HIV+ or HIV-.
And to take a step further, there are a lot people I would never tell the answer to those questions to. Why, because people often suck. haha
We all do it. We respond with our moral agenda or our right view of the world. We don’t take the time to understand another’s perspective and to hold their story so we can learn. We let their outward face and self-expression determine all we need to know. And from that, we make decisions about them.
The world is changing. Or maybe it’s just being more genuine. For those who disagree morally with things listed above…that won’t change it for the people it is true for. For those judging a book by its cover…you’re missing a whole person and their story. And for those wishing people would be more open about their stories because you want to learn and care…here are some ideas for you:
- Reading. Read books or blogs about these topics. Become informed not only on your viewpoint but on theirs.
- Begin to recognize and work on your own privilege and oppression. Where do you hold privilege where others don’t? Where have you experienced oppression? How can you use the privilege and what does it mean when interacting with family, friends, coworkers, etc.?
- Start sharing your story and what you do not know with others. Admit that you’re learning and that you may not know correct terminology.
- Attend conferences, forums, meetings about issues you want to learn more about. Go to a Black Lives Matters Rally, attend a vigil for the LGBTQ community after the Miami shooting, volunteer at a local non-profit for HIV. (you get the idea)
- Lastly, if someone does trust you with their story, and it is different than yours…respond with humility, with curiosity, and with safety. They will continue to share. It’s okay to ask questions and admit what you don’t know. It is okay to be different from them. We don’t have to be the same to share stories. (that’s boring)
Maybe you read this article and think this is total crap. You think, “why bother?” That’s cool, we are all in different places. But, if you read this article, and you felt challenged or felt a desire to do something different, I hope you do. I know I have been challenged. This learning isn’t easy..admitting what I don’t know or that I need to know more. Getting it wrong or the fear of being offensive is very real…and that is my privilege, that I got to grow up in a life and home where how I lived mirrored main stream society. I never had to question how I lived and no one else did either.
But now I see that my experience is not everyone else’s experience. Which means I have some work to do.