Does My Neighbor Reeaally Matter?

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Shaunesse' is a PhD student at Boston University studying ethics and theology, and is an Interfaith America Racial Equity Media Fellow

Does My Neighbor Reeaally Matter?: Expanding our Communities as We Head to the Polls

Have you ever known you were indubitably correct on an important topic that people have debated for years? In the confidence of your accuracy, has someone ever presented a counterargument that made you complicit in wrongness? When you heard that argument did you spend more time proving the inaccuracy of the counterargument than accepting its accuracy and the ways you should be better? I would like to share one of my lived experiences in this hypothetical proposal.  But first, a bit about me.

I exist in the world as a Black, queer, cis-gendered woman from Shreveport, Louisiana who is privileged to be well-educated and live relatively comfortable despite being a Ph.D. student with meager funds. I have traveled to many countries and states, I pride myself on being a burgeoning global citizen, and I remain actively engaged in social justice work. Yet, I often fall prey to the devious methods of U.S. racism and rarely stop to consider the needs of other communities until national travesties occur.

Having lived my entire life in the U.S., I am keenly aware of the joys and burdens of living while Black. Most days I even consider my Blackness more of an identifier than my queerness or womanhood. That awareness often propels me to fervently defend my communities across the diaspora when I suspect anti-Black racism or feel the nuances of prejudice and discrimination. But it wasn’t until I was asked to be a student researcher for an important and timely work that I realized how conditioned I was to only think of my community and our needs, resulting in my use as a pawn by the larger U.S. culture to discriminate against other communities who were being taught the same things.

Have you ever known you were indubitably correct on an important topic that people have debated for years? In the confidence of your accuracy, has someone ever presented a counterargument that made you complicit in wrongness? A brilliant postcolonial theologian, Dr. Choi, Hee An, was the source of my counterargument. She presented the ways Black communities take priority in conversations about people of color due to the history of enslavement, how Latinx take priority in conversations about immigration, and how Asian Americans are excluded from all of these groups and white mainstream because they’re cast as the model minority that never achieves majority status. I spent a few minutes mentally negating the argument focusing on the perils of Black communities only to stop and see how I was complicit in committing the exact wrongs she mentioned. She persisted with me and removed the blinders that allowed me to daily champion Blackness and remain silent to Asian, Latinx, Indigenous, and other communal plights. She challenged me to stop participating in the “oppression Olympics” and seek collaborative ways for our communities to enhance relationships and change our social conditions together.

As the entire country knows, we are in the midst of the most important election of our lifetimes, and Dr. Choi’s counterargument couldn’t have come at a better time. From my social location, I vote because I witnessed the gravity of the right to vote in my great-grandmother’s life. Her womanhood gained her legal permission to vote a year after her birth, but her Blackness and citizenship in Louisiana would not afford her access to her right for almost half her life. While I have always grounded my vote in her life and fight for inclusion, living through a global pandemic where my country’s top leadership has made poor decisions for the health of the entire nation has taught me I must now expand my vote to include more of human siblings. The president’s assignation of vulgar monikers to COVID-19 resulted in increased violence against Asian Americans.  The healthcare system’s near the verge of the collapse left many with poor care as available ICU beds and ventilators came in high demand. The nation became aware of what Asian, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous American communities were stating for decades: community health, socioeconomic, and employment outcomes are poorer for racial minorities under the current healthcare system. How could I continue to only vote with my great-grandmother in mind?

Now that I have spent the majority of 2020 indoors reading about the impacts the pandemic and current political leadership will have on the nation and world for ensuing decades, I increasingly understand the importance of cross-ethnic conversations and collaborations. I am becoming more aware of the daily pains of my Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous siblings as I extend my sight beyond Black communities. I am hearing their voices as they too cry for justice and equity. And I am more inspired to ask what they need. What does it look like to go to the polls with all of these communities’ needs in mind? How do their struggles inform who I want in office? How are our marginalizations aligned such that my vote helps advance us all? How do I live in such a way that my neighbor really matters?

These are the considerations I want to prioritize and partner with others to find collaborative solutions. I am nowhere near formulating any answers nor suggestions because there’s much more learning to do. But the answer I do have is that I no longer want to spend my time proving why the counterargument is wrong. I want to understand the biases that other communities hold against me and the biases I hold against them. I desire to learn how to support other ethnic communities with my vote and my dollars, as well as with my physical activism. As I continue my reflections, regardless of what the election brings, I don’t want my collaborative desires to end 3 November 2020. I must participate in bringing about the future I desire for my children and their friends, and that demands I recognize the inherent value of all my neighbors. Many may have surpassed my learning curve, but for those who haven’t, let’s imagine a future where we’re talking and listening to one another. Let’s ask the hard questions about how we as disparate communities have previously perceived one another and how we want to perceive one another moving forward. Let’s try to live alongside one another being mindful of each community’s needs and desires for flourishing. These actions are urgent now and in the future. I’m committing myself to my neighbor. What about you?

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.