What it’s like to be marginalized

Or, Why I’m not offended by #TakeAKnee

Disclaimer: Being hard of hearing is not the same as being black in America. I’ve never feared for my life when being pulled over by the cop (though maybe I should be?). If anyone’s ever called me an unkind name because of my hearing loss, well, I didn’t hear it. And it’s entirely possible that I’ve been hired at a few places because of my hearing loss and the company’s commitment to inclusion. That said, when I read about the black experience and the emotional toll it takes on an individual and a community, I think, “This sounds familiar. This sounds like what hearing loss has been for me.” I don’t fully understand all the nuance surrounding Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, or not standing for the national anthem. Mostly because unless the Royals or Chiefs are winning, I don’t know much about the sportsballs. But I do understand that #TakeAKnee, in the minds of the protestors, is taking a stand against racism. Those who disagree with the protest are speaking out in defense of the flag. “How dare they disrespect our soldiers?” You can google elsewhere for an analysis of either argument, but over here, I want to talk about the lack of a common American experience. Whites and blacks have lived in vastly different Americas. Some of us have had it easier than others, and we ought to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19) with those whose experiences have been for the worse. I do not know what it is like to be black in America, but I do know what it feels like to be marginalized. Here’s a small sampling:

  1. Being marginalized means other people and/or institutions make decisions for you. I am considering going to seminary next fall. I looked at several different institutions inside (and even slightly outside) my faith tradition. I originally considered moving, but my parents aren’t getting any younger, and my nieces and nephews are getting older. I don’t want to miss out on either, so I asked these institutions about the format of their online courses. Were they delivered via video? Did the videos have captions and/or come with a transcript? Are students required to participate in conference calls? Two of my top prospects said, “No” to videos being captioned. That’s it. Just “no.” They weren’t sorry to lose me as a prospective student. They didn’t offer to look into it, or suggest any alternative solutions. Just straight-up “no.” They’re no longer on my list, and the one currently sitting at the top is the one who said, “Yes, we have captions, and if those don’t work, we’ll work with you to figure something out.” Bless them, but note that both the “no”s and the “yes” ultimately make my choice for me.
  2. Being marginalized means that your experience and feelings often go unacknowledged. I posted something about Deaf Anxiety on my Facebook page the other day. I shared some personal thoughts before linking to a video from Ai-Media, featuring Artie Mack. I wanted my hearing friends in particular to understand a little better why I act the way I do in certain situations, and I hoped to spark further conversation about hearing loss with people who may not know much about it. My post to date has 25 reactions (likes and loves), and all but five, or 80 percent, were from family, Deaf/hard of hearing friends, or friends in the Deaf/hard of hearing community (like sign language interpreters). I heard NOTHING from my hearing peers—people who go to church with me, who grew up with me, who have worked with me, who live in my community. Now, Facebook has some weird algorithms, so it’s entirely possible that due to the nature of the video, more of my Deaf/hard of hearing friends and community members saw the video than my hearing friends did. The slight may or may not be personal, but if Facebook is to blame, the slight is then institutional. Facebook thinks only my Deaf/hard of hearing friends—aka, people who more or less already know about Deaf Anxiety—would care to know about my experience, rather than assuming the topic was of interest to a broader audience.
  3. Being marginalized means always observing, rarely participating. I have lost count of the number of times when I’ve been in a group setting and said something out loud, only to be totally ignored. No one looked at me when I spoke, or responded to my question. This may not be anyone’s fault—I suspect I lack sufficient hearing to determine whether my voice was loud enough to be heard. It’s very possible that no one heard me, literally, but it also means that I feel powerless to ensure they do. I may be able to follow some of the conversation, fake a smile when everyone laughs, or nod in agreement now and then, but my voice is not there. My opinions and feelings aren’t brought to light. My passions and interests gather dust. I feel unknown and unseen. James K.A. Smith recently tweeted a quote by William James detailing what happens to a person who remains unknown:
    The depths of despair can be a real place for the marginalized. If I, a white woman with all the privileges that affords, feel this way regarding my hearing loss, how much more must my black brothers and sisters feel, who testify to tangible threats against their lives and dignity? So no, I’m not offended when someone takes a knee. After a while, you run out of energy to muster the fake smile necessary to stand for a symbol of an America that has been unkind to you.
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