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The Invisibility of Immigrants

What is "White Privilege"?

 While my house sleeps, I’ve been devouring conservative media like stolen cookies.  It’s been a guilty pleasure for me.  Maybe I want to agree with the leadership of my country.  Maybe I want to set myself apart from the progressive masses around me, whose speech has become increasingly hate-filled and violent.  Maybe part of me has always been drawn to conservative ideals, like when I chose The Fountainhead as my independent reading project in the10th grade.   Ayn Rand, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro, and Ann Coulter have a lot in common—they’re masters in the art of fiction.

It doesn’t work to pretend that we live in a society that’s regulated by a free market, because we don’t, and it’s not.  It doesn’t work to pretend that Mexicans and Ecuadorians who risk their lives, families and health to clean our toilets are the biggest threat to American ideals, because they’re not; and it doesn’t work to pretend noble businessmen run our country, because they don’t.  If there’s any force that comes from and pushes for the natural dynamics of a free market, it’s illegal immigration, and if there’s any, single force that threatens the free market, it’s monopoly capitalism.   It doesn’t even work to pretend that most terrorists on our soil are Muslims, because they’re not.  I don’t believe for a second that Shapiro, Yiannopoulos, and Coulter don’t know this, because they do.  They’re pretending they don’t, and why would they do that?  Well, maybe because they’re racist.

It most certainly doesn’t work to deny the existence of white privilege.  Here’s an example from my life.  I tried on being a Trump supporter.  I looked for what’s good in him.  I tried (hard) to believe that Donald Trump was a good man who just had different opinions than mine; that the media constantly smeared him to keep Americans polarized and disempowered.  

Then, I heard client after client explain that yes, they wanted to purchase a home but no, they wouldn’t be doing so now, because they were afraid of what would happen under Trump.  I tried to believe, and even tried to tell them that they needn’t buy the fear peddled by the media.  Donald Trump would make decisions that were good for the housing industry because he knows real estate, and he cares about the economic wellbeing of our country.  It was my choice to believe or not believe the reality of the experience of immigrants in my country.  That is privilege.  And I choose not to.  That is being a jerk.  There are conservative jerks and liberal jerks and independent jerks (like me).  There are black jerks and white jerks and brown jerks.  There are male jerks and female jerks and third gender jerks.  There is an abundant diversity of jerks.

Last Thursday I was sitting beside a long-term friend and client who had already tried to explain to me his situation three times, and each time I failed to listen.  I was translating his conversation with another professional, one who doesn’t claim to be an ally for Latinos, one who was behaving like a human being, one who wanted to listen to him and understand what he was going through.  My jerkiness got lost in translation.  I began to see that which I so desperately wanted not  to see. I think it was when I spotted his trembling jaw two feet from my face, as he explained that he’d received a letter saying that his wife’s immigration process may be suspended because of an unpaid traffic ticket from 2011.  “It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for our children,” he said.  He didn’t mention his wife’s stage four cancer, but it was there, in the background of the conversation, and I knew it. 

We all laughed politely at the irony of me not knowing that it was a day of support of immigrants—that people stayed home and businesses closed.  I’d been wanting something like that for years, and here it was, midday of it, and I was completely unaware.  I’d used a pile of sugar-coated shiny candy wrappings of conservative ideals to hide from my heart the smelly, shameful crap that is the reality of US immigration policy.  This way, I never had to imagine what it would be like to leave my home and family to drive my stage four cancer body to work, knowing that being pulled over could have me torn away from them and sent to a place that has not been home for decades.  I don’t have to think about that, unless I choose to.  

That, my friends, is white privilege.  

Inside, I froze.  I began to feel the tremors of the wall of my point-of-view falling.  I drove home in tears, finally allowing into my mind the faces of my friends and clients— those quiet, calm, working faces full of love for their families, the faces who were my only refuge from my own inability to love for decades.  Those beautiful, brown faces who wordlessly taught me more about family values than all the James Dobson books and Laura Schlessinger shows and even the Holy Bible ever could.  Those determined, dedicated families whose trust feeds my family, and whose pain I refused to look at because I didn’t want to see it.  

That, my friends, is white privilege.

What followed was a conversation I’d never, ever have had without the Landmark Forum, and what I’ve learned there about integrity, relationship, and love. I called my client. I confessed that I’d been closed-hearted and arrogant, and asked if he could possibly forgive me. There were long, emotional silences and voices soft and shaking. In the end, I said I loved him, and he said so back. Not the typical agent/client conversation. But there’s nothing typical about this (or any) client; there’s nothing typical about me; and love is the only force strong enough to create a world where everybody wins, so it’s about time we started living in it everywhere, always. Thank you, Landmark Forum, for giving this ability to me. It will never be easier to hide from sadness than to face it, and the cost of that kind of hiding is too great. It’s a separateness more solid than any border wall.

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