I don’t understand; I don’t need to.

I was raised in the 1960s & 1970s in a nearly all-white town. I don’t understand the life experiences or struggles of Black people in America. I don’t need to understand, to see that Black lives matter.

I’m not an immigrant, nor were my parents. I don’t understand the life experiences or struggles people face trying to find their way in a new land. I don’t need to understand, to see that immigrants are not my enemies just because they’re from somewhere else.

I don’t understand the life experiences or struggles of trans people. I don’t need to understand, to know that their lives matter.

I don’t understand the depths of hatred that LGBTQA people frequently experience, because my cisgender identity has protected me from much of that hatred. I don’t need to understand that to know that people who are different from me are still human & have value.

I don’t know the struggles of people dealing with life-disrupting mental illnesses. But I don’t have to understand that to know that people don’t lose their value as human beings because they’re ill.

I don’t know the struggles of people dealing with life-disrupting chronic illnesses. But I don’t have to understand that to know that people don’t lose their value as human beings because they’re ill.

I don’t understand the life experiences & struggles that women face, living in a patriarchal society with pervasive sexual violence. But I don’t have to understand, to know that women’s experiences are valid.

It’s entirely possible to not understand something without reacting with fear, hatred, exclusion, violence, or disdain.

I don’t understand much about the world, & I frequently find that what I thought I understood was inaccurate & based on bias that I didn’t even know I had. But I don’t need to understand everything about the world to see that people should not have to live in fear because of who they are, who they love, or what they look like.

Author: Jorah Lavin

I grew up in New England, moved to the Carolinas in '98 to start working at what was then a large regional bank and is now a really big nationwide bank. I work doing intranet content management and intranet site management. After work, I practice Aikido, knit, ride my motorcycle, read, watch movies & eat. I've been studying Aikido since 2014, and I ride an old Honda Shadow. Someday I want to go skydiving, and I am pretty sure that I want to hike the Appalachian Trail someday.

3 thoughts on “I don’t understand; I don’t need to.”

  1. Jorah – I’m totally with you on the sentiment and your good faith commitment to equality and justice (I think that’s what you’re saying). And perhaps I’m taking your phrase “don’t understand” too literally when you’re making a point, but if you truly don’t understand how people’s lives are affected by ignorance and bigotry and racism, just ask. We’ll tell you (holding up my “Gay Badge” now, despite its rainbow which clashes with what I’m wearing).

    Because I think it’s important to understand in more concrete, day-to-day detail, otherwise how will we know our part in it, and what we need to do?

    An eloquent post. Regards, David Roddis

    1. Hey, David! Thanks for reading & taking time to comment. I was trying to say a lot in a small space, but the main idea I wanted to get across is that I think people matter whether or not someone else understands. A lot of time, people can be persuaded that group X should get treated equitably if there’s a good, heart-tugging tale. The poor black kid goes to college & rebuilds his old neighborhood. The gay couple has owned a beloved bookstore for 40 years, the transwoman has a heart of gold… whatever.

      But I don’t think people should only get good treatment if they have a heartwarming story to tell.

      Secondly, hetero cis white men in the US often see themselves as judges of what’s allowed. I don’t think that their approval is required. If the only way Group X can get equitable treatment is if we can convince cishet yt guys of that, there’s something really wrong. So what if Group X makes these guys uncomfortable? I say… Group X doesn’t need to make everyone comfortable first.

      I have a (thankfully well-managed) mental illness. I was bullied relentlessly for 8+ years in school. I’ve lived for years on the edge of poverty. I’ve got a heck of a come-back story. I do have some insight into how peoples lives are affected by bigotry.

      But people shouldn’t have to convince me of their stories to expect to be treated with just as much default respect as I am because cops see my whiteness, not my differences.

      Sorry. It’s early and I’m rambling.

      1. Yes, I get it now. We’re definitely on the same page. Various tropes come to mind: the “deserving poor” (resurrected by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s.) The deserving poor keep their traps shut, stay mystified by how they can’t get ahead and are suitably grateful, preferably during media photo-ops.

        I’m thinking of Greta Thunberg, for example. I don’t doubt her sincerity for a moment and a part of me is thrilled to see young people engaged in activism. But the attention paid to her is largely because just like you say, she’s good press: a cute kid engaged in a Disney protest, polite, patronized and patted on the head, and achieving precisely nothing.

        The heartwarming story really comforts us that things are looking good and there’s no work to be done (subtext: Ingrates! We gave them the IKEA sofa, and now they want the sectional from West Elm!).

        Don’t get me started about hetero conservative white males. The least diversion of the attention away from them and they’re sulking like only sons after baby brother is brought home from the maternity ward. Eternally disgruntled. And every year, at Pride, I think: “They’re supposed to be so strong and manly, but they’re completely undone by the sight of a feather boa…”

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