Things We Never Knew We Never Knew

~ Kathy McMullen, Associate Director

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew

My daughter is singing “Colors of the Wind” in her upcoming voice recital. I’ve always loved the song, with its evocation of the beauty we can find in our differences as well as our commonalities, and it seems newly relevant in light of the struggles we face in Alabama today. Angie wrote recently of reading the Bible with a new lens:

I’m going to start reading the Bible back to front. Or maybe hanging off of a limb upside down, like a bat. Then maybe I’ll see the things I need to see, the first time around.

The lyrics to “Colors of the Wind” encourage us to look at the world around us through a new lens. “Walk the footsteps of a stranger.” How often do we do that, really? How many of us spend significant time building relationships with people who don’t look and think like us?

Birmingham is still, unfortunately, a city stratified by lines of race and economic circumstance. Most of us live, work, and worship with people who share a similar skin tone and pay grade. We tend to stick with people who share our political views, fearing we can’t build coalition with those who think differently. And political leaders use these divides to their advantage, preaching a politics of scarcity that tells us we’ll lose something if someone else gains.

What do we miss when we stay inside the lines, letting our fears and prejudices keep us from taking a breath and leaping out into the amazing world that surrounds us?

For me, I would have missed hearing the “inside story” of the civil rights movement in Birmingham from the mouths of the people who lived it and are still living it today, a story that is so much deeper and broader and more compelling than the one I learned in school.

I would have missed the opportunity to get to know the Dreamers who are giving voice to undocumented young people who want to live out their lives and give back to the only country they’ve ever known. Sure, I would have written about the evils of HB56 on my own blog, and I would have attended the rallies, but it’s unlikely I would have had real conversations with the students who are putting their lives and safety on the line to speak out against injustice.

I have been an activist ally for LGBT equality for most of my adult life, but were I not where I am now, I would have missed the opportunity to learn from LGBT people of color about their experiences of trying to live authentically in a culture that doubly oppresses them because of who they are and who they love.

What we miss most, I think, is living into the reality of a culture of abundance. We miss the joy of knowing that lifting up our neighbor lifts us as well. We miss the wisdom we can gain by sitting at the feet of people who have lived the powerful experiences that shape our world. We miss the beauty and richness that is all around us, if we will only “walk the footsteps of a stranger”. We will surely learn things we never knew we never knew. Shall we?