A Form of Privilege That We Never Talk About

By Tim Hjersted / filmsforaction.org
Feb 11, 2018
A Form of Privilege That We Never Talk About
Map of racial segregation in NYC, NY.

Depending on where you start on this journey it can take many many years to unlearn what we are conditioned to believe by our toxic culture. 

I've come to consider often a form of privilege or good luck that hasn't really been discussed that much in our movement- and that's the luck of what environmental circumstances you were born into.

What family were you born into, with whatever religious beliefs and cultural beliefs: Did your family have heavily patriarchal structures? Or were you lucky to be born into a family that didn't indoctrinate you into a toxic religious belief system with harmful views about our human family? Considering these young children had no choice what circumstances they were born into, that gives me some added compassion for people who have a much longer journey ahead of them - to unlearn it all and arrive at a Unitarian intersectional understanding

I personally got really lucky that I was exposed to this knowledge at a young age thanks to the random chance of my parents being Sufi/Unitarian, the random chance of my friendships that I developed and the books I was exposed to as early as 14 that got me started on the journey early on (this on top of having enough economic security to have the time to think about and study these issues).

I was also lucky to get drawn into rave culture when I was 15, which of all the musical subcultures is one that explicitly and prominently promoted the values of PLUR (peace love unity respect). 

That I got lucky like this while so many millions of people were born into circumstances far less fortunate has been one of the primary feelings of injustice that I've felt, most strongly since I was in my early twenties, which is really why I chose to be an activist. Knowing how profoundly unjust this world is, and wanting to create a world that I was lucky enough to see with my own eyes when I'd go to Sufi camp as a child. 

At Sufi camp in the Ozarks, everyone there took it for granted that we were all family. Many men freely wore skirts and no one batted an eye. That 'give no fucks' - 'love everyone as you are' vibe ran through the culture like it was self-evident, and so as a child, it was self-evident to me. It was only as I grew up and went to public schools in Lawrence that I began to see how different my culture was from normal society. 

Sufi camp is by no means a utopia - it is made up with imperfect beings like everywhere - but that culture of love, where we embraced everyone as family, was core to my own development and understanding. From this philosophical core - it's logical and self-evident to love everyone: gay or straight, trans or cis, black or white, American or Syrian, poor or well-off, those trapped in illusion or those liberated from it. 

Nationalism, racism, colonialism - our war against nature and other human beings different from ourselves - all built atop monstrous illusions of the mind, passed on down the generations for centuries - it was honestly horrifying to realize this was the fucked up world I had been born into in 1983. 

And then there was me - insulated from so much of this bullshit on so many levels thanks to the luck of my skin color, sex chromosomes, economic security and everything mentioned above. 

I could have been born into a Christian family and taught to hate gays. I could have been born into poverty and stress that gave me no time to read or do much beyond focus on my own survival. I could have been born into a military family and been taught to hate foreigners and think nationalism justifies killing people who were arbitrarily born in another part of the world whose sports team - I mean country - was different than mine. I could have never been given a book that dispelled the single greatest toxic meme that pervades our whole culture - the belief that there is one right way to live and everyone should live that way or else! (One right race, religion, economic system, culture, gender code, country etc). What gives me compassion for these people and every person facing injustice are 5 words that Caleb Stephens summed up so profoundly at one of the protests against police brutality 4 years ago:

"It could have been me." 

It could have been me, murdered by a police officer because of my skin color. It could have been me, born into a racist family that worships the illusions of police authority and white supremacy, who ultimately became the cop who pulled the trigger. It is incredibly painful to hold that truth in my heart, but I know it's the truth. It could have been me. I could have been born into any of these fucked up circumstances. If I had been born just a mile or two down the road to some conservative Kansas family, it could have been me writing racist and ignorant comments on the internet. 

This week I watched two rather depressing films - Making a Murderer, and Snow on Tha Bluff. One showing (to me in the subtext) the tragedies that afflict poor uneducated whites, and the other showing the tragic cycles of violence and poverty that afflicts poor and forgotten African American neighborhoods due to centuries of systemic racism. These films broke my heart (for what feels like the thousandth time now), because every single one of these people, who were once all innocent children, never deserved any of this shit. They were just born into it. And maybe they grew up to spill their suffering onto others, or maybe some got lucky and made it out of those circumstances or were never born in those circumstances - either way, it just burns deep in my heart - a rage against how unjust this world is and how arbitrary it all is. It is what fuels my own activist efforts - to do something to stop this madness.

My heart yearns for a world where the bullshit has come to an end - when every generational trauma that has been passed onto our generation finally ends with us. 

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Tim Hjersted
Co-Founder & Director
Lawrence, KS