Voice… As a first born, independent, assertive big sister type, my tendency is to speak for my friends who do not have a voice, but slowly I am learning, and being reminded that they need my encouragement and space to find and use their own voice. This became evident to me a few years ago with a situation that happened to a friend of mine.
I heard what she said more than once, “they won’t listen to me, they don’t care, they won’t believe me, they won’t do anything about it, I already told them, but they won’t do anything about it.” In my brain it just didn’t make sense, why wouldn’t the police listen or do something for my friend. She had stuff stolen out of her apartment. That is their job. My experience has been you call the police, they come, and they make a report, and I expect they will do their best to help with the situation. I never doubted that they wouldn’t. But my friend was adamant that it was no use.
Then a situation happened that needed to be reported to the bank and police. My friend said no one was going to believe her or listen. They have to listen. There is proof just by looking at your statements, they can help you. She was not going to bother so the big sister, bossy justice oriented side of me kicked in. I told her I would pick her up, and we would go get this whole thing straightened out. I assumed that maybe they were having a hard time understanding her. When my friend gets stressed sometimes she is hard to understand.
And then it happened just as my friend, and others had been saying for the last few years. I had a front row seat to what she described over and over that I had written off as misunderstandings, or something else. My friend went up to the teller to explain the situation, and what she needed from them, but she was blown off and told there was nothing they could do to help her. I stepped up and in and questioned, and then told them what they could do that would be helpful, and they interacted with me respectfully. I continued to try to re-connect my friend with the worker, but they were willing to help me, not her.
I was not from the neighborhood, I was not rich, but not poor, I was able to speak clearly and assertively, so they listened. I was mad. That was not fair. My friend was a customer. She deserved to be treated like I was treated. Then we made our way to the police station with the papers of evidence of what had occurred, and again I watched the same thing happen. Even the phrasing as the officer tried to explain or excuse why they would not be doing anything about the situation was surprising to me. I guess I was naïve about the mistreatment of the poor and rougher segments of society. I wanted to believe that police and bank tellers would treat everyone the same, but it was obvious these individuals in this community did not. (Disclaimer: This is not a statement on every bank teller or police officer, there have been some super kind helpful ones but in the community people from certain neighborhoods and certain histories were going to be treated differently.)
I was being treated kindly, and my voice was being listened too. My friend deserved her voice to be heard because she has value, but she was being judged on many things that she could not help at this point in her journey. She had lived a hard life, and not always made the best choices. She was born on the “wrong” side of the tracks, as they say. By the grace of God and undeserving of me, my story was different, so I had a voice.
In the moment I just wanted my friend’s issue to be taken care of, and for her to be cared for, so I stepped in and loaned her my voice in the circumstances, but later as I processed I was mad and frustrated that I had a voice, and she didn’t. I was reminded of all the friends who had trouble, and I would tell them to call their parole officers or police for help and they were fearful. I would try to convince them that these people were on their team and there to help. It never crossed my mind that their voice might not be heard. Because these people had made some poor choices in the past should not negate their voice now. It seemed very unfair.
My natural tendency was to speak up on their behalf, and be their advocate, to fight this battle for them, but then I realized what my friend needed was for her voice to be heard, not for me to be her voice. I have really been wrestling with this definite bias against the poor and disenfranchised that my eyes were opened up to after this occasion. I have unfortunately seen it play out again and again. Their voices have been cut off, or viewed as less than others.
It is good to advocate, and I will, but even better would be making room at the table and inviting them to it to speak and use their voice for change in their situations, and also the communities they live in. I continue to look and pray for ways to create space that welcomes all voices that have something to say. I am starting with myself and trying to listen to what is really being said with their voices and not just listening through my own experiences.
* I am joining Five Minute Fridays in a 31 day Writing Challenge. Each day I will be writing on a different word prompt for at least 5 minutes for the month of October.
**Check out 2018’s 31 Day Writing Challenge https://inkblotlife.com/category/write-31-days-2018/