By Julian Turner
Many people begin the new year with resolutions. Others, perhaps out of concern for their ability to maintain a resolution all the way through, devise a short phrase, or even a single word for the year. This has not been a practice that I have ever had much interest in. However, this year is different. I have decided that in 2017 I would have a word, and that word is inclusive. I figure what better word considering the historic divisions that now have a bright spotlight cast on them as they twirl about center stage like angry ballerinas spewing hate with every pirouette. When I mentioned ‘they’ and ‘them,’ I was referring to the divisions and no group or groups of people. We’ve been pitted against one another based on gender, race, sexuality, pro-this, pro-that, ethnicity, beliefs, and more.
The word inclusion has been my proverbial demon on one shoulder and angel on the other. Admittedly I did not want to embrace it, live by it, or much less write about it. Inclusion involves the act of including, welcoming the ‘other’ into your sphere, my sphere, our sphere. This is a challenge for me considering I have oft felt excluded whether for race, disability, beliefs, and more. Interestingly, I have been excluded by groups that one would think would embrace me. Apparently I’m not Black enough, disabled enough, devout enough, political enough, or educated enough. There they are again, those angels and demons. Having experienced so much exclusion, why prey tell would I volunteer to be a voice for inclusion?
I was in several spaces recently in which I was the only Black American. It quickly became clear that my role was to represent and speak for the totality of ALL Black Americans, something I was certainly not capable of accomplishing. In this capacity I learned quick of the divisions that exist if for no other reason than the existence of our multiple identities. In other words, none of us are one dimensional beings carrying only one signifying adjective. If I were seen simply as a man, the world would engage me simply on the basis of my gender, not my height, sexuality, complexion, disability etc. Intersectionality is the beautiful convergence of all of our identities.
I have several friends that identify as gay. Upon some recent introspection, I realized that I approached my relationships with them differently than I did with my heterosexual friends. I didn’t discuss the same subjects with them and honestly had no interest in knowing their intimate sides. I didn’t realize at the time that I was viewing my own friends, that is they still consider me a friend after reading this, through the lens of division. I saw them one dimensionally, not as whole multi-layered, multi-dimensional people. Two in particular I have even spoken about frequently for the support they each have provide in times of great difficulty. In the midst of my guilt, purely on happenstance, I came across a book, Queer Injustice, and within just a few pages understood intersectionality in a way that I never had before.
We are living in a time and space, locally, nationally, and globally, in which people are being victimized, brutalized, and abused simply for the surface ways by which they are identified. Remarkably I have heard, and even been advised not to dilute the cause of Black people by incorporating ‘other’ groups. I cannot with a clear conscience be any less disgusted with the abuses and violence that is gender based, domestic, directed at trans people, Muslims, Brown skin people from whatever country of origin, law enforcement, and White supremacist than I am with the killing of unarmed Black males. Do I care about perpetrators and systemic issues? Absolutely. Are there people that repulse me? Every time I see a Confederate battle flag. However, that does not preclude me from grieving for any violence visited upon any member of humanity. The prolific Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., asserted so poignantly that “We must either learn to live together as brothers (and sisters) or we will perish together as fools.” In other words, we either live together, or we will most assuredly die together. There can be no ‘us’ and ‘them’ or ‘they,’ only we, inclusive.
Julian Turner, a Washington DC., native, is currently a graduate student at Eastern Mennonite University pursuing a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies. He also is a volunteer with InterVarsity as a Global Urban Trek co-director.