The Golden Rule

Janean L. Watkins, Managing Editor

Reflecting on February as Black History Month, I immediately consider that it’s time again for self-reflection. In doing this, it’s easy to think of the “problems” that need repair within my life. Then I ponder over the world in which I live. When I consider the state of this country and how individual citizens identify themselves, I think about the millions of Americans who are ashamed to identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, Black, Latino, Asian, poor, female, young, or as a senior citizen.

I also take this time to consider the attributes that make me an “other”. I contemplate the obvious, or perceived, identifiers which are oppressive and – at times – very disheartening. Being me, those thoughts lead to ponderings about my own identity, and the privileges that are afforded to people like me.

I am a Black feminist, lesbian, mother of six, with three jobs – who, at the ripe old age of 37, is an undergraduate junior working towards a Bachelors of Arts and Sciences degree. As Marvin Gaye once sang, sometimes – it makes me wanna holler. But, I manage to hold it all together.

Well – what about the privileges, you say? I have full use of my body and mind. I have yet to reach menopause, and I’m fortunate not to be experiencing the joys and pains of middle-age. Finally, I’m not young enough to be faced with adultism. So, I think of Peggy McIntosh and set forth to “unpack my privilege backpack”. Now, I have to consider what I can leave behind.

I would start with the obvious, my able body and mind – lest I take for granted that I can walk, talk, see, hear, and use all of my extremities to their fullest capabilities. I must also think about the fact that just because someone might not have these abilities, there is a chance that they can run circles around me in many arenas. I am not considered mentally incapable of anything, nor do I need extra help to complete school work or activities of daily living. Therefore, this privilege would have to go.

Then, I would go on to the fact that I still maintain my youth. When I get up on those days after I’ve stretched myself to the limit, I sometimes make the mistake of saying, “Jeez, I feel so OLD”. But when I do a self check, I have to ask myself, ‘what does “old” feel like?’ Does “old” correlate with age, with lifestyle, or with actions? There are people in their 70’s that are in much better shape than I am. So, I’d have to lay that privilege to the side of my mochilla, and leave it behind.

Lastly, I would think about my children. Today, youth developers, child psychologists, and educators have coined a term that my parents would never even attempt to understand – adultism. This term is used to describe the oppression of our youth by the adults that love them. An example of adultism is something as simple as tying the shoes of a three year old who learned to tie his/her own shoes at two. This act perpetuates the idea that, ‘this child can’t do this without me,’ and creates a breeding ground for a child’s co-dependency to surrounding adults. Though we love our children, we must allow them to grow, learn, make mistakes, and create experiences of their own. So, I’d snatch that bit of privilege out of the backpack, and sit it aside.

Now, it may seem that the number of items that I have to remove from my knapsack isn’t very great, but that is largely due to the fact that in many circles, I am definitely the “other”. But for me as an individual, I must say that a few of my most cherished identifiers are: ‘resilient, empowered, determined, and free-minded’; because if not for this firm grounding, I would fold under the pressure of oppression.

In other words, I recognize just who I am in this life, and I work hard to recognize who I am not. I treat everyone the way I want to be treated. As a society, we can’t be so narrow focused that we don’t see others in their struggles – or in their triumph. Take time this month – and every month for that matter – and do a bit of self reflection. Consider that sometimes, we could use others as mirrors for ourselves. Now, if only we could get the rest of the world to live by the golden rule.