In the spring semester of my final year of college I went through a lengthy interview process to become an admissions counselor at my soon to be alma mater. Higher education wasn’t anything I’d studied or planned to pursue as a career but somehow I felt qualified to determine the collegiate fate of the next round of applicants. Ah, to be young and overly confident again.
I did well, advancing through the application review and individual interviews before landing myself in a group interview with two other top picks for the position. The interviewee took us through a rapid-fire call and response exercise where he made a statement and we were to give a one-word response. Easy, right?
I only remember one of the rounds because nine years later I still can’t shake just how wrong my answer, and the misguided worldview that fueled it, was that day.
The interviewee looked at me and said, “Affirmative action.” I paused, racking my brain for the correct one-word reaction to sum up how I felt about a policy designed to level the playing field for disadvantaged minority groups and, unable to find one that fit, shrugged and said coldly, “Doesn’t affect me.”
Ah, to be young and overly confident again.
There’s a dangerous mindset that assumes that that which affects you does not affect me – especially if we are categorically different in terms of race, religion, sexual identity and so on.
My flippant response to a vitally important policy aimed at advancing the entire population by accommodating a persecuted subset of it came from that dangerous place of separation, a place of you vs. me.
Even if I didn’t disagree with affirmative action policies in higher education admissions, I mistakenly assumed that they didn’t impact my white majority life. How wrong I was (especially when you consider that affirmative action policies are put in place to advance women, like me, as well).
Needless to say, I didn’t get the job and I didn’t deserve it.
So let’s put into context how wrong I was in that interview.
Imagine the world is a giant pool of water and humanity is a chain linked network of people carrying heavy leaden weights and kept afloat by our own individual life rings. Some people might have nicer life rings or even boats. Others may share one life ring among several family members. Some people carry lots of weights and others bear a lighter load. But we’re all in the same pool trying to keep our heads above water and we’re all chained together.
When someone faces injustice (like poverty, racism and discrimination), they lose their life ring and start to sink, pulled down by the weighted anchors we all carry. If you’re still clinging to your life raft or sitting in your fancy boat, you may not notice a shift at all.
But let’s say an entire population is wronged and an entire population starts to sink. Before long we’ll all struggle to keep our heads above water because, like it or not, we’re all connected. We’re all in this together. And an injustice against one of us will eventually drag us all down.
The state of North Carolina has been struggling to keep its head above water since Governor McCory signed House Bill 2 into law last week.
The sweeping anti-LGBT legislation stripped away rights (let’s call them life rafts) from a population already heavily burdened by the weight of discrimination and hate and, like it or not, we’re all going down with them.
In the wake of HB2 a number of businesses stepped forward to publicly denounce the law, some, like the NBA, threatening major economic impact on the Charlotte region.
NBA Statement Regarding Legislation Recently Signed Into Law In North Carolina pic.twitter.com/xwoOo9MyeR
— NBA (@NBA) March 24, 2016
But HB2 isn’t just about our economy. It’s about our humanity.
Let’s not forget the devastating statistic that 41 percent of transgender individuals attempt suicide. If that doesn’t rip your heart wide open I don’t know what would.
But I also know what it’s like to be firmly rooted on the wrong side of a complex issue clinging to a worldview you don’t realize is limited and convincing yourself that you are backed only by your best intentions.
I’ve been wrong before – about affirmative action and my place in the world and spray painting all my furniture black after college and countless other things, I’m sure. And I’ll be wrong again. But I like being wrong because it means I’ve learned something and grown beyond where I was before. That’s the beauty and the importance of being wrong; it moves us forward when we own it and acknowledge it. If we let it, being wrong can be a space of opportunity not failure.
HB2 and support of it is wrong. But I believe very strongly that good, well-intentioned people can support things they don’t realize are wrong. And in those moments of wrongness, people don’t need to be mocked for believing the only thing they’ve ever known to believe, backed into a corner defending the only truth they’ve ever known, wrong as it may be. They need exposure to and education about new and different things that challenge old previously assumed “right” ways of thinking.
I’ve noticed a lot of my peers who oppose HB2 meeting its supporters with the same level of hate and intolerance they claim to be fighting, and the mounting tension on both sides is dragging all of us down.
What we need right now is an environment where being wrong (and accepting it) isn’t met with “told ya so” finger pointing and continued separation. What we need right now is an environment where being wrong (and accepting it) is met with understanding and an opportunity for new growth.
Because, like it or not, we’re all in this together. You sink, we sink. You rise, we all rise.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering who got the college admissions counselor job, it was the girl who responded to the “affirmative action” call confidently, correctly and without hesitation: “Necessary.”
Life is freaking hard, guys. Distributing life rafts to sinking populations is necessary, not just to lift them back above sea level but to keep us all afloat together.