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Life / Society

Missing in Action—The Voices We Don’t Hear

Missing in Action—The Voices We Don’t Hear

Last month, I researched a story on churches and the problem of sexual harassment and assault. As I proceeded, it became clear that voices were missing in the national dialogue we were having; those of African-American women and other minorities.  (I reached out to a prominent African-American scholar to ask why – but that’s another story!)

Ironic, isn’t it, that while a black woman launched the #MeToo movement ten years ago, their voices aren’t being included in the conversation (as noted in this NPR story)?

It got me thinking about the presence of absence in our national dialogues—about the voices that are missing. When we talk about education, how often do we consider the challenges faced by the children of undocumented immigrants in our public schools? When we consider nutrition, how often do we discuss the needs of the homeless?

Don’t they have the same rights to the benefits we take for granted?

When we think about our communities, how often do we consider the racial/ethnic groups who might be missing?

When they are ignored or marginalized, their human rights are more likely to be violated. As the #MeToo and civil rights movements demonstrate, it’s much easier to trespass on someone’s humanity when no one else is paying attention.

I live in a quiet town on the edge of the Philadelphia suburbs. It’s lovely: we have lots of old trees, several state and county parks, and many picturesque views. What don’t we have? A lot of ethnic and racial diversity.

My work exposes me to lots of diverse perspectives. But when I speak with my neighbors, I am often interacting with people who look and sound very much like I do. If I want to know what the folks a few towns down the R-5 (my local train line) are thinking, or the experiences of the economically disadvantaged inhabitants of the old steel town next door, I need to make an effort to seek them out.

How about you?

It’s becoming more and more evident that Americans are polarized by income, race, education, and other factors. Some of that is due to the legacy of the struggle for racial and economic equality in America. Some of the divisions are fostered by geographical distance or history.

Recently PRRI (Public Relations Research Institute) released its America Values Survey. Entitled One Nation, Divided, Under Trump, it has some provocative findings about the extent of our national political polarization. Here’s just a sample of their findings:

Republicans say the following about the policies of the Democratic Party:
• Five percent: Are moving the country in the right direction
• 39%: Misguided but not necessarily dangerous
• 52%: Policies are so misguided they pose a threat to the country

Likewise, Democrats say the following about the policies of the Republican Party:
• Five percent: Are moving the country in the right direction
• 38%: Misguided but not necessarily dangerous
• 54%: Policies are so misguided they pose a threat to the country.

When you don’t have day to day interactions with those who differ, we never really get to hear about life from their perspective, nor do they from ours. It’s also inevitable that because they don’t have equal access to social institutions or communities that empower them, some voices get drowned out. They don’t get a place at the table at all.

In that process, their human rights are violated.

Long-term, that isn’t good for our country—and it’s not really great for us. It’s part of the work of a democracy to make sure those voices are heard. And if we don’t get to engage in conversations with those who differ—even radically—from us, then it’s all too easy to go down the path of starting to believe that they aren’t fully citizens—or even fully human beings.

How can we bring the voices of those who haven’t been able to fully participate in national life into our conversation? How can we learn not just to tolerate, but to find ourselves challenged and enlivened by, talking with those who differ from us? How do we celebrate their full humanity?

I have a suggestion: make sure that you get to know, not only those who look or believe differently than you, but those often released to the fringes of our society.

Be an advocate for them.  Help them find their voice.

Please feel free to share your ideas—and strategies—to help us move forward in this space.

This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on human rights from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.

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Evans is a freelance writer, columnist and mother of two young adults. Her work has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Religion News Service, LNP Media Inc., the National Catholic Reporter/Global Sisters Report and many other media outlets.

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