Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Shared Homeland: Justice and Acceptance within Diverse Communities

It is a strange and life-altering moment when we realize that our home does not belong to us alone – that, in fact, the homeland is an intrinsically interpersonal space, which both exist for and relies upon other people. In fact, a homeland comprised of one person is no homeland at all, for others influence this space in unexpected ways. We do not always acknowledge the significance of the man who drives our bus or the woman who rings up our groceries to our sense of belonging, and yet we experience the absence of these people profoundly. And so, at some point, one must acknowledge that their home is not an isolated space occupied by them alone, but a congregation of interwoven lives and experiences that come together to form a complex interpersonal community by which one can define oneself. At this point, one becomes conscious of one’s role in supporting the others in this community.
It is not my place to assume that this experience is universal, for humanity cannot be so easily reduced to a single paradigm, but it has certainly affected me. In my transition to my adopted community here in Baltimore, the ongoing dialogue about community service and justice have made me acutely aware of the other people who comprise the Baltimore community. Recently, the civil unrest in Baltimore has made me realize that, even though we all live in the same city, not everyone feels the same way about it. There is a distinct absence of dialogue and understanding between neighbors of different races and social classes that brings into question the role of privileged groups in making this country unsafe for those unprivileged groups with which we share our home.
Rushdie, Kolvenbach, and King explore from different perspectives the need for further development and acceptance of others in their homelands. Rushdie’s “Imaginary Homelands” explores the author’s own identity as an Indian man who has grown up in England, and develops the idea that people living in a culture that is not strictly their own have a unique and valuable perspective. Rushdie encourages the sharing of the conflicting feelings of belonging at the same time to both and neither culture, suggesting that this new dual culture may be a powerful tool in the cultivation of understanding between societies. Rushdie sees himself and others like him as a bridge between two communities “because they… are at one and the same time insiders and outsiders in this society. This stereoscopic vision is perhaps what [they] can offer in place of ‘whole sight’” (19). By sharing their perspective with the world, this group may succeed in unifying different groups.
Kolvenbach, through the lens of Jesuit education, describes the necessity of service and justice in the effort to make communities equally safe and welcoming for all people. He explains that “only substantive justice can bring about the kinds of structural and attitudinal changes that are needed to uproot those sinful oppressive injustices that are a scandal against humanity and God” (7). He discusses the racial and economic divides in the world, and the exploitation of those people who cannot defend themselves from these institutional injustices. These people who are taken advantage of suffer within their own communities and are treated as lesser than the wealthy and privileged classes, and Kolvenbach suggests that we must, through service and justice, end this inequality and make a worldwide community in which all people live as equals.

Martin Luther King Jr, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” addresses issues similar to those in “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education.” He tries to express in this letter the suffering of African American citizens during times of segregation, and to defend the means by which they fight to secure their rights. He describes in the twelfth paragraph of his letter all of the terrible injustices African Americans suffered under segregation, and communicates in jarring detail the pain of feeling unwelcome in one’s own hometown. Rather than acknowledging the place of these citizens in their communities, the white oppressors of the past willfully divided their homes, and cut others off from their society. This letter remains relevant to this day, as black citizens are subjected to racially biased police brutality. King’s words shed light on the protests in Baltimore taking place decades after his death, and even as he explains that “few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans… of those that have been oppressed” I see evidence of it in my own community (4). King wants to make the American homeland safe for all people, and I agree that this is a necessity: this city, this country, and indeed this world, belongs to a multitude of people, and everyone deserves to feel at home here. 

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