The Pretense of Protection: Another Layer of Privilege

I drove by the mall yesterday for the first time since a man opened fire, killing two people, injuring four more, and sustaining gunfire injuries which ultimately ended his own life. I prayed as I drove by: for the people impacted by this tragedy, for their families, for our community.

The day it happened, I was rocked; completely shaken as I attempted to grapple with the loss of security I once felt in my safe little community.

I was sharing with a dear friend about my struggle with coping, when she said, “I’m trying to remember when I lost my sense of safety so that I can say something wise or comforting.”

I know she didn’t say this in any way to be condescending or correcting. She genuinely wanted to help me feel better. But the fact of her experience, as a family of color in our city, is that she hasn’t felt safe for a long time. Maybe ever.

And another layer of privilege was revealed.

When I first moved to Boise, I was struck by how safe I felt. Out with friends downtown at night felt secure. Walking in my neighborhood and surrounding areas was never a risk. I would have said that was because it was a safe place for everyone. But safety is relative, and security is unearned advantage.

The plain and simple fact is that for people who are non-white, non-straight, non-wealthy, non-able, our city has not always been the safe place I unconsciously thought it to be.

In Subversive Witness, Dominique Gilliard says, “Privilege is rarely neutral or benign; it almost always comes at the expense of our neighbors… It therefore subtly creates a sliding scale of humanity, where some lives are respected, protected, and valued over and against others.”

Has my safety come at the expense of my neighbors? It seems almost certainly so, even though it was not something I chose. Am I willing to settle for less for other families than I am for my own?

Am I a part of a community with a sliding scale of humanity? It seems that I am. I live in a safe neighborhood while other neighbors don’t, even if we live next door to each other.

And would our community’s response to the deaths have been different had those killed not been a trans woman and Mexican man? What if the shooter had been a person of color? Would the outrage have been different?

This is a complex problem without a simple solution, and right now I’m left with more questions than answers. But ignoring it certainly can’t be my response, or the response of anyone seeking shalom in the name of Jesus.

Right now I’m lamenting this reality. Listening to and learning from the people impacted. Praying that my heart will continue to soften. And asking God to remind me to hold tight to my neighbor’s hand even when things are scary.

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