Ya Got to Have Friends…

Part Eight (and last for a while) of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many in a series of posts inspired by “Miss Representation.”  If you haven’t seen the trailer for this movie, and you have 8 minutes, please watch it here now.  

Remember Donkey in “Shrek?”  Now, I don’t often look for wisdom out of the mouths of donkeys (insert liberal Democrat joke here…) but when he’s singing a Bette Midler song, I tend to take notice.  There’s a theory that’s been bouncing around in my mind for the last year or so, and I can’t seem to separate it from the image of happy Donkey singing “Ya Got to Have Friends” to Shrek.  Animated references aside, it seems appropriate to give voice to this theory in the blog series inspired by “Miss Representation.”  Yet, it’s a tricky message because I imagine it will be easy to misinterpret – and here it is anyway.

Minorities need friends in the majority.  I believe this applies to many facets of life, but generally, I am referring to the advancement basic human rights.  Overthrowing tyranny and abuse.  Moving civilization forward.  You know – the little things.

I realize I’m painting with very broad strokes here, but consider  history.  It’s hard to find an instance where an oppressed minority group’s advancement towards equality was not helped along by someone (or many) in the majority.  Emancipation.  Desegregation.  Women’s Suffrage.  Establishment of Israel.  Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Were the minorities and/or oppressed in these cases irrelevant or powerless in bringing the advancements to fruition?  Of course not – of COURSE not.  Au contraire.  But neither were they alone or singular in their efforts.  Somehow – somewhere along the way, in each of the cases mentioned above – their arguments, stories, actions, found a receptive heart and sympathetic ear of people in the majority.  And those in the majority whose eyes had been opened worked on behalf of those who had been wronged.  Then there was progress.

It’s very natural, when you’re a member of a group that’s been wronged to surround yourself with others like you, and assert your strength and independence as a group.    Cathartic.  Therapeutic.  Necessary.  And soooo easy to cross over to the “Stick it to the Man” and “Rage against the Machine” mentality.  We emphasize the “us vs. them” dynamic.  We are able to turn any problem adversarial.  (The more twisted ones actually get off on doing that, and shame on them.)  I can’t think of a greater impediment to progress.

We may feel we can go it alone – we don’t need those bastards in the majority.  But we’d be wrong.  If we don’t need them now, we’ll need them down the line, and we’ll be happy to have a friend or two on the other side.  This is my argument against isolation, people.  For all the flaws in our government, the beauty of its infuriating design is that one side can hardly get anything done without the other.   For all the flaws in our society, the brilliance of its survival lies in our ability to see value in other points of view.

Forgive the inelegance of the argument (and my beating a dead horse,) but blacks needed whites to defeat Jim Crow.  Jews needed gentiles to establish Israel.  Gays and lesbians need straight people to be on their side and advance their cause.  The first female Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court was appointed by a man.  Everyone needs friends on the other side of the aisle, whether it’s the aisle of Congress or the aisle separating men and women in an orthodox synagogue.

I finally watched “Miss Representation” in its entirety.  I’m trying to get it screened in Maryland.  Baltimore’s mayor (Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) is female, the longest-serving female U.S. Senator (Barbara Mikulski) is from Maryland, yet our state hasn’t yet had a screening.  How great would it be to fill a theater with people to watch this film?  Yet, the first question on my mind is, “How many men can we get to see this?  How many boys?”  I desparately want women and girls to see this, too – to stoke the fires in their bellies and make them roar.  To impress upon them how dangerous complacency is and how fragile our hold on equality.  But I also want the men there.  Progress won’t happen without them.

Because believe me.  When a twenty-something-year-old waiter feels comfortable addressing my mother as “dear,” but my father as “sir,” it is more obvious than ever that we have a loooooong way to go and a LOT of work to do.


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