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Posts Tagged ‘prejudice’

Let me ask you a question… 

When you hear “photo-time, smile for the camera” do you panic and find you have a sudden urge to hide in the bathroom until the photo taking is finished?  Do you instinctively cover your face with your hand? Do you suffer through comments like “what are you so unhappy about?” when you’re only aware of feeling good?   Does the helpful suggestion “Smile!”  make you want to cry?  When you meet someone new and offer them your best smile, do you recognize the flash of awkwardness and discomfort that crosses their face in a micro-second before they recover enough to greet you?  When you’re un-self-consciously enjoying yourself, talking and laughing and smiling freely, do you notice others staring, looking away, or looking uncomfortable because of you?  If not, if you don’t relate to situations like these, maybe, without realizing it, you have “smile privilege”.  What I mean by this is, maybe you have the privilege of enjoying a normal smile without ever giving it a thought.

I know I did.  Until I lost the ability to simply smile with fullness and ease.   I never considered what an elemental gift it is to be able to communicate openly with a smile — a simple and effective non-verbal instantaneous communication that says “I like you.  I am interested in you.”   Psychologists know that smiles have a powerful and instinctual effect on us as humans.  The simple act of smiling is often contagious; people typically react favorably and are more comfortable around you when you are smiling. Who doesn’t take for granted the fact that smiling transmits happiness, friendliness, warmth, and liking.  So, if you smile frequently, you will be perceived as being more likable, friendly, warm and approachable.   bp half smileBut for those who can’t smile, the loss is very, very real. The immediate, non-verbal communication is broken, the person may subliminally be perceived as unfriendly, unlikeable and unapproachable.  Two-plus years with residual Bell’s Palsy and permanent facial nerve damage to one half of my face, leaving me without the ability to move the muscles that automatically produce facial expressions, has certainly opened my eyes to the unexamined ‘smile privilege’.

And led me to be thinking about all kinds of other privilege as well.  You know, the things we take for granted that make life easier, if we think about it.  Like, for example, ‘white privilege’.  Or, if you’re female, you bump into ‘male privilege’.  Put these together, and you get the Biggie:  White Male Privilege, or WMP.

Our denomination has been working carefully at a program called the Damascus Road Project: Dismantling Racism.  This process begins when the “light goes on” so to speak, and we’re “knocked off our horses” and are transformed.  Until we recognize, personally, that we  — racially white in the United States of America I mean — live with an unexamined prerogative to access, education, acceptance, inclusion, familiarity, etc, we can have no concept of racism and white privilege.   If you are white, since when did you go to a drugstore to buy bandages, and choose the package that says “flesh-colored”.  Really?  Whose flesh?

I always thought racism was contemptuous, prejudicial, biased thoughts and actions.  “I’m not racist,” I would have insisted, “Look at my African-American friends.  Remember, I’m the one who got rocks thrown at me over the hedge and teased ‘nigger-lover’ by other children in my neighborhood, for playing with the kids of a family from Nigeria.  I’m not the one who’s racist.”  Only lately have I come to understand that racism is much more subtle than being overtly prejudiced.  It begins with ignorance of the privilege that comes with being white.  It begins with taking something as simple as bandages for granted.  And the process of dismantling it begins with recognizing, in the first place, that privilege exists.  The same goes for sexism, I might gently add.  Or Good Healthism.

Which brings me back to smiles.  If you’re a “smilist”, I hope that the next time you smile today, you will enjoy the privilege, bask in the ease and access it provides you, and delight in its rewards.  And then smile again, for me, and for all those who live with Facial Nerve Palsy.

When 1 + 1 equals 2.
Brain confusion: Which side of the face do you automatically respond to??

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