Stepping Outside of My Box

Lake and Dock Photo (courtesy KiloMarie Granda)

Thoughts From Kilo

by KiloMarie Granda, Founder of Unspoken Voices

I’m writing this blog post as I sit here next to a beautiful lake, rippling with waves. The sun is perfect as shafts of light flicker through the trees. It is an incredible place, easy to get lost in. Easy to forget about the disparities between my own life and the lives of those less fortunate. This morning, I was reminded of how it feels experience oppression. I was reminded that my skin is of a darker color and my eyes serve to show that I am a different ethnicity. I am tattooed, proudly. My tattoos remind me that I always need to stand up against oppression, bias, and violence. However, these same tattoos often make others uncomfortable.

This is not my lake that I sit next to. It isn’t my deck that I sit on. This isn’t my family that stand and sit in the yard around me. Well, not technically. It is my partners’ family. Consisting of Caucasian, middle class, privileged individuals. This isn’t to say that they are right-wing, in fact they are strong democrats and identify as liberal. However, my heart hurts when we come here. Although everyone acknowledges that we are together, it has been asked that we not hold hands or show that we are partners … because it would be too difficult to explain to the children. I am reminded when I come here that I come from a broken home, was often homeless, and don’t speak the “language” that this family speaks.

I have come so far. I am a successful and well-educated person. When I am here though, I feel as if I were 7 years old again, trying to impress my friends’ families and being sure not to mention that I would be going home to a long-term shelter a few blocks away. Today, the color of my skin and the shape of my eyes make me “different” and not in a “good” way. I am seen as a stand-offish and aloft individual. My tattoos are used to remind me that well-educated and bred individuals do not allow their bodies to be altered in such a manner. No matter how far I have come in life, I am still judged. I am a lesbian. I am of color. I am bold. I am all of these. And I am judged.

These thoughts made me realize that the oppression and sadness that I feel so heavily, are in all actuality, so slight compared to other individuals. Within the last week I have had opportunities to be reminded of the dichotomy as well as the similarities between my own life and the lives of individuals from different communities.

Image of Somali Flag

Image of Somali Flag

Last Monday, I had the privilege of going out to eat. We went to a family-owned Somalian restaurant, The Somali Star.

I admit, I was unsure about eating there. The restaurant is located within an area of a nearby city that is known for the high Somalian population. Because of this, white passing individuals are not often seen within this area. I felt out of place and worried that I was going to be asked to leave.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I was welcomed in such a beautiful manner. I was waited on with the utmost respect. The cook and wait staff asked me my opinions on the food and even brought free dishes for me to try. I stayed at the restaurant for at least a couple of hours. I interacted and conversed with individuals, both working and eating there. Throughout our conversations, I was able to find out more about the family and their success in owning the restaurant and becoming respected leaders within their community. I was asked multiple times to come back and it was expressed to me that very few individuals outside of the Somalian community come into the restaurant despite the family’s repeated attempts to include other communities.

While there, several of the older male community leaders began conversing with me about "#45." The conversation was amazing and we all expressed similar concerns about Trump’s views on topics such as immigration, religious freedom, and his unethical behavior. They openly expressed their concerns about his legal and illegal activities. We also talked about how this family, successful in business and leadership, was treated much differently when they ventured outside their own community and into the larger city. One minute respected and admired, the next being treated with suspicion and distrust.

This dichotomy is hard to understand… although today, I am beginning to feel just a tiny bit of what I imagine it must feel like all the time for individuals from different communities, beliefs, and backgrounds.

In addition to this incredible experience, I also had the opportunity to push outside of the box in other ways. On Tuesday, I attended a free lunch offered by the Salvation Army in St. Cloud. This midday meal is offered each day of the week from 11:30 to 12:30. I have to admit that this was a hard experience. Being homeless as a child has caused a great deal of insecurity within me. I often have more food in my house than is probably normal. I cannot travel for long distances that may require me to stop and sleep in the car, for example, in a rest stop or gas station parking lot. I lived in cars for too long as a child. I have volunteered for shelters and have helped with free lunches before, as a volunteer. I have not received a free lunch for many years and I really didn’t want to.

But since this is all about pushing outside of your box, I went. It was a terrifying experience. Not because of the people but because I was forced to face inner demons. The facility was a nice, welcoming place. The volunteers were extremely kind and appeared to be non-judgmental. There were about 50 other people there for the meal as well. Individuals from various communities, including African-American, Latino, and Caucasian. There were more male individuals than other genders. A few spoke to me; however, most were quiet and stayed amongst themselves in small groups. I feel that this experience taught me more about myself than it did about anyone else I might have conversed with.

In fact, both of these experiences gave me lessons in humility and understanding. As difficult as it has been today, it has helped remind me that oppression appears in many forms. It’s also helped me realize that I am privileged. I can leave this environment… maybe later rather than sooner, but I can eventually leave. However, there are those that cannot. Because of discrimination, poverty, and oppression, individuals from many communities are forced to live within prisons of hatred. They are stripped of the means to leave. They are shut down before they have the chance to speak up. So, this moment serves to remind me that I am privileged and should never forget it.

In stepping outside of my box, I feel that it is so vitally important that we—as Caucasian or white passing individuals—attempt to experience cultures outside of our own. These cultures lines need to cross race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and belief systems. We need to take a moment and step into the shoes of those individuals who don’t fit into the box that we often confine ourselves within.