My practice was built by a man who is 6 feet 7 inches tall. A tall man by anyone’s standards.
The countertops are tall and the shelves are high.
I am the opposite of tall. I am very short, standing at 5 feet 1 inch on a good day. It took me years to be able to ride the big rollercoasters and I still get excited when I walk by the “you need to be this tall to ride this ride” sign.
If I need paper towels I have to climb onto the countertop to grab them from the top shelf where they are stored or find the step ladder, bring it out, set it up, and then put it away.
If I want to grab a bag of Dasequin to look at the ingredients I need to do the same thing. But often, I’m in a rush so I just stand on the top rungs of the rickety stool much to my coworkers and OSHA’s horror.
If I’m looking through the eyepieces of the microscope I have to put one foot under my bottom so that my eyes can reach comfortably.
And when I sit at my desk, I have to have something under it for my feet to rest on because my legs dangle which makes them fall asleep and strains my knees if I sit too long.
It makes working in this practice, a practice that was literally built to accommodate the needs of someone tall, just a little bit more challenging. I have to work to get my needs met a little bit harder and some things, like grabbing the paper towels that are on top of the cabinets, almost impossible unless I put myself at risk or get someone to help me.
Now, this is not to say that outside of this practice tall people don’t face any struggles. They have their issues too. I know they have trouble finding shoes and pants that fit and airplane rides are painful. I know they have to duck when they enter a room sometimes and bang their heads often. I get that neither of us has it peachy keen all the time.
But in my work environment, the place I spend most of my day, I have to adjust myself to be effective in a place that was not built for me and puts me at a slight disadvantage. A disadvantage that the tall person cannot see or feel because they have a completely different perspective. Their eyes are not open to my struggles because unless I pipe up and say “hey, the paper towels are stored out of my reach, hey, the medication on the top shelf is inaccessible, hey, I can’t reach the microscope, hey, my desk is too high,” then they will never know.
This is what is happening right now. Black people are saying “hey.” This is my experience. I know it may not be yours, and I’m not saying that you don’t have your own struggles, too. I’m saying that I’m doing my best in a system that was not built for me and in some instances, was built against me. And we need to work together and collaborate on how to make it better.
But if the people they are talking to keep insisting that what black people are saying is not true because that isn’t their perspective, that isn’t their experience, then there can be no dialogue. There can be no collaboration. There can be no solution. And things will not change.
It starts with a willingness to say, even though this is not my reality, even though this is not my experience, I believe you, and I will stand with you and help you.
We, as a country are not completely there yet. We are in the “hey, I need you to pay attention to this” and “I need you to be willing to accept my perspective phase.” To listen to how I experience this world and believe me enough to take action.
To be willing to listen to my struggles and know that mine do not invalidate your own. Do not belittle yours. Do not make yours less important. To remember that when we help others rise, we all rise together.
I know this isn’t as easy as short and tall. It is so much more complicated than that. But if you can begin to understand that your perspective and life experience is not the only perspective and life experience and that when we begin to insert our own belief system and judgment, we are apt to invalidate others’ experiences consciously or subconsciously.
When we can listen with open minds, without judgment, without our own belief system clouding our vision, and accept another perspective as truth, then we are taking that first important step.
This is important work we do.
You got this.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.