Years ago, I made a commitment to use my privilege to be a voice for the voiceless.

I was recently on an Alaskan cruise with my partner and her family, where one of the cruise shows featured a comedian. We were fortunate enough to score second row seats, and for a little while I was laughing and having a great time. Then, he started directing his jokes toward people from Guatemala. For those of you who know me, you know my connection and passion for the country of Guatemala. You know my commitment to be a true partner to our friends in Guatemala and do what I can to stand with them as they do everything in their power to create a safer, more thriving community. You know how my heart breaks when I think about all of these beautiful people seeking asylum at our borders because they feel that it is their only chance for survival. What you may not know is that my partner is the mom of a beautiful 13-year-old boy from Guatemala, who happened to be sitting a few seats down from me.

As the comedian mocked the size and stature of Guatemalans, I started to feel uncomfortable. Then, he shared that he fantasized about hitting Guatemalans—Whack-a-Mole style—so that they would retreat back into their holes. At this point, I started feeling rage. Apparently my feelings were showing on my face and the comedian called me out. “Where are you from? What’s your problem? You don’t like my jokes? Am I hurting your feelings?” he mocked. “I’m from Colorado and no, I don’t think ridiculing an oppressed group of people is funny especially when there is a young boy from Guatemala sitting in your audience.”  He fired back, “Oh, you can’t be so sensitive Colorado! Learn to take a joke! You’re ruining it for the rest of the audience!”

He eventually turned his attention to another topic so our back and forth ceased.  Throughout the rest of the show, though, he continued to bring it back to me, saying things like, “Oh good, Colorado is finally smiling. Go ahead Colorado, you can write a letter and voice all of your complaints. Let me give you the address,” and so on and so forth.

I have found myself in situations like this before and something comes over me that is not exactly logical. It is clear to me, though, that the problems we have in the world are rooted in our feelings of superiority over and separateness from others. And I know that every time a group is ridiculed, and we allow it, that feeling of superiority and separation grows. I know to my bones how dangerous this phenomenon is and, although it’s unpopular and awkward at times, I can’t sit back and let it continue any longer. 

(Tune into Part 2 in a few weeks, when I share the shame spiral that followed this interaction.)