We Are More Alike Than Different
By Debra Johnston, M.D.
America is grappling a difficult legacy. Our society was built by the blood and sweat of slaves, on land previously occupied by Native Americans. When we won independence, only white male property owners were fully enfranchised. Enslaved peoples were not fully counted under the constitution. Married women had no legal identity.
Immigrants, particularly from Ireland, southern Europe, and Asia faced open hostility. Catholic Churches were vandalized. Nearly 1000 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany were turned away in Miami harbor. Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and into internment camps.
We have a proud heritage of noble ideals, but we have often failed to live up to them. We have emphasized our differences, not to celebrate the rich tapestry of life they create, but to divide ourselves into “us” and “them.”
In the last 250 years, our society has moved in meaningful ways toward equal participation. Slavery is illegal. Women can own property. People of different races can marry. We still face the consequences of generations of discrimination, but most of us find we have opportunities our grandparents did not.
The LGBTQ+ community is the most recent to demand an end to discrimination. Awareness is increasing, but many people still have little information, or have misinformation, about the diversity of human sexuality and sexual identity.
Three years ago, a high school friend shocked me when she revealed that she was, in fact, a trans woman. I wonder how many other people I’ve met and cherished have felt compelled to hide something so important. We know that suicide attempts in the LGBTQ+ community are higher than in the general population, particularly for young people who are bullied in their communities or rejected at home. LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to be victimized by violent crimes.
I often think of the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats.” It reminds me that working to improve my neighbor’s wellbeing makes my own more secure. This is especially true for the neighbors who don’t look like me, who don’t pray like me, who don’t vote like me, who don’t love like me. If their rights are threatened, it is only a matter of time before mine are, as well.
We can all look back in our family trees and find someone who faced discrimination for their race, religion, or class. And of course, we all have mothers and grandmothers! Let’s remember those struggles and extend compassion. We are more alike than we are different.
Debra Johnston, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPB most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.