Screens and masks

During a Zoom meeting this week someone commented on the virtual background I had chosen. It prompted me to think about what we show and what we hide. Some choose not to use video during these meetings and instead an initial,  name or symbol appears on the screen to represent them.  Those who join by telephone have that symbol on their screen. Sometimes there is a blank screen. And what of those who choose not to join the meeting or who cannot because they do not have the equipment or ability to do so? 

 My virtual background is there to hide the state of my study shelves, which, though arranged as I  want them, do not look particularly organised or tidy! Some have asked if virtual images are appropriate to a meeting for worship, as perhaps drinking coffee or tea (or anything else for that matter) might be frowned upon. 

The choice of screen is perhaps akin to the choice of masks that we might wear. Here I am talking both literally and metaphorically. In these COVID-19 days, the wearing of  masks is much more common, and some make a statement by the colour or pattern or message they display. But of course sociologists and psychologists are aware that we all put on masks in everyday life. Our faces can reveal or hide our thoughts and feelings, so we carefully compose them to show what we choose. Having a ‘poker face’ for example could be regarded as an asset by some. For others the mere raising of eyebrows can speak volumes!

What I think disturbs me most, is how we might forget those who do not appear on our screens, those whom we do not see, or even choose not to see. The Black Lives Matter movement is the latest prompt to make us think about whom meet, who are our friends, and who it is that we hardly ever see, or even consciously avoid. 

In my normal routine week by week I rarely see a wide variety of people of different ethnic origin. Most people I interact with are of my age and generation. It is a delight when there are children playing in the street as there often are on a Friday evening when next door welcomes more of the extended family. I value my brief conversation with Mohammed, in the local corner shop. I see a few people,of colour walking along the streets of my town, and I know one person well who is a wheelchair user. But I  am aware of the small range of people I meet. How can I learn what my prejudices are,  become more aware of my colour-blindness, have my racist tendencies exposed, and know how privileged I am, so I can change? How can I be challenged about my attitudes which reflect my upbringing in a male dominated society and a colonial culture? 

Is there an invisible protective screen around me, which needs to be removed so I can meet with all kinds of people and learn from them and enjoy their company? I do not want to project a false image, or wear a fake mask, but to be open and welcoming, even when it proves uncomfortable. 

PS. After writing this blog I read these words. They are Quotes from a’Toolkit for Action Owning power and privilege’ see

… we all live within an unfair system, and it’s easy to overlook exclusion and the impact of power dynamics in our own events and lives. Unless we challenge ourselves, we risk replicating injustice by default. That’s because some inequalities have become normal – we’ve adapted to them, making them hard to ‘see’. And yet inequality is a human problem with human solutions. To make equality a reality, we must choose different ways of being…

Power and privilege are uncomfortable to explore, particularly if a critique relates to one’s own advantages. It would be strange not to feel challenged when working on issues that confront how we feel about ourselves and how we behave towards others. This discomfort can be transformative. Shame and guilt, when handled with self-compassion, can be healed and replaced with healthy and positive feelings – of solidarity, of family, and of love.

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