When 17+49=9

There's more than one way to make a sandwich

Last month I shared a note with this image attached to it. I really appreciated it because it reminded me of the importance of finding the value in others’ perspectives and experiences, even when ours might be different.

A reader shared an important thought saying:

“The trouble is, some people seem to think 17+49=9 too. How are you supposed to respect that? I can appreciate the ideal behind it, but some people believe things which are demonstrably wrong, even harmful. And do we in the social justice movement not already make a particular effort to point this out? Treating all points-of-view as equally valid is potentially harmful in itself. “

My response was rather lengthy, so I decided to modify it a bit and turn it into its own note.

The comment reminded me of a few things. First being that privileged perspectives are often valued at the expense of the perspectives and worldviews of those who are oppressed. I think of this whenever I hear the quote “Until the lion has it’s historian, the hunter will always be the hero“.

History, and what is deemed as acceptable belief is often defined by those in power.

The stories we believe, from the way we are socialized all have an impact on how we think, and what we do.

Because of this, I agree that some points of view must be challenged more than others, and some must be supported more than others.

I shared this image with people who are marginalized in mind. I shared the image with the understanding that although there are commonly promoted and established definitions of what is deemed acceptable, there are people who think and live differently and are able to achieve happiness or acceptance on their own terms outside dominantly established definitions.

These same folks are marginalized not because what they are doing is wrong, but because they lack power.

So for example, when I hear 6+3=9, but so does 5+4, I think of the dominant belief that Christianity is the superior religion. I think about the people who practice different faiths, or even no faith at all who still find fulfillment and satisfaction in their lives, and who still have a sense of morality that is sustaining to them.

When I hear 6+3=9, but so does 5+4, I think of the dominant belief that two-parent, heterosexual coupled homes are the ideal environments for raising children. I think about single parents, adoptive parents, parents in the LGBTQ community, and other forms of family where people have successfully raised children.

To me, there are so many ways the idea in the picture I shared challenges dominant narratives that support the superiority of some groups of people over others.

When I think about how we believe that some people think 17+49=9, I am reminded of the cycle of socialization and how each of us, even within “the social justice movement” have bought into some belief systems that are problematic; that we have bought into some narratives that have instilled a belief in our own superiority in one way or another, and we too need to unlearn some things in order to get to liberation; for others as well as ourselves.

17+49=9 could come in the form of a self-proclaimed white ally who has not fully investigated their complicity with racism, including their conscious or unconscious complicity. 17+49=9 could be that person silencing a person of color for calling them out, or policing their tone with threats of withdrawing their support because the call out is not being delivered in a way that massages their need to be recognized as a “good person”.

17+49=9 could be a person who is upset about class inequity, but actively perpetuates homophobia or transphobia while calling themselves a social justice advocate.

17+49=9 could be the person who advocates for racial justice, but perpetuates ableism.

Truth be told the 17+49=9 list could go on and on.

I shared this image not as a means to say that some worldviews shouldn’t be challenged more than others, but as a recognition of marginalized voices, and as a recognition that, even those of us who say that we work for social justice, also need to remain mindful that while we may see 17+49=9 in another, there’s someone else who may also see 17+49=9 in our way of thinking as well, depending on our level of privilege and lack of awareness.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW



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Written by

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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1 Response

  1. March 31, 2016

    […] When 17+9=49 […]

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