“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”
Amazing how poignant a movie line is, both in the past and today.
This post is about a variety of things: respectability politics, oppression olympics, ‘reverse racism’, and most importantly, our system of privileges. Many of these hot button topics are tools in our present society by various individuals which aim to place the blame on easy victims. In respectability politics, the victim is the social pariah, whether she is a member of ‘gangster culture’ or he doesn’t fit into his racial stereotype. Oppression Olympics occurs when communities lambaste people for worrying about one problem when drastically worse issues are at hand in our society. ‘Reverse Racism, is definitely an better known term, but hasn’t fully let our consciousness. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out here.
These techniques show a disturbing a reality: we continue live in an era where people in our country live in literally different worlds. This isn’t a new idea; however, the particularly dangerous part about that issue is how invisible the barrier is. Many of the issues I stated are either argued as the main problems of our society, instead of a symptom of the much larger inequities. It’s almost as if the individuals are fighting an invisible battle. And how can you expect to win a war that some people don’t even acknowledge exists?
But it is, indeed, a war, with unnecessary casualties. The most recent example was Johnathan Ferrell, the FAMU graduate who was gunned down by the police while looking for help with his car accident. To my appreciation, and personal chagrin, most of my thoughts about Johnathan Ferrell were about him while I was still working on rough drafts.
I’ll take the liberty of using this harrowing example as a point of synthesis of all three of these tools of deflection.
- Respectability politics didn’t save Johnathan; he did everything society told him he should to succeed, and he was still slain.
- Oppression olympians might argue America, again, has the wrong focus: why talk about a single issue in North Carolina when thousands of people die in Syria because of a sarin gas attack? Because of course, if they use it on their own people, what are the chances gas would be used on American soil?
- Advocates for reverse racism argue for a system that no longer exists. Why are people worried about the deaths of a few black boys at the hands of a few white men, instead of worrying about the ‘black-on-black’ deaths in Chicago, or the deaths in Newtown, at the Navy Yard, or in Aurora, Colorado, or gun control, or the environment, or the sequester, or…
These issues have something critical in common: they all detract from the real issue: the system in which we live, breathe, and invisibly stifles us. As an amateur philosopher, my first instinct is to critique the detractor’s particular points, and tell them why they don’t make sense, I say grief isn’t a zero-sum game, and we can be concerned with multiple issues all at the same time. I say race-based issues categorically place non-white races at the bottom of the systematic ladder. I say a lot of things, but many of them fall upon deaf ears. And even if what I say hits home, it doesn’t keep the other person from waltzing back past the invisible wall back into their own world, so they don’t have to deal with these issues. In these situations, I’ve explained myself blue, CONSTANTLY.
We need more methods than just individual debate. Fortunately, our world gives us examples. Jane Elliott, for one, has been actively running experiments which expose whites to superficial, but still debasing, racist attitudes since the late 1960’s. She’s run it for decades, and the experience is rightfully harrowing for everyone involved.
However, you don’t need to drop your current path and spend the next forty years deconstructing racism to make an impact. Joy DeGruy explains how a friend effectively uses her privilege to combat racism in a supermarket.
In fact, you don’t have to be older to make a difference. Two of my favorite examples are YouTube videographers Laci Green and ChescaLeigh, Check out their videos when you get a chance.
You know what? You don’t have to be a Youtube celebrity! Getting started doesn’t take much work. All you need to do is:
- Start with a Beginner’s mindset.
- Keep your ears and your mind open.
- open questions to the community. Assume a Beginner’s Mindset.
- Aim to learn, and not to defend or fight their words.
- Stay aware of ALL of your privileges. This is probably the hardest part, but worth the work.
Members of these communities are clearly victims of systems, rather than creators of systematic problems. Why not listen to what they have to say?
Unfortunately, unlike the Matrix, unplugging from the system is a lifelong exercise, However, it will give you more satisfaction than a trilogy ever will.