The Privilege of Not Having to Care
When I’m back in small town North Carolina — which I currently am for doctors appointments and whatnot — I am without a doubt the most liberal person within a 15-mile radius. Ok, fine, I don’t know this for a fact, but I’d be willing to put that claim to the test any day. There a democrats around, but I’m the lone, outcasted progressive. If I’m here long enough, admittedly, people succeed in making me feel crazy.
It doesn’t help that I’m quick to respond to things like “Give Trump a chance,” “Well, if they aren’t more violent than us, how come more of them are in prison? + [insert casual slur],” or “[insert homophobic thing I learned at church today].” And of course, I end up looking like the bad guy because these are generally nice people who are very good at playing victim when someone calls them out.
It is the “white Christian men are the most persecuted group in America right now” type of people, and statements like that one are maybe things I shouldn’t dignify with a response — a response that’s often ineloquent because the claim is so outlandish. There are so many things I can say to the contrary, and they all end up coming out in a big, jumbled mess. It also doesn’t help that they don’t take people like me — still wet-behind-the-ear liberals — seriously. (Brainwashed from university, going through a rebellious phase, and all that jazz.)
Anyway, all this to say, while I do like a good debate, I tend to feel like the only one fighting in the corner of even believing social injustice is real, so I’m fairly outspoken, especially in the face of egregiously explicit bigotry.
Naturally, the people around me often (condescendingly) ask, “Why do you care? It’s not like you’re a minority or a lesbian or anything. Or do you have something to tell us?” HAHA SO FUNNY WOW.
That’s when I realize that I do choose to pay attention. I care about these things, and I don’t say this arrogantly, because I see how it harms other people. I choose listen to people who have had vastly different experiences of this country than me.
People think I’m pretentious because of this since, well, reading and giving complicated subjects their due complexity is pretentious. The ability to simplify things like, you know, the disgustingly disproportionate incarceration of Black men is in and of itself an indicator of privilege. As I’ve said before, people with privilege are terrified of the notion that bad things can befall them for no reason. It has to be the sole result of bad decisions, right??? (Wrong.)
I often feel like I’m speaking for marginalized group of which I’m not a part. I hate that, but when I’m the only one around, I don’t know what else to do. I digress.
The people who wonder why I care know what I know: the Trump administration won’t affect a middle class, white woman that much, if at all, especially not with the current ineptitude it’s exhibiting. If I didn’t pay attention, my life wouldn’t change. In fact, I’d probably be happier.
Don’t hear me incorrectly. I’m no martyr. Sometimes I pay attention just because I’m a newshound who watches and reads fake news for sport. Other times, I pay attention and listen because I’m a human who, like, feels empathy for other humans.
While I do think it’s important to step back from current events in the name of self-care, that’s a different issue than the ability to tune in and out — to oscillate between outrage and apathy or to simply choose apathy — because of privilege.
There’s also privilege in experiencing the information I do take in in a non-visceral way. I can sit around, discuss it, and mull over it because, for the privileged, philosophizing about the Trump administration and all it vindicates can become a purely academic exercise if we aren’t careful. This, I admit, probably does come across as pretentious even though this isn’t my intention.
There isn’t much difference between me ruminating on injustice and the people around me who choose to pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s easy to study. It’s easy to argue. It’s difficult to act. Raising awareness isn’t an end in itself.
The line separating anger that fuels action and anger that fuels dissension is blurry, and I frequently find myself on the wrong side because I’m afforded the privilege to take the easy way out.
So there are two types of not caring: Apathy by ignoring information and apathy by disconnecting information from its real world manifestations. (Horseshoe Theory rears its ugly head again.) It’s no wonder the arguments between my ideological opponents and me are largely circular.
There is a point of divergence, however. People ask me to hold their bigoted views in the same esteem as I do non-bigoted views out of warped notions of respect, tolerance, and intellectual honesty. That’s where I see a more insidious type of “not caring” layered onto the apathy induced by not being affected by bigoted, greedy politicians.
Ignorance and willful ignorance are not the same thing. To not know something because of lack of information or experience but possessing a willingness to learn is great; it’s how awareness and hopefully action is born. To have some notion of the harm certain viewpoints cause when enacted into law yet a determination to pretend this harm doesn’t exist is indefensible. But it’s easy, and it assures that the institutions perpetuating the current hierarchy of privilege remain intact.
This is how thinking the white Christian male is the most oppressed of all people groups in America comes into being. It’s more comfortable to interpret the loss of privilege as oppression than as simply leveling a historically and severely uneven playing field. But this type of comfort is dangerous.
Retreating into a depoliticized or academic bubble during this political climate would not be possible without privilege.
It’s time to recognize our complicity. And no, not that type of complicity.