One of Upton Sinclair’s best quotes is
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
We see this today with climate-change deniers who feel that their identity is so closely bound with ways of being in the world that are fundamentally destructive to nature/sustainability that they can’t begin to acknowledge what’s going on all around us because it is threatening to their immediate sense of who they are. Vested interests have deeply deluded many of these people into believing that stewarding the world requires them to be someone different from who they are, rather than opening themselves up to be more fully human and part of the bigger picture.
Willful ignorance of systemic inequities (white privilege, etc.) sometimes has a similar cast of mind — if you fear, deep down, that your unearned benefits are the backbone of your life, that you are what you are mostly due to a rigged system, then your sense of self will be pretty resistant to recognizing the way things are. It’s sort of the photographic negative of MLK jr.’s insistence, inspired by Martin Buber, that I cannot be fully myself if you are prevented from being fully yourself. The fear worries that to admit that some Americans have been unfairly held down is to also admit that other Americans have been unfairly boosted up.
This is why it pains me to see MLK held up as “just” a black leader or fighting “merely” for black rights — he was trying to liberate us all.