Privilege of Ignorance

Nothing I write hasn’t been said before by someone else, yet not saying it feels like an abdication of responsibility.

It is easy to hate Nazis. It is perhaps the lowest moral bar a leader in our country must clear. Many people should and have made much of our president’s failure to clear that bar. My concern however is with the rest of us who are disturbed by the events in Charlottesville.

I am terrified that we will consider clearing that dirt high bar sufficient. That tweeting “fuck Nazis” counts as resisting. That we will all collectively clutch our pearls at the videos of twenty something white men screaming “Jews will not replace us” and wonder how we got here. Because the only people wondering how we got here are those privileged enough to not see the million little inequalities which built us to this point.

There is a popular saying that the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice. It is a hopeful saying, but I believe a false one. History is not a narrative. It does not bend towards anything. If society has moved towards something considered fair and just then it is by the collective decisions and effort of people, not some law of the universe. And the belief that we can sit back and things will just get better is a privileged perch. Ignoring these problems until they force their way into our consciousness, condemning the ‘bad people,’ and then returning to our lives doesn’t cut it. Because the white supremacists didn’t come from nowhere. Neo Nazi groups do not spring out of the ground fully formed. They come from a society which has decided in a million little ways and decisions that they are right.

For most of my life I have enjoyed the privilege of not seeing racism, misogyny, and oppression. And I continue to enjoy the option to just not pay attention. I can ‘not feed the trolls’ and live without fear. Charlottesville doesn’t touch me directly except through news reports and my twitter feed. But tweeting my displeasure that the casual racism in society has become loud enough to make me uncomfortable is so blatantly insufficient. Our society fundamentally, structurally values some human lives more than others. Knowing that and doing nothing is to accept it. It is to say that it’s ok. It’s to accept that unarmed black men are shot for wearing hoodies, that white supremacists feel no fear chanting Nazi slogans, and the most important thing women learn at college is where not to walk at night. I am not ok with that.

The worst part is that I don’t even know where to begin helping solve any part of this. I am bad at being an ally. All of my instincts come from a privileged position which deeply needs to protect my own ego. The best plan I have at the moment involves three steps.

  1. Shut up
  2. Listen to other people’s stories
  3. Believe what they tell you

Step three is harder than it sounds (step one isn’t easy either). It’s not a lot of action, but it’s a start. And it feels a hell of a lot better than doing nothing.

If you aren’t sure what stories to listen to first, an interview with the student leaders counter protesting in Charlottesville isn’t bad.

And if you’re wondering what the alt right was up to before Trump ran for president.

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