There is a contingent of the freethinking community, and I have no idea how large it is statistically, but a contingent nonetheless that believe the conversation about social justice lies well outside the list of things we should be talking about. Science, religion, skepticism – these are clearly part of the relevant topics for us to discuss. Why do people believe crazy things? How do we get them to stop? What is the evidence? Other things like racism, feminism, sexual expression and identity issues – these sorts of crazy beliefs and evidence are obviously not relevant to our group. These folks rankle and agitate any time any of these subjects are even broached, replete with admonishments to focus on the ‘real issues’, and to claim that people are ‘overreacting’.
Of course, anyone who honestly agrees with any of that is hereby invited to fuck right off.
Now my self-inclusion into the feminist argument could rightly be described in terms of rational self-interest, but aside from highfalutin arguments about ‘making the world a better place’ and whatnot, my existence in this discussion is pretty much entirely voluntary. At any point I could, theoretically, decide to stop talking about issues of sexism and patriarchy and retreat back into my cloud of male privilege. After all, I’m never going to have to deal with the consequences of ignoring my privilege – that’s why it’s a privilege. The fact that I don’t leave the conversation is because a) I think it’s important and interesting, b) I think I can be helpful, and c) if I (and those like me) don’t help, progress won’t get made.
See, that’s the other part of these fights that doesn’t seem to get much press. Privileged folks can ‘opt in’ to the discussion if they want. Those lacking privilege simply can’t opt out:
ABC’s 20/20 put 20 of the “blackest” and “whitest” (as determined by D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s book,Freakonomics) male and female names to the test, posting identical résumés with different names at the top. Guess which ones got ignored? OK, that wasn’t a hard question.
Those with the white-sounding names were actually downloaded 17 percent more often by job recruiters than the résumés with black-sounding names, according to ABC News. Sad (and probably dumb on the part of those doing the hiring, considering that they’re passing over people with qualifications that meet their needs), but not really surprising.
Job applicants with the ‘wrong’ kind of name don’t have the option to live outside of a racist system. Those with the ‘right’ kind of name can choose whether or not they care about that fact.
And even though it is technically possible to ‘opt out’ by acquiescing to the racist ideology underpinning this discrepancy and changing your name, there are some things that, no matter what you do, you can’t change:
Nineteen-year-old Kendrec McDade was shot at point-blank range by one Pasadena police officer and handcuffed after being struck by a total of seven bullets, according to the autopsy report released Friday by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. McDade, of Azusa, was killed when Pasadena officers Jeff Newlen and Mathew Griffin responded to a report of an armed robbery at a taco truck in northwest Pasadena. One of the officers pursued him on foot and the other from his police cruiser.
The first officer who fired did so while seated in the patrol car as McDade approached with his hand at his waistband. McDade and the officer were “within a foot” of each other, according to the autopsy report. After he was shot, authorities determined McDade was unarmed and that the theft victim, Oscar Carrillo, had lied about his assailants having weapons in order to get a quicker response from police.
Kendrec McDade – an unarmed kid who, for all appearances, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, was murdered by police officers. He didn’t have the option to exchange skins into something that would be perceived as less threatening to the responding officers. At no point was he consulted about whether or not he would like to be seen as a scary thug instead of a teenager.
Tamon Robinson couldn’t opt out either:
Tamon worked in as a barista at the Connecticut Muffin café on Lafayette Avenue in Fort Green, Brooklyn. On the side, he collected bricks, stones and other discarded building materials and sold them for scrap. Around 5:30 a.m., on the way to his car that morning, Tamon stopped to collect some old paving stones that the Seaview Houses were throwing away. He had permission from the building’s management to take them.
Officers in a patrol car spotted him and assumed he was stealing. When two officers began chasing him, Tamon ran toward the building where he had, until recently, lived with his mother. He had moved into his own apartment, but still had a key and stopped by to visit her every day.
He was barely 100 yards away from the entrance when a third officer drove a police cruiser onto the sidewalk and ran him down. A witness reported seeing Tamon fly up into the air and then land on the ground. Officers were overheard telling him to get up before picking him up and throwing the unconscious man onto the hood of the car. When they realized he was not responding, they finally called emergency medical services.
What people seem to struggle to grasp is that there is no “right way” to be if you would like to opt out. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how employed or educated you are, if there’s anything about you that seems ‘too black’, you’re signed up for treatment that ranges from patronizing to deadly. There’s no way to escape that.
This is why we need lots of people to be having this conversation – it’s a voluntary exercise for those who aren’t directly affected by it, and the second we grant the legitimacy of the assertion that there are “better” things to talk about (i.e., those things that do affect the majority group directly), the sooner we will be forgotten and abandoned when the topic gets tough enough to force people to retreat. We need more people to ‘opt in’, because the consequences of not being able to ‘opt out’ are serious.
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