In the aftermath of the election results that have devastated many, shocked some, and made still others rejoice, I was reminded of “my place” in an America struggling to reconcile its relationship to power. My social media feeds were full of stories of racially charged attacks, as well as stories of intimidation and violence directed at minorities and women. They kept pouring in at lightning speed.
Many non-minorities also rushed to call for their friends to “respect” the votes of those who, in voting for this outcome, cast a vote that emboldened people to carry out the kind of attacks being perpetrated. There were photos, stories, and videos talking about these attacks which caused great pain, and many expressed their rightful anger and fear.
As people cried out in mass despair, others were quick to tell those being attacked to “calm down,” to not feel what they were feeling, to “consider” the perspective of those doing the attacking, and generally dismissing the very real pain of those oppressed.
While I can appreciate the perspective of those calling for unity, it doesn’t escape me those calls were not made with the end goal of eradicating injustice. Instead, they were made with the goal of shutting down difficult conversations, calling for the oppressed to extend an olive branch to the oppressors. Think about that for a minute. If your child were being bullied at school, would you ask your child to befriend the bully, or worse, smile as the bully beat them up? I don’t think you would.
I was reminded time and time again of this quote by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Oppressive words and behavior are a display of injustice. What is “divisive” in situations of oppression is refusing to look bigotry in the eye because it makes you uncomfortable. In closing your eyes and ears to injustice to preserve your own comfort, you are sending the message, loud and clear, that you do not care about “the mouse.”
I’ve attempted to address this online, and found myself exhausted and exasperated. These conversations are lengthy, complex, and a short comment or essay is a woefully inadequate way to unpack these issues. These discussions have to happen, and they have to happen everywhere, in real life and online; I sincerely hope they do, and are productive. For me, though, these conversations take more energy than I have available, and often strip me of the hope of resolution.
I wanted to write a hopeful column that would inspire people to take action, that would stir them to take off the blinders which cover our eyes from childhood, but I just don’t have it in me. Right now, the challenge before us seems insurmountable to me, and hope is in short supply.
If there’s anything I’ve gleaned from this week’s events, it’s that advocacy can be complicated.