It occurred to me, during the George Zimmerman trial and after Tamir Rice was killed, that I had no idea if society saw my son as a white kid or a child of color. I decided to weave current events into his history studies, so that he had a modern context. I wanted him to understand injustice from the point of view of the oppressed, so that if he grew up to be seen as a white man with all attendant privileges, he would embrace his responsibility to lend his voice to important social causes and fight for those who would benefit from his privilege.
Attending high school as a brown adolescent from a middle-class working family in a diverse school community, I did not experience privilege. All my life I’ve naturally identified with the oppressed. But I guess I have made the most of my education and professional opportunities, and in early middle age, it would appear that I enjoy lots of privilege now. I know this because I realized after the election that if I do nothing different in my life in the next four years, if I don’t step up and speak out more about the incongruence between the values of our country and my values as an American, my family and I will still feel more insulated than average.
And because I will probably always empathize with the oppressed, standing on the sidelines is not good enough for me.
My working theory is that anyone who is not making changes in how they stand up and speak out feels immune to potential changes because of their privilege.
In other words, if someone is not more active in their community every day since Nov 8, if they are not committed to engaging more actively as a citizen, if they are not ready to fight for the rights of the oppressed, they must feel like they don’t have anything to lose. (Or they genuinely have the luxury of privilege. For now.)
Does that seem harsh or oversimplified?
I can’t help but remember the Niemoller quote after World War II:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Tonight there are rallies going on all over the country, as it is the day of the Electoral College vote. I encourage you to show up for one, and bring a friend who may need some peer pressure to get their head back in the game. We are just a month from inauguration and there’s a lot of work to do.