Politics and Privilege

Featured image: Photo by LOGAN WEAVER from Unsplash. Edited in Affinity Designer. Audio: recorded with Voice Recorder by quality apps, edited in Audacity.

4 for Now

(Long Edition: About a 6 minute read)

If you need a refresher on privilege before getting into this, check out How Privileged Are We?

I admit, I’m one of those privileged white folks who, until last year, barely even paid attention to politics, let alone cared enough to say or do something about it. I bought into the power-stripping rhetoric that one person can’t change anything, that you had to vote to be a good citizen, and that settling for the “lesser of two evils” was the pinnacle of patriotism. 2020 busted the dam holding back my give-a-damn. And things have only gotten worse.

Many people are saying they’re surprised by what happened at the Capitol Building. I won’t shame anyone for their surprise. The surprise is a symptom of something larger: they haven’t been paying attention (or they’re listening to propaganda rather than fact, but that’s a whole other can of worms).

The problem with not paying attention to politics (for whatever reason) is that you’re essentially telling the people in your life, “This doesn’t affect me and I don’t care how it affects you.”

A lot of folks—Black, Brown, Indigenous, disabled, LGBTQIA2S+, and more—don’t have the option of ignoring or not caring. For many people, how politics plays out is a life or death situation. If you’re more concerned with avoiding unpleasant conversations than you are about someone losing their autonomy or their life, I urge to you examine why that is.

As a white person whose disabilities are accepted (I wear glasses) or hidden (like my depression), I’ve faced relatively little risk by letting politics play out. What I’ve realized and accepted is that, as Desmond Tutu has said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Risk Can Lead to Reward

It may feel risky positioning yourself on issues that may not seem to affect you directly, like gun control, drug price regulations, and immigration. But as Delaney Halloran alludes in The Spectrum, anyone could lose a family member in a shooting, you may have friends who would die if they couldn’t afford their medication, and do I need to remind you about the kids in cages? You don’t need to be related to a child to be heartbroken they’re being treated this way. (Feel free to Google “adverse childhood experiences” to see how it affects them growing up.)

You don’t have to get into political conversations if you’re not comfortable with that, but to quote Meaghan Stout in her opinion piece for Doane Line, “Being informed is the only way to protect the people around you and you should strive to do so even if it will have little impact on you.”

Allies, Accomplices, Decent Human Beings …

Whatever term you prefer, underprivileged folks need more of them. More people pressuring our supposed representatives means more power to create change. (Remember, we’re up against rich corporations. We need to be on board.)

Plus, underprivileged folks and their accomplices are fighting for things that benefit us all. You don’t have to agree with someone on everything to help them fight for one thing you both agree on.

Is it stressful? Yes. Is it exhausting? Yes. But to give up because it’s hard is a privilege and just plain cruel. Black folks can’t just stop being Black because it’s dangerous to be Black in the United States. Paraplegic folks aren’t going to just get up and walk because a place isn’t wheelchair accessible. And they’ve been persisting for decades. Centuries.

Not only is sitting out a privilege, it further harms the folks we’re giving up on. Dana Brownlee writes “Many civil rights commentators argue that the broader tragedy … is the reminder that the Amy Coopers of the world aren’t unicorns. They’re around us everywhere – our doctors, judges, politicians, teachers, little league coaches, workplace colleagues, and bosses. So while this time of unrest will certainly pass, racial injustices will remain.”

White, cishet, abled folks have an enormous amount of privilege in this country.

Most of us haven’t asked for it or even want it. But none of us should squander it or worse, use it to advance the oppression of folks with less or no privilege.

If you’re still convinced that not being political is merely a personal choice and not a privilege, please look at why you feel that way. Examine what access you have that not everyone has (and this goes way beyond race, gender, and religion).

You don’t have to become the next viral pundit, but taking a stance and defending your beliefs is one of the few original principles of the U.S. I endorse. (Caveat: I may endorse certain principles, but I don’t endorse the stances or actions many of the “founding fathers” took, in case that wasn’t clear.)

And remember, privilege isn’t your fault, but it’s your responsibility to use it justly.


4 for Later

  1. Your Privilege is Showing by Delaney Halloran (8-minute read)
  2. Opinion: The necessity of choosing sides, not neutrality by Meaghan Stout [This page no longer exists. Sorry.]
  3. Dear White People: Here Are 10 Actions You Can Take To Promote Racial Justice In The Workplace by Dana Brownlee (15-minute read)
  4. 7 Undeniable Reasons Why Claiming You’re ‘Not Political’ Makes No Sense by Jon Greenberg (12-minute read). Includes several resource links at the end.
  5. Bonus: Performative Allyship is Deadly by Holiday Phillips (7-min read). There’s a danger of stopping at *just* speaking up. (My apologies if you’ve hit your three free Medium reads this month. There’s an image slideshow version on her Instagram.)