Sometimes, we get really caught up in our own concerns. We get really busy fighting the fights of our own tribe, of people like us. We get absorbed in our own life journey. All of this is fine. It’s natural to fight the fights that concern you personally. It’s healthy to take time to center yourself and read things related to your own interests and your own favorite paths of inquiry.
But you can’t remain so narrowly focused (especially if you have any kind of platform where you discuss ideas or policies or activism). You’ve got to be willing to champion causes that don’t directly affect you. You’ve got to be willing to step out of your world and join hands with those from other worlds.
And that’s why I want to talk about something that is deeply bothering me lately. It’s something that a lot of white people, including self-described liberals, don’t lose much sleep over.
It’s the question of whose lives we think are expendable. What tragedies we look at and simply shrug and move on with our lives. What deaths we think deserve 24-hour news coverage for weeks, and what deaths deserve a blurb hidden somewhere in the middle of a newspaper.
My fellow privileged white people, we need to gain an attitude of human solidarity. White feminists, do you hear me? The white feminist community is the perfect example of this total lack of solidarity I’m talking about. We expect women of color to join our movement without gaining anything from us. We expect them to fight the fights we’ve mapped out from a white, middle-class point of view, then accuse them of being whiny, demanding, and emotional when they expect us to also join them in their unique struggles. We take cisgender and heteronormative viewpoints of all of our pet causes, expecting our non-straight, non-cis sisters to just throw themselves under the bus to benefit us. For fucks’ sake, white feminists, you either join with other women — ALL other women — in their struggles or never call yourself a friend to women again.
We know that we have a problem with human solidarity when we get a national discussion on gun control only after white schools in well-to-do areas are shot up, and hear very little about gun control when black teenagers like Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin are shot and killed by white men, or when inner city violence claims lives every single day. And we know we have a problem with human solidarity when people choose to only use the tragic deaths of black teenagers to champion their pet causes, without a single word about the racist, classist assumptions that were made by the men pulling the triggers. When we allow Renisha and Trayvon to become just another death we’ll forget about tomorrow, we make a value statement. We’re saying we think their lives are expendable. That their wrongful deaths don’t deserve outrage.
We know that we have a problem with human solidarity when we allow black women to be used as props in music performances, when we, in a thousand little ways every day, choose to see people of color as less worthy. Because when we act as though a person isn’t worthy of respect, of being treated like a fellow human being, of course they’re going to be at greater risk of being hurt or killed, and of course we will look the other way.
We know that we have a problem with human solidarity when we let libertarian dudes go on and on about how poor and homeless people need to get jobs and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and we refuse to say even one word about how homelessness disproportionately affects gay, bisexual, and/or transgender youth, the mentally ill, and people of color. We try to quibble economics instead of exposing these pontificating libertarians for the compassionless frauds that they are, and in so doing, we ourselves become compassionless frauds.
We know that we have a problem with human solidarity when we ignore the death of a sex worker, and then another, and then another, allowing our leftover Victorian sensibilities to push thousands of women and men into the shadows, where their lives become of no consequence to fellow humans or to the law.
We know that we have a problem with human solidarity when we allow our military to be unquestioningly glorified, treating each military death as a heroic tragedy, and don’t even once think about the families left behind by any of the people killed by our own family members. We don’t understand how “terrorists” can still be fighting against us, and yet we don’t realize that America itself is terrorizing whole nations overseas. We never once put ourselves in the shoes of a Pakistani child whose grandmother was killed by a drone strike.
There are still plenty of people on this planet who fear that they will be stalked, harassed, beaten up, and killed for being who they are, whether they are a person of color, a transgender person, a gay person, a sex worker, a person whose hometown is occupied by United States troops. And as long as we who are in positions of privilege, we who are white, cisgender, heterosexual, whose professions are legal, who are American citizens, continue to be silent, to react in fear and hatred and violence, to implicitly consent rather than reaching out our hands to help those in danger of death, we ourselves are the murderers.
You may, like me, have lived a privileged life. Take off your blinders now. See the gun pointing in so many of your fellow humans’ faces, and join with them in their struggle to live. If you ignore the humanity of others, you might one day find yourself holding that gun in someones face, and you will pull the trigger without a second thought. Because by ignoring others’ humanity, you lose yours.