A word about Social Justice
July 10, 2020
The issue of independence continues beyond July 4. Many people on this continent continued to live under tyranny after that Independence was declared. Some had lived here for generations when the colonizers arrived. Others had been torn from their homes and dragged here forcibly. Where is their independence from tyranny? Are any of their names "officially" associated with this holiday?
Let's be clear. The current federal executive branch administration is actively pushing to maintain race-based disenfranchisement and divisiveness. Some would say they're inciting a race war. They understand that fomenting social unrest and enmity between groups allows them to make sweeping proclamations and take actions that somehow purport to resolve the crisis. Maintaining this real or imagined chaos allows them to erode our agency and rights, all of us, not just one race or interest group. Listen to the president's speeches carefully and critically, if you can stomach them. In every defensive, overheated, whiny hissy fit, the president implores us to disregard history, science, facts, and the Constitution of the United States, and to find a local enemy or scapegoat for our troubles, while those in power continue to amass fortunes and influence built on deception, coercion, and the residual socioeconomic structure of the institution of slavery. The more people resist the stasis, injustice, and lies, the more they try to frame us as violent anarchists and criminals. This is the psychological definition of projection, and it's coming down from the White House every day.
This little bike shop stands in opposition to socially divisive speech and behavior. Interrupting the momentum behind vilification of the "other" requires constant vigilance. No one is immune to bias or free of the responsibility to upset the old order. We all need to see each other as parts of the same, not the same old parts. It should go without mentioning that, biologically speaking, race does not exist. It is entirely a social construct, be it intentional or unconscious, native or acquired. Regardless of its origin, maintaining agendas keeping us separated by skin color, ethnicity, or whatever biologically irrelevant issue you choose, has consumed incalculable amounts of time and energy, and has resulted in more murder, intimidation, and suppression than perhaps any other human characteristic. If racial disparities are to end, and if we're to graduate to a post-racial society, should we seek to reallocate resources to all equally, or do we attempt to reprogram subsequent generations to disregard what was once called race? One feels like a policy and legislative nightmare, and the other a psychological high-wire act. How do we proceed, and must we?
Furthermore, how much can a tiny business like this one contribute to resolving these entrenched issues and the persistence of white supremacy in America? As much as any single entity can. The ability to change society relies on the components of society changing. We are all members of society, individuals comprising a group. Start seeing every person you encounter as someone just like you. Try it as a little exercise, something fun to do with your mind as you go through your day. Take note of how difficult it is. Is everyone else just like you? We breathe, we work, we have families and friends, we like this or that food, we enjoy this or that book or TV show. We're shaped by our environments, both physical and social. If, in every generation, we're each surrounded by aggression or aversion toward certain groups of people, we're likely eventually to fall in line and act the same way. That cycle needs to be broken, but can it be?
Securing independence and liberty for everyone is a constant effort. It's time to stop threatening, endangering, and punishing the people who have fewer resources to avoid harm and to find safety or equitable treatment in our midst.
It is clear that, today, when white people post manifestos like this, or place Black Lives Matter posters in the window, or attend racial justice protests, it is a reaction to the currency of the racial injustice issue. It's a groundswell that legitimizes our expression of public outrage. It's a bandwagon we're expected to get on, and it feels like a litmus test for membership in "polite society," where it's becoming unusual not to recite the mantra, not to declare your alliance.
Criticizing this rush to get on the wave does not diminish the importance of the issue, but it starkly highlights that among non-Black, non-brown, non-people of color, wearing these politics on your sleeve is, in itself, a racist act. White people are choosing to speak up now because we aren't Black, not because we're colorblind. We're acting on our social station, not because race has ceased to exist. This is not a Black-owned business. If it were, this essay would ring with more dissonance. Within our society's unbalanced access to politico-social resources, the act of declaring it's time to end racial privilege is, in itself, an act of racial privilege. We have to ask ourselves, if the issue is so important why haven't all we non-people of color been doing this for decades? Before we witnessed these most recent racial atrocities, complacency, apparently, felt okay to us. Maybe we talked among ourselves about injustice, but few white people were protesting, few were standing up, few were taking a knee.
Demanding racial justice from a position of racial privilege is confusing. It feels like, if the push for justice fizzles out, some of us won't care, or at least we won't act like it. Who is willing to carry the momentum? Who will be affected if we give up? Who will keep marching, keeping the issue at the forefront? How many of us see this as a national identity issue at the core of our constitutional democracy? Most of us will eventually take the BLM posters out of the window and put the Cubs flag back up, we'll continue living unaffected in our white-majority neighborhoods, we'll lament that our leaders did not actually take the lead to right these wrongs, and we'll sign off with, "oh well, I guess the system ain't woke, it's just broke." That, in theory and in practice, is the definition of racial privilege. We act when it's convenient, and we draw the shutters when the privileged around us stop expecting us to care.
That is not okay. We in positions of privilege must understand it's our own rights, our own safety, our own lives under threat. This is a tricky and nuanced stance to voice correctly because it can so easily be twisted, or even simply misinterpreted, to project the opposite. Any suggestion of upsetting the old order will draw staunch resistance from those who most benefit from keeping things the same. One is reminded of a particular intra-national war that took place nearby about 155 years ago. The sides squared off based on ideology, not over a land grab, not over leadership or loyalty, not over monetary gain. Asking someone to change their beliefs is threatening and invasive, regardless of how "right" or "wrong" those beliefs are. The Confederacy was honest and truthful to its ideology, however gravely morally bankrupt it was. The feelings there are real. Today, as well, we have desperation and impatience in one camp, resistance and insulation in the other. There's "I can't take it anymore" vs. "why don't these people go away." They're almost interchangeable. Teasing out the humane, compassionate, democratic path is tough, really tough, when we're constantly being sold a package of injustice that is, in fact, rhetoric burgled, cut, and pasted from the movement for justice. Gaslighting singes those most careless about the fire.
Who knows which way is up?
It would be nice if every person in this country were fairly represented in our government and fairly treated in greater society.
That's our ongoing Independence Day wish for you.
Oh, and if you made it this far, you should probably go ride your bike. This isn't to lighten the issue or detract from it, but to remind everyone that taking care of all aspects of your being is important. It's also important not to politicize the bicycle, even though bicycle riders generally hold political beliefs. Attributing politics to a thing is treacherous. Things don't have politics; people do. The NRA exists as a means to politicize the gun, and we should not do so with the bicycle. Attempts to fetishize the object draw attention away from an actual issue, encouraging people to reach an easy, if illogical and weak, conclusion. I want to be clear: the bicycle is not a political tool, object, or device. It can be used to political ends, but that's up to the user, not the thing.
Please be as safe as you can, love your people, and again, ride your bike.