Every marginalized group in America seems to be getting their turn to be the punching bag for the angst of the MAGA hat brigade lately. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. There was the Muslim ban back in 2017. Brown people are being rounded up and interned at the southern border. The president still thinks Nazis are very fine people. Trans people get killed on a regular basis and the Trump team has been slowly and quietly removing protections for LGBTQ+ folks from federal regulations. Reproductive healthcare is under a constant attack at the state level. And now we have a disturbing uptick in anti-Semitic violence.
There was a good piece in Forward about how Jewish people are not the ones who can cure anti-Semitism. It’s the anti-Semites who need to be fixed. That is a lesson for all kinds of prejudice and opression: the problem is not with the oppressed.
Chris Rock probably expressed this the best in a 2014 interveiw he did with Frank Rich at New York magazine when he pointed out that progress for Black people isn’t about Black people getting better; it’s about white people getting less bad:
So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
So are you ready to be a nicer white person?
There is nothing that groups of Black people, Jewish people, LGBTQ+ people, women, Muslim people, LatinX people and all the other groups of “other” people in America are actually doing wrong. Every person you meet is just getting through their day and trying to be healthy, safe, and reasonably happy as they do it. That’s the closest thing to leading a blameless life anyone can do and living a life like that is perfectly fine. It’s certainly not something that should attract ill treatment from the government or individuals, right?
But it does attract ill treatment, which we see in headlines every day. People are sad and scared and angry that they’re being oppressed.
Then pundits wring their hands about how we will every reconcile the divides in our society as if both sides of the divide have equal responsibility for what’s going on here. That’s not how it is. The people being marginalized aren’t at fault here and they shouldn’t be expected to clean up this mess. It’s all on the oppressors to fix themselves. They’re the ones being giant dicks.
If we want to fix structures of oppression, those of us living at the top of the privilege pile need to lead the charge in making it better because we are the ones who made it bad in the first place – or at least let it get bad through inattention or apathy. Now we need to shed that inattention and apathy and do the right thing by our friends and neighbors. It’s time to do what we can in the spaces where we live and work.
We’re the ones who should shush up white men talking over women and people of color at work. We’re the ones who should agitate for transparent pay policies in the workplace and make sure all our colleagues are being compensated fairly. We’re the ones who should prioritize businesses that treat their workers well. We’re the ones who should show and and ally with marginalized groups when local governments make housing, transportation, and education policy changes. We’re the ones who have to call out the entrenched racism and sexism and all the other bigotries that plague our communities.
It has to be us who stop doing it because we’re the ones doing it in the first place. That’s not a comfortable truth, but its’a truth nonetheless.