What stops reasonable, good-hearted people from caring about injustice and social unrest?

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Disclaimer: I realize that candidly discussing what limits our ability to care about social justice risks offending someone. You may read my thoughts below and think I’m grossly misinformed and misguided. You may think I’m oversimplifying, missing key points or “missing the boat” completely. I understand that and will admit that this list is far from complete. It’s just a start. Feel free to send this around with comments about your thoughts or even how wrong you think I got it. Either way, let’s start talking about why we don’t care about each other. If I’ve gotten it wrong here (and I might have) I want you to correct me because it’s important that I get it right.

Since you decided to read this post, I’m going to make the assumption that you are a “reasonable, good-hearted” person. I don’t need to know your gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, racial nor economic status. All I need to know is that you are an intelligent human being capable of understanding social complexity and feeling compassion.

When discussing injustice there are two points of view – the oppressed minority and the privileged majority. You will likely find yourself moving between categories depending on the issue. For example, if the topic is racial injustice I’m in the oppressed minority but if it is sexual orientation discrimination then I’m in the privileged majority. No matter the issue, you probably prefer to discuss it with those in the same category as you. They likely share your opinions and around the same level of interest (i.e. is this consuming your world, a major issue to keep track of or simply a passing news story.) You many not want to discuss the issue at all. If you are in the oppressed majority, you have little choice but to take notice of topics that directly affect your life. But if you happen to be in the privileged majority, you have options – care a lot, care a little, don’t care at all. I’m hoping to define the factors that play into that decision?

What limits you from caring about injustice and social unrest when you’re in the privileged majority?

  • You may be embarrassed by your ignorance and unconscious bias. You may avoid topics about an oppressed minority because you’ve never cared enough to learn much about them. You’re afraid that you will accidently say the wrong thing or express an opinion that opens you up to critique and embarrassment. But here’s the thing, the oppressed minority doesn’t expect you to know much about them. Yes, they would like it if you knew more than stereotypes and characters’. They would also like it if you cared more, but it is definitely NOT an expectation. Your assumption that the oppressed minority expects you to know more about them comes from your own experience of being in the privileged majority. In the privileged majority, your experience is the standard that everyone has to learn. Minority groups don’t expect that. If you’re talking to a “reasonable, good-hearted” person in a minority group they would much rather engage with you in an ill-informed discussion that highlights your unconscious bias than to assume you don’t care about the impact injustice has on their life.
  • You don’t want to create conflict within yourself. You walk a delicate balance between privately supporting social justice and not getting so emotionally drawn in that you can’t fight the urge of making your belief more public. You know that publicly supporting the oppressed minority could create tension with the subtle and not so subtle bigots you like and love. They might be your family members or your church members (yes, unfortunately there are church-going bigots) or the people you work with. They don’t know what you support in private, but you are careful not to get too informed or too emotionally drawn in because it may mean that you have less tolerance to ignore the comments and views of the bigots around you. It may get harder to fully believe the reasons why injustice is really the victim’s fault.
  • You can’t decide which issues (and how much) you have mental energy for. You have significant problems of your own. Perhaps there is another category for which you are already an oppressed minority and you’re dealing with that struggle. Perhaps you have life circumstances (illness, grief, heart ache, failure, etc) that are consuming your every waking thought. Perhaps you just have a calendar terribly packed full of stressful work and family obligations. It’s probably too selfish to say publicly, but you have enough on your plate to add someone’s injustice. You have a hard enough time being grateful amidst your daily struggles, you don’t want to add any additional negative news nor tough conversations. You wished you cared more about injustice because clearly the oppressed minority is in a some sort of pain, but its easier to make a joke here or there and mostly ignore it. You don’t have the time to question whether it’s worth more time. You don’t have the time to debate your obligation to humanity or your faith. You don’t have the time to ask yourself what kind of life or legacy you want to leave. You’re a “reasonable, good hearted” person but you don’t have the time for justice.

What else should be on this list? What did I get wrong?