BY: JACOB HAUNGS
Creator/Curator – The Virtual Agora
I will never pretend to be the end-all-be-all of political knowledge. I know I’m not right, because no one is completely right. Not one person knows the key to every answer, but there are some answers that seem obvious, and some that seem so logical I really don’t understand where the missed connections lie. For instance – and stick with me kids – white privilege. It is increasingly hard for me to fathom how people can’t quite grasp this very simple and very powerful concept. The ease of life should never be blinding. It should be revealing. It should make you curious as to why you’re not part of the horribleness around you. Is it hard work? Is it luck? Is it birth? It’s likely a combination, but there’s a foundation upon which it is built.
There’s an example a teacher of mine showed us one day in class (feel free to tell me the original source). In society, it’s like asking a class – all from their desks – to shoot a ball into the trash bin at the front of the room. If the ball goes in, you get to leave class, and the door of opportunity is opened for you. If not, you can keep trying, but it isn’t until that ball goes in the bin do you have the freedom and access and opportunity to leave. Of course, the people in the front have a better chance of getting it in on the first try. And if not the first, the second. However, those in the back may never make it in. Some will, but many won’t. The bin is further away from them, and thus increasingly harder to reach with each progressing row. We can’t keep putting people in the back of the classroom, and claiming that everything is fine and hard work is all you need just because some from the back have made the ball in the bin. At what point do we, as a society, wake up to the injustices of the back rows? At what point do we realize that the only reason most of us made it to the front row is because we were given it by birth? That because we were born white and born to middle classes, that we somehow were granted a better foundation in life.
Yes, that’s one example, and of course it’s not all encompassing. It doesn’t account for building oneself up, and overcoming the odds. However, it does account for the odds by which we push each other to overcome. It is a simple fact to know that easier odds are easier to beat. There is a video going around on Facebook – which has been going around for some time – of some conservative pundit reaming a “socialist” student for supporting free and/or cheaper higher education. I have seen it mostly, too, shared by people my own age. That’s rather troubling to me. Why is free – or hell, cheap as shit – education such a frightening thing? Why does that threaten the American Dream of hard work and building oneself up? If anything, does that not promote that very dream? Does that not better encourage every citizen to seize the bountiful opportunities this country is meant to offer? Should we not be moving the back rows to the front? Free higher education merely places everyone on a more equal playing field. It allows for the less fortunate to go to college or university. It by no means eliminates the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, CIT – whatever great institution you wish to call upon. It by no means eliminates private schools, or the ability for schools to be selective. It merely offers a solution and an opportunity for everyone else.
Our nation was founded on the principle of the three inalienable rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It may just be me (though I certainly think not), but an equal foundation upon which we as citizens can pursue opportunity is the very idea behind the Pursuit of Happiness (you know, alongside being free of others inhibiting that right, including the Government). Napoleon, as egotistical and inhibited as he was, developed many great programs. Some never quite made it to fruition, including his ideal of universal education. It was his goal that for any given grade, in any given classroom, in any given place in the Empire, each student would be on the same sentence, of the same page, of the same textbook.
Now, there are a number of flaws in that idea, certainly. I’m not here to argue it’s perfect, I’m here to argue its premise. The basic idea that any given person should receive precisely the same education as everyone else around them is the goal we should all aim to achieve. It frightens me that some don’t see it as such. I have to assume it comes down to a sick sense of power. If everyone is on the same playing field, suddenly competition is higher. Suddenly there’s a lesser chance at succeeding. Suddenly this falsely earned power may be out of their hands. People benefit and profit from poverty and lower education rates. And – whether or not it’s subconscious – some people revel in it.
The level of hypocrisy is astounding to me. There is this pledge for the Constitution and this pledge for the American Dream, but only where it fits to a certain group or certain individuals. Think beyond the self, because it will be the only ticket to understanding and success. We, as a country, must recognize the faults, and recognize where institutions have failed our fellow countrymen and women. Why are we saying that education is reserved for people who earn it? Education isn’t a privilege, it’s necessary. I commend the stories of people working their way through college, but why is that the only option? Why can’t we offer every citizen a fair and equal chance at success? Without an educated society, there is no progress. The vast racism, homophobia, xenophobia, faults in our economy, faults in our political system, anger toward the poor, anger toward immigrants, anger toward any one thing or person unlike oneself – it all stems from a lack of proper education. My fantastic public education in my affluent suburb should be the same fantastic public education in the inner city. That same high school student should have the same chance at the same college I went to. Is the idea that if you’re born into a poor, shitty neighborhood you somehow have to earn the right to a reputable education? It isn’t immediately offered to you? Sound logic, guys. Sound.
It doesn’t stop just there, though. It’s not that simple or easy. I once met a woman, who worked as a social worker in Los Angeles. She was telling me about the kids she worked with, and about the conversations she often had with them. One of the kids talked about wanting to become a lawyer, but not at all knowing how to get there. No one in his community could tell him the right path, his didn’t have the resources at school to learn the path, and no one was invested enough in his future is give him the right knowledge to put his best foot forward. Here was a kid – with big dreams – lost in a system who didn’t care for him. Some may argue with me that he had every chance to research for himself, and to figure it out on his own, and if only he worked harder, and if only he worked two jobs to support himself maybe he’d have gotten through school, and gotten himself a law degree. To which I say: easy for you to say. Easy for you, who had the parents, the teachers, and/or the community who supported you. And, if not supported you, showed you examples of success. Showed you how to get to where you wanted to be, and encouraged you to do so. Now look at the kid who was taught to merely survive in life. Make it to tomorrow. Figure out how to make some money somehow. This is beyond race. This is beyond the assumptions of what inner city means, beyond the assumption of what being poor and forgotten is like. This is about the disparity between the classes, and the refusal to see the circumstances across the lines. It’s about never forgetting the kid in the back row of the classroom, trying his damn hardest to make the ball in the bin, so he can walk out of that room and face the opportunities America has promised him. You cannot grab that which is not in front of you. Never forget that.
This cycle of white privilege and this forced and known blindness continues, as it always has been, in the form of systemic racism. Just because racism isn’t as (note: I said “as”) directly vocalized and directly violent (though, let’s be real, it’s still violent and aggressive), doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s exhausting to have to convince people that racism is still a real thing. Exhausting. Angering. Frustrating. Un-fucking-believable. White society and the government far too often places people of color into these categories and these assumptions and these unjust and unfair circumstances. They fault certain economic groups for their own poverty. How? How is this a thing that keeps happening? When does the world wake up to the notion that white society has done most of the damage, and it happened a long time ago, and they’re still in power, and they’re still doing far too little to fix it?
Imperialism across the globe did immeasurable damage to established cultures and nations. It was a system of white and Western societies claiming property on something they never had a right to. It spread to the Americas, and brought slavery to this country. The Civil War happens, and then comes half-assed Reconstruction, and with the absence of legal slavery, suddenly everything is “comfortable.” Far from it. White society asks why a race of people and an economic class can’t somehow surmount their circumstances, yet neglect to realize that it is them that created those circumstances. How can you expect someone to come out of a rigged system? How can you look people in the face, tell them they’re their own problem, and know you allowed this to continue? All anyone is asking for is freedom and equality. All anyone wants is fairness. You cannot consistently rid an entire population of proper education, resources, fair employment, funding, security, opportunity, OF GOD DAMN EQUALITY and expect them to be content with their circumstances. It’s outrageous. This has been passed down generation-to-generation from the dawn of this nation, yet somehow it’s puzzling to the white elite that there is even a problem. Comfort breeds ignorance. Blindness breeds ignorance. And upbringing breeds blindness.
So, get angry. Get furious. Wouldn’t you? Would you be out of your damn mind if you were constantly beat down by the system? Wouldn’t you be furious if you feared walking your neighborhood every day? Wouldn’t you rage against a justice system and a police force that valued you as less than? Wouldn’t you fight for change – by any means you knew how – if the country you lived in constantly turned a blind eye to your plight and struggle, and the plight and struggle of everyone around you? We cannot keep calling movements like Black Lives Matter “terrorist organizations.” We cannot instill a fear of these groups, merely because they challenge the status quo. They fight for justice. They fight for truth. The terror lies in the men and the women who fear that message.
I read a really interesting meme (or maybe tweet, I can’t remember), about the ridiculousness of #AllLivesMatter. It said (roughly): “It’s like going to the doctor with a broken arm, wanting to get it fixed. Instead, the doctor says: ‘all bones matter.’ Well yeah, but let’s fix the fucking broken one first.” There is this gross need to constantly be a part of the conversation. These #AllLivesMatter people are so consumed in themselves, and so in need to be heard and listened to, that they cannot for one second recognize that there is a targeted problem in this country that needs to be fixed. This isn’t about you, white society. This isn’t about you, economic elite. Sit the fuck down. Nay, rise up and do something for your fellow countrymen. No one is saying that people don’t matter, it’s about recognizing that the long disregarded African-American community matters too. It’s time this country stands for that.
I want to leave this post quickly discussing what I think is one of the most important pieces of writing in the history of humanity. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was written in 1789, and was inspired in part by Thomas Jefferson and the American Revolution. It was written in the very early stages of the French Revolution, and became hugely influential in the development of democracies and free-states across the world. The document contains a set of principles, and the fourth reads: “Liberty consists in the ability to do whatever does not harm another; hence the exercise of the natural rights [liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression] of each man has no other limits than those which assure to other members of society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by the law.” I could expand upon and discuss the importance of that quote for hours. However, I want to, more or less, just leave it there. It’s provocative in its own right, and it’s something I truly believe everyone needs to digest, absorb, and carry with them. Republican, Democrat or Independent, that is something we all need to live by. The “security” and “resistance to oppression” seem to be the two things this country struggles most to overcome. These rights – this life, these opportunities – are for all people, not some.