A commentary on indifference.
People often ask: Why get involved? Why should I care about gay marriage when I am not gay? Why should I care about immigration or Arizona’s SB1070 when I am a citizen? Why should I care about the recruitment and retention of people of color into higher education when I am not a person of color? All great questions. Here is a better one: Why not?
Assaults on gay marriage, immigration, and access to education are related. Each is an attack on civil rights and, more generally, human rights. Being privileged enough to be free from such attacks should not be a reason to avoid involvement. These issues affect people. That should be reason enough to get involved. Can it just be that a ban on marriage to protect marriage is absurd or that the profiling and criminalization of entire groups under the guise of national prosperity and security is illogical? We should not need any special reasons to be troubled by the gross underrepresentation of people of color in the public universities of a majority-minority state or their overrepresentation in prisons.
The same concern does not seem to exist when people who are not gay, who are citizens, and who are not people of color make laws and decisions affecting those who are. Proposition 8 and Arizona’s SB1070 have profound impact on people’s lives, yet the proponents of such laws are not required to justify their support. If no nexus or personal affiliation is required for standing on one side of an issue, then no such connection should be demanded of those standing on the other. You should not have to be in a burning building or know someone in it to want the fire put out.
This (often unspoken) requirement of having a horse in the race to care about its outcome is detrimental to the fight for civil and human rights. The focus on individualism will make it harder to form alliances. Historically, the greatest strides toward social justice have involved the collaborative effort of people across all identity lines. In addition to the sheer benefit of increased number of supporters, allies bring with them power and privilege that those directly under attack may not have. Allies are especially important when the future of rights that should never be put to a vote, such as the right to marry, depend upon the views of a majority. A citizen allied in the fight against Arizona’s SB1070 has more freedom and more power to operate than someone who is undocumented and fears deportation. The voices of underrepresented students get amplified with the help of allies who happen to be members of the majority. Alliances are essential and require no justification. Not having a horse in a particular race is no excuse for indifference. As Michael Herzfield wrote in his book, The Social Production of Indifference, “Indifference is the rejection of common humanity.”
So why get involved? Why not?