For the past few months I’ve been making more posts and talking more with my friends about politics, and I’ve constantly felt like I should apologize or be embarrassed for talking about it so much, or for starting arguments with people I generally get along with.
But I’m realizing more and more we can’t feel bad for calling out our acquaintances, our friends, our family, when they exhibit close-mindedness, racism, sexism or bigotry. In fact, it’s dangerous not to. It is our responsibility to call them out and challenge their thinking.
An off-handed comment from a friend might seem harmless enough. But when you see and overhear these ideas you cannot forget what they snowball into. The mass shooting in Orlando, an attack directly targeting LGBT men and women. Brock Turner, a white man found guilty of rape, sentenced to a mere six months in prison, likely to get out in three. The wrongful deaths of Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, and many others at the hands of police. These events, the products of bigotry and racism and misogyny, aren’t created from nothing. Trace them to their roots and they are birthed from the same small acts of hatred we see committed by the ignorant and hateful in our communities every day.
As more and more people have addressed, it’s not just the willfully ignorant and blatantly wrong-minded who nurture a culture of inequality and danger, but the silent. Those who see the problems but refuse to speak up. If you write posts every week railing against Hillary Clinton’s improper email use, but somehow can’t find the time to talk about the 102 unarmed black men shot by police in 2015, the 200 people who have died in US mass shootings in this year alone, the fact that a woman’s chance of being raped in the US is 1 in 5, that between 30 and 40% of LGBT youth have at one pointed attempted suicide, then you’re not doing enough. If you claim to care about your country, the people in it, if you believe in the worth of a human life, do more.
It is important, necessary, to speak out against the people in your lives who, well-meaning or not, keep hate and inequality alive. But perhaps even more importantly, we need to listen. If you are white, straight, or male, you need to listen to people of other races, orientations and genders if you have any interest in improving their world.
I like to think of myself as open-minded and progressive, and I understand how it stings to be confronted with the possibility that might not always be true. But it’s not my beliefs, my personhood, my life itself under attack. If a person in any marginalized category tells me I have done something wrong, or hurtful, or damaging to them, I need to listen. If you’re a man and a woman tells you something looks like harassment, listen. She understands better than you. If you’re white and a black man or woman tells you you’ve said something damaging, listen. They know better than you. And then, once you’ve listened, do better.
Do better, and expect better of your parents, your neighbors, your friends, your teachers, politicians, your law enforcement. At the core, a police officer is nothing but another flawed human being wielding a gun and authority. Hold them to high standards. Criticize their mistakes as you criticize your professor, your boss, your presidential nominees, because they are humans whose decisions have the capacity to end innocent lives. No one, not even the uniformed, deserves a free pass.
Men and women are suffering and dying for reasons pertaining only to their skin color, their gender, their sexuality, their language. This cannot and will not change unless more people recognize the problems exist, speak out, and make a conscious decision as a whole that they will do better. I’ve seen people who hold themselves to that standard. I’m going to try to hold myself to that standard. It is only with action and the willingness to improve, our surroundings and ourselves, that anything will ever change. Expect more from your friends, expect more from your officials, and expect more from yourself.