I’ll admit that there was a period in my life when I pretty much avoided the news. It wasn’t because I was too busy or the news was too depressing, though that’s what I would sometimes say out loud. Instead, it was apathy. My mentality was that “those” issues just didn’t affect my life, so they didn’t matter. Wars across the globe, or injustices due to race and class in my own community, “didn’t directly affect me,” and I frankly didn’t really care. If I did happen to take in some news, I would comment on how sad an issue was and then turn off the TV or close the news article and move on with my life. Alternatively, I’d just flip over to the latest hit show and immerse myself in escapism, rather than wrestle with the truth of what I had just taken in. What I’ve learned is that many, if not all of those issues, did directly affect me. I just didn’t know it, or ignored it, or remained ignorant of it, because the way those things affected me were often by privilege. In many cases, I benefited from the injustice toward others (an example for a reader who may doubt this claim: Cheap goods available to me are often produced on the broken backs of sweatshop laborers in other countries). I’ve now come to a place where I’m uncomfortable and even ashamed with the comfort I had in that apathy.
I’m a middle-class, biracial female. I don’t have the full arsenal of privilege that my upper-class, white male friends have, but I will admit that I do hold quite a bit of privilege. Both of my parents and my spouse have college degrees. I am working on a terminal degree at a prestigious institution that essentially comes free to me. I have access to decent healthcare, feel safe most of the time, and even though I have debt, have never truly worried about how bills would be paid. My life has a notable amount of privilege. I could say “those” issues didn’t affect my life because my various sources of social, economic, and cultural capital protected me from being affected by them most of the time.
In all honesty, I truly believe there are folks who are simply unaware of their privilege. I hesitate to say “innocent” because I think it’s a responsibility to be aware of what privilege you have and to leverage that privilege to help others whenever possible. However, I know and was a part of systems that do not necessarily make folks aware of their own privilege, but instead simply reproduce the privileged structures from which these individuals came. They remain safely cocooned in that place of privilege and never really understand how privilege comes at the price for someone else.
All of this to say, social justice issues are everyone’s problem. If you are the oppressed, you are fighting a daily battle against injustice. If you are not oppressed, it is important to consider if you are somehow a part of or even an active player in being the oppressor. Even if we are not involved in the oppressive actions, it is our responsibility to consider ways we can use our own privilege to help fight these injustices. How do you spend your money and resources? Who benefits and who suffers as a result of the societal choices you make? How can you use your giftings to help change systems? How are you staying informed so that you can be a part of crucial conversations and use your democratic rights to influence the system? How can you raise awareness in your social circles? Social justice issues are systemic. They exist because those of us with power in the system allow them to be perpetuated. Considering these questions and others along these lines are first steps in changing the systems. It is why we write these letters; it is what we must do to ever see change.