By: K.P. Mauros
By now everyone should be going through their own stages of frustration, grief and anger at the ending of the Mueller investigation by a handpicked Attorney General who summarized 22 months of work in 4 pages. It starts as a gut punch to the stomach. The aspirational thought that institutions would hold, and would eventually lead to something that would confirm what we are seeing with our own eyes. That the Russian government led by wealthy oligarchs interfered in the 2016 Election and that Americans helped them with it. When it doesn’t happen the wind gets knocked out of you, and you are left without breath. This feeling then transfers to your chest. The mixed emotions of wondering how institutions could fail us so badly is almost too much to hold and too oscillating in tone and intensity that it is almost panic inducing. “What is happening, I invested all this emotion into a just outcome and it hasn’t happened. It’s heartbreaking”. Similar symptoms of panic seep in, and we become incapable of acting our normal rational selves. Following that the feeling gets to the head. First as anger, “how dare someone lie to me and tell me everything is right and just when it is clearly not”. This emotion demands justice and recourse. When that doesn’t happen our sense of spirit escapes us as your willingness to fight anymore leaves your body. Then comes the immediate and undeserved shame of trusting your instincts and making a judgement based on what you see (that coupled with Conservative trolls doesn’t help). Nihilism and fear of uncertainty spread and you try to find immediate salves to quickly cure what’s bothering you. As a result, we often go to the well of information that’s supported our hopes about justice being served, we write on comment boards, facebook posts, and (maybe even internet blog posts). We hope to make sense of why things seem so unnecessarily fair. We then find no other viable option then to take time off, and distract ourselves in hobbies and hope to be refreshed to take on the next outrage. This of course is the common tract for those of us with privilege (the author included). Because for many this is the first time in which we have interfaced with issues of injustice, the intractability of the wealthy and powerful, and the feeling that those in power actively are working against you.
This time, I will plead with the reader that if this is your inclination, going into nihilism thinking “nothing matters” and that the powerful are systematically impugned in their actions. Know that this only rings true because we in positions of privilege decide to escape the uncomfortable injustice of inequality. Know that there are people out there whom this feeling isn’t just familiar, but a sadly regular state of being. Marginalized communities of color and a spectrum of gender identities and sexual preferences not only get to feel these emotions regularly, but don’t have access to the insular pockets we often use to hide away from the damages caused by regressive policies. They do not get to go to the well, because for many of them the well has been sourced by straight, cisgender, white male faces, populated by straight, cisgender, white male voices and guided by straight, cisgender, white male perspectives. In the process of coming to grips with our gaslit reality, recognize that now more than ever we together as a nation face the real possibility of authoritarian oligarchy as our government model. While most of our ire should be directed at bad actors beholden to wealth and power, some of the blame should comes from us Progressives in privilege for being bad allies.
We don’t need the Mueller report to show that the Trump Administration actively separates and jails family members from Central America escaping violence. A human rights migration which was exacerbated by our reliance on recreational drugs, our push for open border trade, and our fear of communism. We don’t need the House Judiciary Committee to recognize the spread and rise of anti-islamic bigotry in the current administration which perpetrates violence against those seen as “terrorists”. This toxic culture spread because we as allies decided to fall asleep as the country otherized nearly a quarter of the world’s population, and to this day we see trappings of it in Executive Order 13769 banning entry from countries which are predominantly Muslim. Finally it doesn’t take a special panel to recognize that for way too long, Black citizens have been red-lined, excluded from political power, and subjugated by an over active police force, and government policies. These things are happening now in the present, and demand immediate attention from everyone including us reeling from the Barr letter to Congress. So instead of getting mad, let’s become better allies.
I am encouraged by the voices of freshman congresswomen of color entering the political discussion and demanding their issues be heard. Congresswomen like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayana Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, each of them are giving new voices to important matters, and forcing us to tackle the fact that the issues we face are systemic, pervasive, and pernicious. On March 24th, Representative Ocasio-Cortez stated on Twitter: “He can stay, he can go. He can be impeached, or voted out in 2020. But removing Trump will not remove the infrastructure of an entire party that embraced him; the dark money that funded him; the online radicalization that drummed his army; nor the racism he amplified and reanimated”. To congresswomen like Representative Ocasio-Cortez (and all people of color), governmental oversight, and institutional checks and balances have and always will be insufficient to address issues of injustice, because it becomes all too easy to ignore the underlying causes of social wrongs. We must recognize the very uncomfortable conversations we need to have with ourselves and those we love as the Representative later tweeted: “In order for us to heal as a nation, we ALL must pursue the hard work of addressing these root causes.It’s not as easy as voting. It means having uncomfortable moments convos w/ loved ones, w/ media, w/ those we disagree, and yes – within our own party, too.It’s on all of us.”
I agree. We people of privilege need to step up and step back. We need to recognize that while miffed by the actions of the current President, those of us in positions of privilege are not front line communities to his policies. While we find comfort in feeling oppressed by the current administration, we are instead insulating ourselves from the disparity caused by persistent and cruel attacks on human decency. Donald Trump and the Republican resistance to progress is not a cause, but a symptom of not just an active push back to changing demographics and attitudes, but also equal parts complacency on the part of those allies whom find comfort in escapism. While we may be interested in seeing that movement to a progressive future we refuse to recognize that we aren’t receiving the brunt of the damage, and therefore our emotional losses are treated equally as those with actual trauma.
Handy lists by the Anti-Oppression Network as well as Amelie Lamont give a great summary that I think would be helpful in this regard. By stepping up and elevating the voices of those often unheard, and stepping back by allowing their messages to gain access to the fore, we grow stronger as a movement and as citizens. If we as Progressives truly harness the power of collective voice, we may be able to undo the damages caused by the current administration, but the hard work comes in allowing yourself to simply be in the supportive role. We must understand that there can be no Progressive future without justice, and there can be no justice if equality is not valued as a central component of our actions. Your privilege can be powerful and important if used in the right way, so let’s make sure we use our power wisely.