I watched Dear White People last night. I sat in on a forum this morning with various media members that talked about their experiences covering Ferguson. And all I can think of is how, for pretty much my whole life, I’ve exercised the right to be ignorant. I actually have the nerve to be caught off guard by all the true stories of blackface that Dear White People’s credits featured. I actually have the nerve to not know the exact reasoning used by members of privileged groups that benefit from institutional racism, and the ways it can be debunked.
Yet in turn, I also have the nerve to let my heart hurt when I see the trailer for the movie Selma, but still feel uncompelled to radical action. And for a journalist to not care is very, very dangerous. It is what paved the way to letting biases show in the local St. Louis media’s coverage of Ferguson. It is what enables me to be lazy about educating myself (via Google etc.), but knowing I can ask borderline-stupid questions without getting racial prejudice of “you’re a privileged white person” thrown my way.
It’s true — my life isn’t perfect as a female who is also a member of a relatively underrepresented minority group (see: our lack of presence in mainstream media, consistent subjection to barely repressed xenophobia, our successes attributed to our gene pools rather than talents). But I haven’t bothered to educate myself on the plight of people with the identities that are being singled out.
Choosing to continue being ignorant is a form of ableism, because being subject to a form of institutional repression is a form of figurative disability. And ignorant people are ones who don’t have to deal directly with the consequences of “having” such figurative disability.
Being ignorant was my privilege for so long. Recently, I’ve wanted to educate myself on social justice so I can cover it properly. I believe that the truth, when worded correctly, can be powerful without being overbearing.
Too bad most naysayers don’t see it that way.
In Dear White People, protagonist Sam White is accused of disturbing the peace, through sending an invitation to the student body about a blackface party. White scoffs that such an act should have been met with derision and contempt. But instead, everyone jumped right on board, bringing out their best Obama, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and 50 Cent masks while eating watermelon and making fun of weaves.
In other words, it didn’t matter that White lit the fire — the others still fanned the flames. They had wanted to keep such fires going all along. In our society, I think that the mere inaction of pouring water on the fire is what we don’t realize is asserting privilege. You are exercising not your right, but your privilege to afford to not care.
Journalism does a good job of uncovering such ugly tendencies. It doesn’t cause a ruckus out of nothing; it reveals the truth, with its objective yet polarizing connotations. People don’t want to admit they’re screwed up, and that they have nothing to hide. Well, sorry for upending your reality! If those tendencies didn’t exist in the first place, such as if the police in Ferguson were doing a good job all along, then responsive action would have definitively indicated such a phenomenon.
Food for thought — the first step to shaking off ableism to admit to having it. I’ll start there and go on.