I explained that I felt fortunate to have my brain, education, and upbringing and that I saw nothing wrong with paying a bit more in taxes to help those not so fortunate. My, (I thought) relatively reasonable opinions, brought forth a spew of vitriol against "those people." "Those people" on welfare. The words were so forceful that spittle sprayed my face. In the interests of keeping our vacation somewhat peaceful, I walked away. But I was very disturbed.
Over the last few years I've returned to this exchange in my thoughts and wondered what it was about my relative's views that I found so unnerving. After all, I usually have no problem shunting off the views of hateful people without a second thought. Now, I think my unease arose from a sense that we weren't just talking about welfare. We were talking about a whole world view.
What was left unsaid, but implied, by my relative, is that "those people" are somehow different. They aren't white. They aren't middle class. They don't work hard. They have children they can't support. They aren't us.
They bring poverty and misfortune on themselves.
Now, I know you're all thinking "Oh, she's going to talk about welfare in the U.S. OK, let's just get through this post." But no, I'm not. I'd like to take a look at the broader picture. Because this "us" and "them" mentality isn't limited to class and race wars within the U.S. It's not simply used to bolster a "have" and "have not" system of economics. Rather, some people use this view to internally validate an entirely isolationist view of the world. After all, if people unfortunate enough to have been born into poverty, or in another country, speaking a different language, or with a different religion, just aren't as good as "us," it makes everything so much easier.
It makes it easier to turn the TV channel when you see conflict in the Middle East on the evening news. It makes it easier to buy a People magazine instead of the newspaper when the headline about genocide in Darfur is screaming at you. And yes, it makes it easier to walk by that obviously mentally ill pan handler, keeping your eyes averted at all times. Those people aren't like you, like me, like "us." And hence, their suffering is not our problem.
I fear that I am making some of my regular readers uncomfortable with this diatribe. I can almost feel you pulling away. So I feel as if I must clarify my views even further. This is not a diatribe against fiscal conservatism or even Republicans. Republican does not = racist. I know many compassionate people who have dedicated their lives to helping others and who believe that social welfare is simply not the role of our government. This I can respect. What I cannot respect are those who turn a blind eye (regardless of political persuasion) and simply say "It's not my problem." Because it is your problem. As a resident of this Earth, as one of the privileged simply by happy accident of birth, it is your problem.
It's "our" problem and we all need to open our eyes and see.
This post is part of Julie's latest roundtable discussion. Our topic for this week was quite broad - "accident of birth." I'm sure others have tackled this topic of privilege with more clarity and erudition, but this is a post that's been brewing for quite some time and I had to let it out.
In other news, I finally got off my tushy and put something up on my review site. I put up my submission for the new PBN Blog Blast for Sk*rt, "What Are You Hiding Under Your Skirt?" Go check it out! And vote for my post.