Can you stop being part of the problem?

When I was younger, I hoped that perhaps the world was changing. That perhaps humanity was “growing up”.

Um, yeah. Not so much.

I am, by temperment, a believer in people and technology. That is, that people can do better and help each other. That problems are fundamentally fixable, and technology, science, and education can do it. But much like Jeffrey Sachs in his current editorial, I have to wonder at the difference between what is obviously possible, what has been promised, and what has been done. The actions needed are pretty obvious:

These basic steps – agreeing on global goals, mobilizing the financing needed to meet them, and identifying the scientific expertise and organizations needed to implement solutions – is basic management logic. Some may scoff that this approach is impossible at the global level, because all politics are local. Yet today, all politicians depend on global solutions for their own political survival. That by itself could make solutions that now seem out of reach commonplace in the future.

And that’s about something as comparatively uncontroversial as poverty.

There have been – and continue to be – a lot of discouraging signs about humanity’s immaturity. But the recent resurgence of racism and sexism (along with squawks that they aren’t) may have actually done some good.

Societally, we haven’t talked about racism or sexism much. Oh, we’ve talked about prejudice a great deal, but we’ve not discussed how this stuff keeps going. The protestations of the “But I’m not prejudiced” crowd leave us wondering why things are the way they are.

Our society has moved – in just over my lifetime – from accepting overt prejudice to generally not accepting overt prejudice. Now, it’s slowly becoming apparent that isn’t enough. Now we need to move past “not” doing something “towards” doing something.

And guess what, fellow white people? It’s our job to do it.

We have the privilege (even though it might seem small to you). We have the structures of language that set up this power struggle with us in charge.

Look, Angry White Man, we know you aren’t prejudiced. But that’s not enough. We’re talking about stopping the results of old prejudice. Yeah, you didn’t do it. Neither did I. We wouldn’t have been slaveowners, and we wouldn’t have chased the secretary around the desk and so on. And of course you’d treat people fairly so that there wasn’t widespread systemic poverty like there is today.

But someone else did – and the effects of their actions still persist today.

The question is not “are you going to be not prejudiced”. The question is not “Are you going to treat someone fairly.” The question is this:

People were treated unfairly. They’re still suffering the effects of that. Are you going to do something to fix it, or not?

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