The Privilege Not to Care

This is not going to be a happy, feel-good post. Consider yourself warned, and walk away if you wish. And if you decide you need to unsubscribe; no hard feelings.

Yesterday on Facebook I saw a post from a friend speaking of being tired of all the political arguing, the negativity, the bad news. It went on to say something along the line of, “I’m going to limit my newsfeed to positive quotes, dog pictures, and memes.”

I get that all the horrifying things happening in our culture—the border crisis, the racism, the violence, #metoo, #churchtoo, the hate speech—can be exhausting. But if you, me, or this friend can choose not to pay attention, it’s because we have the privilege not to care.

Photo by Conor Samuel on Unsplash

You see, my friend who mothers a black teenage son doesn’t have the option of not paying attention. She watches black men being stopped, being shot, being killed, because someone is scared of their blackness. And so she pays attention and prepares her son. She gives him training on where to put his hands if the police stop him. She collaborates with friends to figure out the best place for him to put his license and registration in the car (one idea is in a plastic pouch on the dashboard so he doesn’t ever have to reach for them). She worries when he goes anywhere, particularly wearing a hoodie.

A young woman walking around a college campus does not have the privilege not to care. Like most women she has to be vigilant as to where she walks and with whom, where she parks her car and how late she leaves. She needs to be cautious about the company where she accepts an internship, investigating the reputation of the men she may have to report to. She must research wages so she can fight harder to earn an equitable paycheck.

The dreamer, whose parent brought her to the U.S. as a child, needs to pay attention. She knows no home but this country, yet now her future is threatened based on no action of her own. She has to watch what our government is doing; she has to be fearful that at some moment she may be shipped to a country she doesn’t know nor consider her own. She wonders if her education will be disrupted, or rendered useless because she cannot complete her course of study.

Photo by Jason Hafso on Unsplash

The man speaking Spanish to his friend at the mini-market cannot afford not to pay attention. He must monitor the reaction of the person at the register, the other customers, so he is prepared if the calls of “Speak English,” or “Are you illegal?” or “Go home to your country” come. He must carry his citizenship or Green card with him everywhere in case ICE decides to stop him and lock him up without allowing him to prove his residency first.

I am privileged. On Saturday there is a rally in Lancaster to stand with refugees. I plan to attend. But if I wake up Saturday and think of something else I prefer to do, not going to the rally doesn’t affect my life. If I choose not to care about the plight of immigrants and refugees, it reflects my privilege. If I don’t speak up when someone uses racist language, it doesn’t make my life worse (except for my screaming conscience) because racism doesn’t impact my day-to-day actions. I have the privilege of choosing when I want to advocate for equality, for justice, for acceptance, for welcoming, for the safety of others. And those affected by these issues, those who must pay attention, need me to make that choice to care.

I get that we may not be able to engage in every battle. It can exhaust us. And we do need to know when to take a break in the fight for justice, when to recharge.

But in being able to choose to ignore that problem, that injustice, we should at least honestly acknowledge we can do so only because we are privileged.



26 thoughts on “The Privilege Not to Care”

  1. Amen and amen! So we’ll said! I care because I choose to care! Thank you for writing this! I know so many people whom I wish could read your words!!!! FYI – I’m one of the women from Groffdale Mennonite Church. You spoke to our group at the Welcoming Place a couple years ago in Akron. (I was dressed up like Sadie for a skit)

    • Thank you, Mag, for taking the time to reply—and for choosing to care! (And I appreciate your refreshing my memory of where and when we met!)

  2. Carol,
    I have to tell you how inspired I was to read your Aug 1 blog. I am actually going to print it so I remember the kind way you pointed toward discussing privilege with beloved people in my life who hide behind “being tired of” or “the politicians are all alike”. Thank you for providing a framework that I can use to make a better stand for justice and compassion for those in our society who are not so privileged.

    • Charlotte, your comment made me cry. It can be scary for me to post this stuff, but I believe it’s part of my calling, even when it’s hard. It’s so encouraging to know it helps.

  3. Thank you for this powerful post. My privilege turned upside down the moment my son came out gay and I then became mother-in-law to a dreamer. Things I never noticed before, because I didn’t have to, are now everyday worries and realities and they are still small compared to what others have to deal with every day of their lives. Being silent is NOT an option.

    • Oh, Heike, I am sure that is difficult. I am thankful I can use what platform I have to make even a small difference.

  4. This is expressed so beautifully, Carol, even though it is such a difficult topic. Every word is accurate and I yearn for the day when every American can embrace your message. I wish I were not out of town so that I could attend Saturday’s rally.

    • Thank you, Janet, for taking the time to read and to comment. It encourages me when I know that what I wrote struck a chord.

  5. Well said, Carol. I must admit that too often I take the easy way out and hide behind my privilege. This was an excellent reminder.

  6. Brilliantly written and conveyed, Carol. I recall an exercise early in my doctoral program where we were called to deeply examine social justice, in particular, our lived experiences with privilege and prejudice. (Antioch’s value system is grounded in social justice)

    It was enlightening to self-examine (and discover) how implicitly pervasive (even the most seemingly insignificant) our decisions can shift the balance of how we see (and live into) our society. You poignantly point out the simple decision of waking up and deciding whether or not to join a rally based on how you feel that morning while waking up. And yet, our friends and neighbors who live with injustice have little to no agency regarding their moment by moment choices. They must follow a path of keen awareness that we can only imagine. That, alone for me, clearly defines privilege.

    • Thanks, Renee for taking the time to comment. I do get frustrated with myself when I realize how much I get to choose to exercise my privilege compared to so many others.

  7. Carol, The timing of reading this post is incredibly Divine. I shared something today on Facebook that I knew might cause unrest, and it did. It took courage for me to even share it, and that is privelege. I have come to realize staying quiet, which has always been my style, serves no greater good. That choice was privelege too. I have made some huge decisions and changes in my life these past few months. Again, privelege. It’s time to speak my truth. Use my privelege to the way I believe God intended me to. Thank you so much for sharing. ♥️

  8. Excellent blog Carol. I hope everyone reads it and takes it to heart. We have to think, understand, and feel what many people who are in our country lawfully have to go through because of how society treats them because they are not as we are – as you said – “privileged”. At work we have people of many ethnicities. I have befriended many of them. I make it a point to try to get along well with everyone with whom I come into contact. Whether I am shopping, working, going to Church, etc. I treat everyone of every ethnicity the same. I almost always wish them God’s blessings. If everyone in our country did the same, we would not even be having this discussion.

  9. My brave brave friend. I’ve read and reread this post and its caused me to sit in silence and digest your words…words I wish I would have written. This is truth… and we are indeed privileged. But it’s what we do next that counts most. ~E~

    • Oh, thank you, Eileen, for your heartfelt words. It’s not easy for any of us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

  10. Unfortunately I’ve become a little more aware of white privilege because of Maggie (she’s from Guatemala). Ignorant comments are made around her often, and she just wants to say “Do you see me?” Nothing directed right to her, but comments made about people of color, and she wants to say “Hello, I’m right here.” Someone asked us, out of concern for Maggie, if we have a document showing she is a citizen of the US? We do, and it saddens me to think one day she’ll need it.

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