I’ve heard people dismissing the modern civil rights movement as “identity politics” and “political correctness”, implying that the ongoing struggle to secure full human rights for everyone is useless or even harmful. If that’s you, please read this carefully.
First they came for the Indigenous, and I did not speak out because we stole this land and it’s ours now and they should be “good losers”.
Then they came for the journalists, and I did not speak out because I thought the media were spreading fake news and it’s about time someone took away freedom of the press.
Then they came for the immigrants, and I did not speak out because I thought they were taking my jobs.
Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out because I thought Muslim was a synonym for “terrorist”.
Then they came for those who are differently abled, and I did not speak out because I wanted more easy fodder for my sick jokes.
Then they came for the Blacks, and I did not speak out because they’re all lazy and would rather deal drugs than go to school or work.
Then they came for the LGBTQIA folks, and I did not speak out because I thought their “lifestyle” was an “abomination”.
Then they came for the poor, and I did not speak out because I thought they were the ones taking my tax money.
Then they came for the middle class, and I did not speak out because they could have made it if they worked hard enough.
Then they came for the scientists, and I did not speak out because they’re all godless heathens.
Then they came for the artists, and I did not speak out because Game of Thrones was on, and who needs the arts anyway?
Then they came for the women, and I did not speak out because they were just putting women back in their rightful place, finally.
Then they came for the planet, and I did not speak out because making money now is more important than my children and grandchildren having a safe place to live.
Then—just when I thought I finally had all the security I could want—they came for me on some trumped-up charge (ancestry? didn’t go to an Ivy League school? perceived loyalty?) and there was no one left to speak out for me. And I finally knew that the people I helped oppress were never the enemy.
—my adaptation of Martin Niemöller’s comments on World War II
This is about civil rights. If any of us are expendable, we are all ultimately expendable.
Picking and choosing who has their rights protected and upheld sets a dangerous precedent. When those in power see the world as a zero-sum game populated by “winners” and “losers”, in order for them to keep winning, they must always have an adversary to beat. If they can, they will pick us off, group by group.
Those who are still fighting for their rights in 2017 have also been protecting you with their words, their bodies, and their lives. They are protecting your rights from being violated by the same powers reluctant to recognize their rights. This is easy to overlook when activists are gaining ground. When officially protected rights are expanding, those of us whose rights have been long protected feel so secure that the front lines of the fight appear to have nothing to do with us.
The front lines have everything to do with us. Once the circle of protected rights starts shrinking instead of expanding, there is nothing that will protect you—not tradition, not law, not being a good person, not appeasement. It will take longer for them to get around to violating your rights because it’s a last in, first out kind of situation. But rest assured, your time will come. If those who have been fighting all along are silenced and sent back to the reservations, foreign countries, asylums, ghettos, prisons, closets, and kitchens, there will be no one left to speak out for you.
Why should you care about “identity politics”? Because none of us have our rights until we all do.
White people, it is far past time that we join our less privileged human family on the front lines. Don’t tell me that you have better or more important things to do. Don’t wring your hands and tell me you’ll be devastated if anyone loses their rights. Don’t tell me that you have no evidence of things going to shit because you’re not on the front lines and you’ve been ignoring the dispatches.
Get your ass in gear. Read up on intersectionality and the history of oppression. Respect your leaders (hint: they’re not rich white cisgender male citizens). Then start speaking out and acting up.