The Privilege of Staying Out of Politics

Yesterday, a dear friend of mine and I were catching up on each other’s lives after not having spoken for a while. As our conversation turned to the news of the day, she shared a surprising but not uncommon perspective on the profound fractures here in this nation along the lines of race—and they were revelatory about the dilemma that privilege provides those of us who are both blessed and burdened with it.

While she openly admitted that white supremacy was still a sickening reality in our country, she refused to enter into what she believed to be a distracting and pointless neighborhood: politics.

“I try and stay out of all of that craziness.” she said. “I just think people on both sides get all too worked up over monuments and rallies and partisan bickering and things like that. I just think we should stop with all the social media posts and all the protesting and just love each other.” She expressed fatigue at her social media feed and contemplated turning it all off.

I could see in her eyes that she was sincere in her incredulity at the discord.
I could sense that she genuinely was grieved by it all.
I could tell that she’d decided not to enter into the fray of argument and activism.
And I knew that the option of this emotional and physical distance was evidence of her privilege. She and I share this affliction.

In moments like these, when people’s basic civil rights hang in the balance, when their inherent worth is being contested, when bigotry again rears its head and launches an assault on a marginalized community—those not among that community have a choice of either engaging the oppressors or ignoring them. This decision is itself a luxury afforded by our pigmentation and position. It’s a perk that comes without us asking for it or being aware of it—and one we need to use wisely. 

I know many people like my friend. They’re otherwise decent, responsible, good-hearted men and women, who don’t realize how insulated they are from the kind of fear and threat that people of color, the LGBTQ community, Latinos, or Muslims experience as a working reality—and this insulation gives makes inaction tempting, especially when moving into the fray invites such conflict. That we feel a choice in these moments is even possible, shows the subtle and insidious ways privilege works. It allows us to have urgency as an option—where for others it is a necessity. Some people are fighting for their very lives, and the idea that they could or would opt-out isn’t a consideration. It shouldn’t be an option for any of us if we claim humanity as precious.

There are days when I feel my own white comfort creeping in. When I find myself overwhelmed or disheartened by the steady stream of horrible news parading in front of me, when the collateral damage of the fight feels too great and I’d rather turn it all off for a few days and just “live my life.” It’s a reflex action that I’d have justified a couple of years ago, but now I know better. Now I know that this is my privilege on full display, providing a buffer that were I too indulge it, could keep me cloistered away in a cozy little Caucasian cocoon where activism is an elective endeavor, saved for those moments when I’m okay being inconvenienced with it.

Now I fight that instinct when it comes, because I know that many people don’t get to choose neutrality in matters of justice. They don’t get to decide to ignore the events of the day or sidestep the difficult conversations or avoid walking into the streets and braving taunts and threat. Some people do this as a matter of daily survival, and if I am to even come close to living in any kind of solidarity with them, I need to be as internally burdened to action as they are. I have to be willing to feel even some momentary, infinitesimal measure of the urgency they live every second with.  

Friend, if things are too messy, too turbulent, too unsettling for you right now, and you feel like you just want to ignore it all—realize that you are fortunate to have such a luxury. Be grateful that you even feel you have a choice in the matter; whether to be in the trenches or to stay out of harm’s way.

Privilege will always try to tempt you out of activism and into passivism, and it will always lure you into the safe and away from the messy.

For the sake of those who don’t have a choice—refuse to let it. 







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75 thoughts on “The Privilege of Staying Out of Politics

  1. You wouldn’t have these problems if you move to a socialist state as I advocate. It is much more equitable if the state issues the privilege. Our so called freedom actually is not a good thing at all. If you think it is read some of these posts. And, frankly you all need to get over the whole god thing. Once you make a pretty good point you go back into jesus mode which helps no one. I have been an atheist for years and I can tell you that you would be much more happy as atheists. And, do consider kicking the god habit Just trying to help.

  2. I think your tactics are bad. I told you guys that when you backed Clinton. *THAT* was privilege. I think your identity-based self-centered tactics are bad now too. So knock yourselves out. I’ll work on an exit strategy because stupid is as stupid does and until you start having some common sense I’ll view this as a battle already lost.

    • Jerom Jerome, so tell me, do you prefer authoritarianism, bigotry, denial of climate change, destroying families, destruction of the planet and God’s creation, discrimination, fascism, global warming, gynophobia, hatred of the poor, homophobia, intolerance of a different of opinion, intolerance of people that are different, Islamaphobia, kleptocracy, misogyny, nonpartisanship, police brutality, prejudice, racism, in favour of rape, in favour of sexual assault, in favour of sexual harassment, in favour of sexual molestation, transgenderphobia, white supremacy, and xenophobia?

      Because if you voted GOP, or for a third party, or didn;t bother to vote, you actually cast your vote for the above evils.

      • Stop lying and exaggerating please. These things are not on the Republican platform.

        Sadly, killing inconvenient babies is on the Democratic platform, and no Christian should ever support that.

        • I was reading a post when the topic of abortion was introduced. I scrolled back up to find the writer’s name. Surprise, surprise, it was Joe Catholic.

  3. “Everything in modern city life is calculated to keep man from entering into himself and thinking about spiritual things. Even with the best of intentions a spiritual man finds himself exhausted and deadened and debased by the constant noise of machines and loudspeakers, the dead air and the glaring lights of offices and shops, the everlasting suggestion of advertising and propaganda.” ― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

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  5. Thank you. As a mixed race woman whom people “see” as African-American only, this is something I have tried to explain to my white family and friends with little success. It is also something which people with this privilege have to discuss with each other, hearing it from those who don’t before understanding many times causes misunderstandings.

  6. I have a son in Durham and at some point when I visit him and his family, I am going to drive to Raleigh and visit your church. Seems like everything you write is just what I need to hear at that moment. Thank you!

  7. Sorry, no. Not at all. Not even close. Here’s why – when you get involved you are a target of hate, fear and disgust from every side and at all times and there is no relief from it. There is a place for a person to opt out of the insanity without guilt, without assumption and without fear. There is a place for a non sexist, non bigoted, non racist white person to exist in peace, treating their LGBTQ friends and family with decency and respect, side by side with their Muslim neighbors , and hand in hand in their communities regardless of race. There is a place for those people to exist and to flourish without the need for taking part in the circus of thought policing , violent, polarizing insanity that has gripped this country. It’s called calmly, quietly doing the right thing – and no one should even speak to trying to guilt-trip people into feeling bad for doing it. Every day acts of kindness and respect, dignity and peace will always be an alternative to marching in the streets smashing windows and hurling hate at people with the only losses being of family and friends, peace and respect.

    No , I’m sorry John, but you can not guilt me or bully anyone into joining the hate circus. You can not and will not force a label on people who practice peace , love, and respect every day as best they can. You can not force people by guilt or shame to take part in disrespectful behavior and introduce violence and fighting into a problem that peace can solve.


  8. Following this because I have such ambivalent feelings on the subject. Thanks for making me think — even more.

  9. Well as for sides and not taking them, or blaming both of them, that’s absurd.There’s only one side and it’s the side of Christ Jesus. He would never have marched with the Nazis or hate groups that are nationalistic. He might sing the song “One World” by Bob Marley and sit in a Hindu prayer circle, but he would never, ever be chanting “Jews will not replace us”. That’s absurd.I think it’s very destructive to Christianity that Trump said there’s blame on both sides. NO… There’s not.

  10. I’m new to your blog. A friend directed me to it. I much appreciated your words! I’m fighting battles in my 50s that I had hoped would be settled by now: I’m Jewish ( atheist), queer (trans-AFAB), Democratic Socialist, and life under Trump&Co had me subjected to the kind of attacks I haven’t seen since my childhood. Voices like yours are important. Thank you for speaking out.
    I just want to add that I’m sure you must have read Michael Eric Dyson’s eloquent book Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America? That’s been instrumental in helping me address MY whit-ish privilege. I’m attending a meeting today of a local group that is trying to talk about privilege. I suggested this book and also that that they get some members or at least speakers who WEREN’T white, middle-class, Christian, and straight. Idk if they heard me. We’ll see.
    I’ll be checking back to see what you write from time to time.

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