Awareness is the key. When we are complicit in a system of injustice and oppression, the least we can do is be aware of it. Otherwise we are fully, fully complicit.
When we become aware of injustice, and ideally, outspoken about it, we become a vocal minority. Even if this vocal minority challenges the injustice simply by raising awareness, then that could lead to a vocal majority. And when a vocal minority becomes a vocal majority, they have the power to effectively rectify the injustice.
Perhaps you have little choice in your complicity, like when buying clothing or electronics. Some people remain woefully and willfully unaware that most articles of their clothing and electronics are manufactured by underpaid, overworked people — sometimes children, the incarcerated or modern-day slaves. But even if I’m aware of that, how could I as an individual challenge such a system of oppression?
It may seem overwhelming and out of my hands. But the least I can do is be aware of it, and express concern about it, because once a majority is aware and concerned, we could change the unjust situation.
Another example, no more close to home (though it may seem that way), is that many Trump voters who identify as white support him out of a generalized feeling that they have been oppressed and/or marginalized in some way, specifically by people of color. They don’t even seem aware that they themselves have inherited a system of oppression against people of color.
These white people may actually question, among other basic contours of American society, the lasting legacy of white supremacy and even the existence of white privilege.
They are fully, fully complicit in the oppression of people of color, LGBTQ, Muslims, Jews, etc., precisely because they remain unaware of it, or so they claim, going as far as projecting their bigotry onto people of color. Their woeful and willful ignorance is equal to their role as oppressors; they are one and the same.
Meanwhile, there’s a strong anti-intellectual bias among the Trump base that declares that education (one kind of awareness) is actually arrogance. But ignorance is not bliss, ignorance is oppression. There’s a reason why you may have heard the former expression while the latter may sound novel, or even “radical.”
Awareness alone is obviously not enough. Basic morality, which is apparently and sadly far from universal, must underpin it. Because a racist could be aware of white supremacy and simply wish to maintain and continue benefiting from the injustice.
Awareness means nothing to immoral people. There must be a special place in hell for the immoral people who actually handle the brutal logistics of injustice, but these people are rare. Even young children have an innate drive for justice, as seen in their mantra, “That’s not fair!”
No moral adult could ever keep a slave in a basement just to have clothes made. But they could tolerate it if, and only if, someone else was to keep this slave on their behalf, and they were to remain unaware of it. Most people have a basic moral conscience that would not tolerate complicity in injustice.
The vast majority of perpetrators of an injustice are people whose name the injustice is committed, and who are unaware of it (or, at least, profess or pretend themselves to be).
So to everyone who is raising awareness of any of the many injustices in the world: Your work is very, very important, even if it feels overwhelming and futile.
To white people aware of the realities of racism, white privilege, and white supremacy, and wondering what you can do about it, here’s the very least you can do: Raise awareness among woefully and willfully ignorant white people. Maybe even in your own families.
Because one of the keys to rectifying injustice is awareness, and you’re holding it.