Our Shallow Social Justice

I am not a victim.

I come from a family that was terribly dysfunctional. Some or all of us endured poverty, public housing and food stamps, teenage pregnancy and teenage motherhood, single motherhood, sexual abuse and sexual predation, sibling violence, neighborhood violence, bullying, poor schools, dropping out of school, poor physical and/or mental health, the early deaths of our parents. I could list more.

I know there’s a lot of cachet in being a victim today. Unfortunately, many of those who hope to exploit the cachet of victim status are not true victims. They are exploiters themselves, hoping that the suffering of others somehow rubs off on them.

No one is a victim by simply being what they are. Being black, female, gay, Hispanic, poor, Muslim, transgender, white, rich, Christian, Jew … whatever … none of these makes one automatically a victim.

Some of us have ancestors, or even relatives still living, who suffered the indignities of prejudice and discrimination. Almost all of us have someone who shares our ethnic heritage, faith, sexual or political preferences, or someone who looks like us who suffered as true victims in the past or in another place. But, most of us, if we’re honest, would have to admit that we’re doing pretty blasted well most of the time in a country that offers opportunities to nearly everyone who is willing to study hard, work hard and put in their measure of sweat equity and where most people will leave you alone, regardless of what you say or where you work or what you look like. If you’ve suffered discrimination or the indignities of being taken advantage of … well, join the club! Few of us can claim such charmed lives as not having suffered lack of appreciation, discrimination, or even the criminal activity of those who would take from us what is ours, including our right to be treated with respect as one made in the image and likeness of God.

This past week we were honored at All Saints Catholic Church with the presence of a priest visiting from Lithuania. Tall, white and handsome, he looked the very image of what our society today regards as privileged. Yet, his parents were exiled to Siberia by an oppressive regime and he was forced to study clandestinely for the priesthood. His studies were illegal and, had he been caught, would have faced imprisonment or worse. I suspect if you had asked if he regarded himself as a victim, he would have responded with a look of confusion, not knowing what you were talking about, or what all this talk of victimhood is supposed to accomplish. He is busy bringing the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others and bringing the grace of the sacraments to the People of God.

The sad truth is, there are true victims suffering the likes of sexual slavery, who face the likelihood of being killed because they fail to meet society’s expectations of perfection, or deal with the real threat of violent death in neighborhoods dominated by gangs and drug cartels.

This is our shallow social justice, that there exists in this country a political and social movement impassioned over the matter of statues and monuments honoring men who fought a war that ended 150 years ago, but there is no political or social movement impassioned about rescuing those who suffer slavery today. Why? Is it because it’s easier to justify our righteous indignation over the continued existence of these statues or the efforts to bring them down than it is to commit ourselves to the real work of bringing slavery to an end and assisting those rescued from slavery to transition from victim to survivor?

Honestly, I want to know. What the hell is wrong with us? Everywhere there are stories about statues and monuments. Everywhere in the mainstream media and on Facebook there are arguments, debates, tempers rising and passions flaring about whether a particular statue should continue to stand. Most of this ruckus is manufactured, yet we still get ourselves caught up in it.

But, on the matter of the actual slavery that exists in our communities – right here in Knoxville, or in your home of Arlington, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, and even Charlottesville and Baltimore, there is silence. An entire group of people is being targeted for extinction by means of selective abortion, and no one has anything to say. No one’s upset that President Trump hasn’t sufficiently condemned those perpetuating this slaughter, because no one else is saying anything about it, either. And, while there’s been some talk about the daily horrors facing those innocents who live within the gun sites of gangs and cartels in some of our most auspicious cities, few are taking action to stop it.

So, stop it. Stop posting stuff about statues. Stop trying to make sure everyone knows you’re not a racist, homophobe, misogynist, or whatever (because they either don’t care or won’t believe you, anyway). Start living a life that reflects the Gospel, that reflects justice and concern for the dignity of the human person and the social nature of human life. There are groups all over who are trying to raise awareness of and stop human trafficking, or trying to convince others that people with Down Syndrome live happy, fulfilling lives that bring joy to their families, or are trying to create options for those convinced their lives are fated to gang warfare and a drug culture. Find such a group. Give your time to it, or to some other effort that truly helps people. Stop watching the news and start caring for others. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. And, stop thinking of yourself as a victim when you know as well as everyone else that most of your days are spent enjoying a peace and a measure of prosperity few in this world have ever experienced.

Do you want to destroy the forces of oppression, racism, homophobia, misogyny, supremacy, and all the other malicious abominations that infect the human community? Good. Love your neighbor.

As Servant of God Dorothy Day said, “Love is a harsh and dreadful thing, but it is the only answer.”

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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