Ever wondered why so many of us choose to remain silent at the sight of injustice? Wondered what spawns our passive existence? Must one credit this silence and passivity to our lack of awareness, or is there something that prevents us from taking note of the copious evil manifestations? Implied and evident in my first question is the element of choice. Yes, silence is a choice, and in my estimation a consequence of privilege (or the incognizance of it). Living in our privilege bubble leaves us painfully ignorant of the occurrence and continuation of catastrophic phenomena.
No person lives in a vacuum. We are all social beings and social categories constantly define and redefine us. We are shaped by our gender, caste, sexual orientation, class, race, and religion. Any and all of these social constructs accord or truncate the power we hold and determine the amount of privilege we possess or lack. They shape our responses to injustices, hinder our perception of it, blind our knowability of it, or worse generate an uncomfortable silence toward it.
Consider taking a general stock of what is happening around the world: children kidnapped in Nigeria; Syria bombed by the U.S. military; farmers protesting over a hundred days in India; Myanmar bleeding at the hands of the military; the unattended violation of occupied territories and peoples; the collapse of democracy culminating with the rise of fascist forces; escalation of racism and economic disparities owing to the pandemic; the abuse and slaughter of women for being women or not being women enough; institutional violence against the poor, refugees, immigrants, people of color, Dalits, Muslims, indigenous communities; and, religious institutions’ continued disgust at those who do not conform to its moral codes—these social evils occur (and their impact is felt) in our locales and on the global map, and yet all we care to notice is a reflection of our egoistic, narcissistic selves that we only aspire to better.
We live as if these suffering and dying communities do not matter. Their victimization and death do not affect us, perhaps because these bodies do not have the required value to even mildly upset our feelings. We are safe in our self-sufficient bubbles—protected from the poignant cries of our neighbors, well-secured from their infecting voices, our gestures of solidarity restricted or reduced to its shallowest form if not totally eliminated, and our maintenance of physical and noetic separation from misprized bodies while socializing with our ‘esteemed own.’ Care to accept that we live and move and have our being within our privilege bubble? We do and we must acknowledge it.
How can we get rid of the mess created by us or on behalf of us? Remember that silence is a choice. And if silence is a choice so is breaking it, and we can break our silence by bursting the privilege bubble engulfing us. The breaking-bursting measure is neither a linear happening nor a one-time act but a continual process that rightfully demands much of us. It is imperative that we do away with the luxury of not knowing what makes us advantaged or that we actually are. Perhaps, we should stop counting our blessing and begin to name our privilege—one by one. Doing so allows us to audit, alter, expand, and deepen our perspective about the life and death realities of this mundane world and be better placed to explore healing possibilities that together we can work toward.
Bursting our privilege bubble demands the recognition that all of us are interconnected and interdependent. Bursting this bubble necessitates not just the seeing and perceiving of social evils but also the feeling of it, after all, as philosopher and political activist Cornel West succinctly puts it, “the seeing is inseparable from the feeling.” Do our hearts ache when we witness oppression triumph? Bursting our privilege bubble calls us to be rooted in the ethical principles of love, justice, compassion, and peace. It requires the substitution of passivity and conformity with sensitivity and moral courage. Ultimately, bursting the privilege bubble entails the understanding that no one is above another for all creation is saturated with the beauty and magnificence of the Divine.
Our silence bolsters the conditions for injustices to materialize and sustain; our silence validates it. The revolutionary civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. in a 1963 letter written from the Birmingham jail famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is therefore our spiritual and moral duty to speak up.
Burst the bubble. Break the silence. Provoke the system. Practice justice.
By Arvind Theodore
Arvind Theodore is a PhD student at Union Theological Seminary, NYC in the field of Social Ethics. His interests lie in the areas of liberation ethics, Dalit studies, protest and resistance, gender and sexuality studies, and cinema and caste. Arvind is also the author of Church and Human Sexuality and blogs at Reflections.