Whenever topics surrounding social justice come up, it’s not uncommon for certain phrases or responses to come up again and again. Although the specific wording might vary, the phrases share similar characteristics in common: they’re dismissive and are meant to shut down the conversation without acknowledging any need or responsibility for solving the problem under discussion. It’s not uncommon for otherwise well-meaning people to use these specious phrases because of fundamentally flawed initial assumptions.
It’s Just Politics
This one comes up quite a bit right before and after elections, from people who act as though they are somehow more mature for not using politics as a reason to cut off certain people. It comes up as a response to being told that certain policies cause harm, or as a justification for choosing to support parties or politicians with harmful ideologies.
It’s just politics is based on the false assumption that politics are ultimately irrelevant, or that they don’t affect people’s every day lives. Many people fail to recognize how much of their every day lives are directly affected by “just politics”.
Take the minimum wage, for example. A person who is making a regular salary or a wage above the mandated minimum, might not feel like they are affected by the wage not being raised over the last several years. Their perspective may be that since their own wage isn’t directly dictated by the minimum that it being raised won’t affect them, except in that suddenly the separation between them and those who do receive that wage will have been reduced. To them, a rise in minimum wage represents a loss of relative status.
The fact that many people can’t afford to survive on that wage, however, affects them a lot more than they assume. Companies that are finding a significantly reduced market for their product are forced to go into lay-offs, for example. The so-called “industries murdered by millennials” are direct victims of the insufficient wage. (We’ve been framed, see.) There is an increased tax burden as companies end up subsidized by having the wage they should be paying their employees is made up through food stamps and other similar services. In a sense they end up paying in taxes the difference between the recognized minimum wage and the actual cost of living. And when those differences are not paid because social services are also cut, the price is paid either in charity or death.
Even if it was true though that these people are not at all affected by politics or at least not significantly so, the idea of “Just Politics” also ignores the large population of people for who politics is the literal line between life and death. Whose very reality is a political question and who get to hear their own right to exist be debated.
Trans people, gay people, people of colour, disabled people, women, poor people, all of these groups can relate to having their rights be questioned and debated on a public scale. The right to vote, the right not to be beaten, the right not to be killed, the right to exist in public spaces, to be allowed to live, to not be fired for aspects of your identity, all of these things are things that will be dictated by politics which you are saying don’t matter.
Saying “it’s just politics” is basically saying “it’s just YOUR life or death, nothing important.”
We Survived X, We’ll Survive Y.
This one is fairly like the previous phrase in that it comes from a place of privilege. The assumption is that because you survived, that everyone else did to. Even when some acknowledge that not everyone did, the assumption is that those who didn’t were relatively few.
The truth is that the many people who don’t survive administrations don’t get recognized for as the victims they are.
The people who die because they couldn’t afford treatment for their conditions or who waited too long to see a doctor because they couldn’t afford it.
The people who commit suicide because they face constant discrimination.
The people who become victims of police who trust that they will be protected by their institutions.
The people who die fighting in wars started by those administrations.
The people who die because the social safety nets are not enough for survival.
The people who die because prisons have become a for-profit industry.
The people who die because of insufficient environmental policies and industry regulations.
This is not an exhaustive list of all the people whose deaths are the direct result of policies put in place or maintained by various administrations. People who did not survive the election of this administration.
And that’s just the victims inside the country. Policies put in place by administrations can have resonating consequences across the globe. The wars that they declare, the administrations they help uphold, the policies around humanitarian aid, the refugees accepted or refused, all of these have direct impact of countless people’s lives.
Additionally, the policies and ideologies pushed by various administrations can also empower future administrations to build on the harm so that just because you did survive x, x also made it more likely that you might not survive y.
It Couldn’t Happen Here.
This one seems to be especially common these days as people discuss the similarities between the present regime in the US and the one in pre-ww2 Germany. The idea is that the ideals upon which the country you are in is founded are such that they would prevent genocide from taking place within its borders, or a authoritarian government from seizing power.
The problem is that in order to prevent such a thing from occurring, the people need to be able to recognize its precursors as well as recognize that it’s happening. Something that is made unlikely if people are convinced that it could never happen here. The same confidence in their nation’s ideals as a prophylactic against certain horrors, can become a tragic flaw as that same confidence keeps them from seeing exactly what is happening, as it is happening. So convinced people become that horrors such as the Holocaust couldn’t happen here, that concentration camps get called detention centers instead. That the use of chemical weapons against human being including children becomes excused as the punishment for breaking the law. What is consistently ignored is that the same was said of the prisoners of concentration camps during the second world war. Laws were passed to force people to break the law for basic survival, then those “criminal acts” used as an excuse. When they couldn’t force everyone to break they law, they made laws against the people themselves, making existence itself a criminal act.
What is ignored is that not only CAN it happen here, but that it already has.
In the US you have a history of genocide against indigenous peoples, not to mention slavery, as well as Japanese internment. For all that these horrors are taught as having taken place entirely in the past, the consequences of those same horrors continue to be felt by many communities.
Even in Canada, that often likes to brag about not having had slaves and being one possible end point along the underground railroad, we have our own history of Native genocide, and other horrors that cannot be ignored. We have our own history of atrocities.
The only thing that can prevent genocide and related atrocities is being diligent in recognizing the seeds of tyranny. Is recognizing when your own unexamined biases are being manipulated to make you receptive to the slow erosion of your own rights and freedoms, in the name of being protected from the other.
The only way it couldn’t happen here is if we do the continuing hard work of making sure it doesn’t.
All three of these phrases rely on ignoring real harm that has occurred as well as the potential harm to vulnerable communities. They rely on being ignorant of the suffering that happens around them, either because they haven’t seen it or because they have seen it but don’t believe it. It dismisses the cost in real lives as being insignificant enough to matter. If you find yourself reaching for one of them, stop and reconsider if maybe your perspective might be overlooking something or someone.