The Opposite of Injustice is not Privilege
This morning I was reading my Facebook feed and saw that one of my friends posted an article that police shootings is a leading cause of death among black men. In the comments, one of his friends blamed black people. Sorry, I’m not going to be tricked into hating black people, not even criminals.
Later I scrolled down and saw that one of my friends reposted a meme from a FB group called “Seattle looks like shit,” a group where people take pictures of homeless people and addicts in Seattle and wish for more authoritarian police to clean them up. Sorry, I’m not going to be tricked into hating people experiencing homelessness, not even those that have addictions.
So the faculty summer reading book at my new school is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, the book with the earth shattering quote, “The opposite of poverty is justice.” I can only read a chapter or two per day, because it stresses me out. The book is about a Stevenson’s experience trying to represent men on Alabama’s death row in the 80s; it describes a society where the gentry, the law enforcement, and the penal system railroad people into the death penalty despite things like evidence, the law, and the Constitution.
I tease some of my white friends from the South sometimes, joking about how they love to say, “You don’t understand the South!” at random times when nobody asked. They always want to tell me about how, yes, the South has a horrific past full of terror and bigotry, but there is also a beautiful side of hospitality and gentility. The truth is, no, I do not understand the South; I haven’t spent time there, and I do have friends who are People of Color who do want to live there. However, it does seem to me that the gentility and the manners are extensions of a brutally oppressive class system that revolves around white supremacy. I don’t have to scratch too hard to uncover the same thing here on the West Coast.
Anyway, this book I was assigned stresses me out because I read it and get angry at white American society. Luckily I have the privilege of putting the book down. I’m tempted to get angry and white folks in general but I’m not going to be tricked into that. However, when I meet people who do avoid and mistrust white Americans, I find it perfectly understandable. It’s not unreasonable to avoid to get burned; once bitten, twice shy.
We’ve had a taste of freedom and equality, even if we haven’t all experienced it yet. We can smell liberty cooking in the room and we know that there’s plenty to go around, and we won’t go until we get some. Dr. King taught us about Non Violent Direct Action, which was a bet that the clueless majority would feel ashamed when they saw injustice on their televisions, that they’d wake up. Not everybody woke up back then, but enough of them did to desegregate the South.
In the present day, some people don’t wake up when they see injustice; they rationalize it because the idea of it threatens their identity. It’s ok that police kill black people, it’s ok that trans people are murdered, it’s ok that Mexicans are targeted at Walmart. It’s ok that women get paid less, it’s ok that for full time workers to make poverty wages, it’s ok to pollute and heat the planet, it’s ok for women’s lives to be ruined by rape. A steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.
It seems to me that privileged people love injustice. They don’t just tolerate it; they seek it out. They celebrate it.
Life in America is comfortable, I’m not suffering that much. But people around me are suffering, and it seems like we’re a rich enough country that we can afford to eliminate suffering. I’m not going to be tricked into trading peace and prosperity for freedom and justice; we should have it all.
Hong Kong and the Opposite of Harmony
So Hong Kong was a British colony that got really wealthy under British rule; when the lease ran out, Hong Kong’s sovereignty was transferred to the PRC, who wanted to replicate Hong Kong’s wealth and prosperity but without the pesky freedom of speech.
Twenty years later, Chinese cities have no problem eclipsing the wealth of Hong Kong. So why should the PRC tolerate Hong Kongers’ demands for an independent legal system, multiple political parties, and freedoms of speech and assembly?
Because China agreed to it. It was a promise. Those were the terms.
The PRC is making more money from Shanghai and Beijing already, by now Guangzhou/Shengzhen and Tianjian are probably making as much money as well. Why tolerate these unruly, spoiled Hong Kongers who demand special treatment? The narrative is that Hong Kongers are violent, unruly, riotous, subversive, and that they are puppets of the West. The American CIA and the British whatever are actively sewing seeds of dissent to embarrass China and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. That’s what their media tells them.
Of course I don’t see any of that. I think that America is dealing with Donald Trump and his white supremacy; Britain is brexiting, and neither country can locate it’s own ass with the lights on right now. I don’t see violent protesters; I see violent police responses to protesters. I don’t see unruliness; I see massive peaceful demonstrations, emphasize the word massive. I see people who smell freedom cooking and know that it’s for them.
Yes, they know that the PRC is massing a military crackdown invasion force in Shenzhen. Yes, they know that the PLA will mow them down. They might as well shut up and accept their fate, right?
And yet they don’t. Listen, people that are not the PRC don’t want to be ruled by the PRC. Chinese people don’t own each other. People want to determine their own fate.
Also nobody wants to be ruled by the Spanish. Or the British. Or the Americans.
Anyway, it seems that a free Hong Kong is doomed, and a crackdown seems inevitable. I hope my friends get out safely. Hong Kongers are protesting not to anger or destroy their way of live, but because they’re betting that China and the world will be ashamed of the injustice of their broken promises. Of course China will not be ashamed; it’s our job to see it, and be ashamed for them. China will embarrass itself, just as American constantly embarrasses itself. Nobody is going to be tricked into thinking that the people of China will feel ashamed at the crackdown. They will rationalize the injustice against that which threatens their identity.