COLUMN: If someone is complicit in a problem, they are part of the problem
When it comes to the dehumanization and discrimination of minorities, neutrality isn’t an option.
Dec. 03, 2019
Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.
There is value in differing opinions. They create more active discussions, inspire critical thinking and force people to find the best option. However, there is a line. Opinions about whether a hot dog is a sandwich create questions about how society constructs language, but some issues don’t get to be two-sided.
When it comes to the dehumanization and discrimination of statistical and marginalized minorities, there should only be one side and it’s standing with minorities. While it’s awful to see the damage that opponents of equality have created, it’s also important to recognize that the people sitting on the fence aren’t allowed to claim the moral high ground.
As individuals within the U.S., people are allowed to say whatever they want unless it conflicts with the five established exceptions to the first amendment: obscenity, child pornography, fighting words, true threats, and false advertising. The first amendment protects your legal ability to say whatever you like, but it does not protect you from the moral and ethical repercussions or vocal opposition.
However, many people decide to remove themselves from situations involving moral or ethical stances on equality. In order to avoid joining the vocal opposition and appearing biased, some people might simply step aside. Sitting in the middle of the debate doesn’t mean that someone is taking their impact out of the situation.
Howard Zinn, author of “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train,” worked with the concept of neutrality with metaphors. In his book, he explained the significance of this analogy, “Some were baffled by the metaphor, especially if they took it literally and tried to dissect its meaning. Others immediately saw what I meant: that events are already moving in certain deadly directions, and to be neutral means to accept that.”
In situations where one side is asking for rights and the other side is asking for the ability to discriminate, remaining neutral only helps maintain the status quo. Currently, the status quo poses a real danger to marginalized minorities, meaning the train is heading toward them. While you may not be the conductor who is controlling the train, remaining in your seat does nothing to save the other person.
While it may save you some socially awkward situations, it still benefits people with power. The act of drawing equivalencies between asking for rights and actively denying people their basic human rights means that people are willing to treat oppressors the same as the people they oppress. That means people who are hurting others are getting the same amount of space as the people they are hurting.
Neutrality can seem like a benevolent cause, but it has dangerous consequences. There are issues that have room for neutrality, but they tend to not involve someone’s right to live. As Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
The false sense of intellect and morality society associates with neutrality is derived from the protection it provided the powerful. If you’re more concerned with being seen as balanced, then those at the apex of society can continue to dehumanize and demean minorities.
Being objective, or conscious of how your bias may cloud your judgment, can be beneficial, but it requires a level of critical thinking that is not associated with neutrality. Objectivity is advocating for the mouse because you know the elephant won’t get hurt by moving.
When it comes to moral, ethical, economic or social problems that impact the ability for people to live, you are allowed to critically consider the facts in order to form your own opinion, but choosing to remain neutral without putting effort into educating yourself doesn’t make you balanced — it makes you ignorant.
Edited by Bryce Kolk | firstname.lastname@example.org