Take this lesson on social justice, because respect is a minimum
Words: Oratile Mashazi | Illustrations: Jade Klara
If you genuinely think that you are better than any other person living on this earth – you have problems. Respect is a minimum, and respecting others is a basic tenet of living in a society. A principle of Ubuntu, you’re an asshole if you don’t have respect or only respect those who have power, status, or are like you. Take this lesson on social justice, everybody should get one in primary school, but education in this country is a hot mess so I'm going to school you.
Please excuse me for not always listing each and every oppressed identity in the lessons; I have a word limit and this is but a basic introduction to socialising with a few examples. Moving on:
Take comfort in knowing that even the woke police are fallible. We are are all fallible, and prone to prejudice, for which we can blame being human and mass American media and growing up in the 21st century where whiteness, maleness, cishet-ness and able-bodiedness are identities that hold privilege. The lives of the people with these identities are easier than those of their binaries: blackness, femmeness, transness and disability.
It takes effort and experience to realise that much of what we learn is conditioning us to choose particular lifestyles and prioritize certain cultures, whether it be an influence of culture, faith or wilful ignorance. With this understanding we have to know that we are likely to harbour ignorant or offensive views about people who are different, or that we don’t know, which is pretty scary. What is even more scary is how people are often unaware of their bias or privilege, which means it grows.
The bleakest thing is the world as it is right now, suits enough people for them to rather maintain the status quo even though it's perpetuating human suffering. *real tears*
I really shouldn’t have to explain this, but prejudice and oppression is dehumanising. And regardless of our colour, our gender, our sexual preferences, our marital status, our hairstyles, our ability to walk or talk, or see or hear, we are all human, and deserve to be treated with respect. Just coz. Being human has afforded us many privileges on planet earth, but we have been educated in the way of violence and domination over other people. So that most people play out the roles of ruler and subordinate in life, and we now need to acknowledge the power over relationships that exist because of gender, land ownership, race, religion, political dispensation, citizenship and geography. Let us not act like there aren’t womxn who try exert power over other womxn, or homosexual men who try exert power over womxn, or South Africans who try to dominate Zimbabweans or BaSotho.
But at the end of it, or at least in order to prolong our imminent end on earth, we need to recognize the value in being human is in being part of a society where your life and humanity is valued. Where it is recognized that we are the same, so we must be equal.
It just is, there’s really no getting around it. But somewhere in the age of people feeling a need to dominate other people, classification of humans began. Some became womxn and some were men. Then when people classified according to colour, some became black and others white, and others homo, while some are trans and others are cishet. And so it has pervaded and persisted through the centuries. The roles became clearly defined but it’s really a mess because people don’t easily fit into categories, and here we are quite damned and really confused. Just falling into the boxes of black, gay, disabled and old in this world means your life will be more difficult. But it shouldn’t, it also shouldn’t make you any less of a person. You should still have to experience anxiety, and fear and happiness, and stress, and sleeping and eating and being rejected by your crush only to be liked by a total fraud. The whole gamut of shit that comes with personhood, without the extra drama of being despised by white people or straight people, or religious people.
The fact that everyone has to fit into these designated boxes is messed up. If every single person needs to be male or female, black or white, gay or straight, these extremes of identity have some people forcing themselves into uncomfortable compromises, which leads to them feeling alienated or unseen. We need to understand that these classifications and the ensuing roles people play are only a recent part of human history and perpetuate prejudices about particular groups while entrenching the superiority of whiteness, maleness, and gender conforming.
Maybe you care, maybe you don’t but if you can see and there are people who can’t, if you can read, while there are people who might never learn, if your family has many homes or even if you can shop online – then you have privilege. Just know that things makes your life easier. Be aware of how having them sometimes makes you inconsiderate of those who don’t. Because that’s not your experience and it might be unfair, but it is how it is. There's a way to do good though; become open to knowledge and experience of difference, and learn about feminism, or homosexuality or pan-africanism, or transsexuality... Then you might learn what that group has experienced that you haven’t and how to engage people without triggering them or making them feel insecure or any less than you.
Which is why you should ask the next time you wanna slap a stranger on the back, or put your hand on their thigh. Asking is awkward as hell, because they could say no. But giving people the choice of physical contact with you is a must, otherwise you run the risk of being entitled and creepy.
Love and forgive yourself, everyday and with every effort, and learn to love others, which, for me, is really what unlearning is all about.