Unfortunately, you see it all the time. It’s in the comment section of a published piece or between the 140 characters of a thought-provoking tweet. It’s in the third paragraph of a philanthropic essay or in the closing sentence of an advocate’s speech.
“Well, I’m sorry you’ve been victimized but, really, you shouldn’t complain. At least your (insert undeniably relevant plight here) isn’t anything like (insert undeniably egregious plight here)”.
Now that voices are heard and stories are shared and people are connecting at rapid speeds, we’ve started ranking atrocities with some fictitious scale of relative hurtfulness. A gay man’s inability to marry his partner in 21 states isn’t as destructive as a trans woman’s inability to use the ladies’ restroom. A 21 year old struggling with drug addiction is nothing compared to a 63 year old man battling debilitating depression. An unarmed black teenager dying at the hands of a trigger-happy police officer shouldn’t matter when far more black men are dying in Chicago every day.
It’s as if the word “empathy” has been erased from the English language, replaced by the over-used phrase “check your privilege”. Or, perhaps, the meaning has simply been altered to favor some sort of social injustice dick measuring contest. “Yeah, you might think you have it bad, but I’ve been through way worse”.
Perhaps we’re just afraid our voices will get lost in the collective shuffle of social, political, and otherwise inherently human grievances. So, we’re left vying for that ever-shrinking national stage in the hopes of evoking true change. It’s as if we truly believe the human heart and its pocketbook are only capable of caring for a particular number of atrocities at a time.
Yes, bringing awareness to a social injustice is of vital importance. However, doing so by stifling or otherwise downplaying other equally unjust issues is willfully participating in the continued existence of bigotry and hatred and discrimination. Ranking the plights of others generates indifference while simultaneously cultivating a tolerable level of inequality, apathy and disdain. A “well, at least it isn’t THIS bad” turns into a “well, it’s going to happen regardless”. You say “check your privilege” but what you’re really saying is “you haven’t gone through exactly what I’ve gone through, so your plight doesn’t matter”.
By working to end prejudices by way of ranking prejudices, we’re becoming immune to prejudices. And we don’t even realize it.
I wonder what would happen if we decided to throw away this fictitious scale of relative hurtfulness and, instead, worked together. If the LGB and the T joined their collective voices. If more individuals understood that drug addiction and debilitating depression, often times, go hand in hand. Or, if a black man dying was just as horrible as more black men dying.
What if we realized that a battle is a battle is a battle and it’s all entirely relative and while you might believe your personal struggle is by far the most severe, someone with their own personal struggle is feeling just as oppressed and persecuted and exploited as you.
Stop ranking social injustices. Stop working to destroy the relevance of another, and start working to destroy injustice itself.