When hatred isn’t urgent

I don’t think that Trump’s platform of hatred and bigotry got him elected. I think that too many decent people were willing to vote for him despite his racism, sexism and all the rest — because they thought other things were more important. The hatred simply didn’t seem like an urgent problem.

But when racism means that I could get shot by the police, it threatens my basic ability to survive. When sexism keeps me from getting a job, it threatens my basic ability to survive. And when something threatens my basic ability to survive, it’s urgent.

Too many of us with privilege don’t see hatred as urgent. We know racism and sexism are sorta problematic, sure  — but other things are more pressing. We’ll deal with them later, when we’ve got time and energy. If we remember to. If it doesn’t get in the way.

We need to change. 

Many of us think that fighting racism/sexism/etc. is something shiny we get to do as part of unlocking our full potential. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this is “self-actualization” at the very top of the pyramid — the needs we can address only after all of our more fundamental needs like food, shelter, and safety are met. It’s important, but not urgent.

Until we recognize that fighting hatred is urgent, everything else will always come first. If we’re worrying about our jobs, we’ll overlook Trump’s racism and vote for him because of his job promises. If we’re professors on a hiring committee, we’ll put diversity issues in the “nice to have” pile that we never get around to.

I challenge all of us to take a very uncomfortable look at reality: People are dying every day because of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, heterosexism, transphobia, and other forms of hatred. And many more of us are suffering from attacks that range from microaggressions through beatings — things that don’t kill us right away, but can still make life hell. That’s not something we should be OK with ignoring or downplaying.

We need to recognize that hatred and bigotry are urgent threats at a deep, fundamental level. They attack our ability to get and hold a decent job, to keep a roof over our heads, to put food on the table. They attack our safety. They sever us from love and support, from family and friends. We need to know these things in our bones, not just our intellects. We need to make this urgency part of our core beliefs about how the world works. Once we do, it will be impossible for us to overlook hatred while other things seem more important.

I don’t know how to get there. But I do know that we need to.

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