Stages of Systemic Injustice (Part 2)

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Before you read or listen to this article, please check out Part 1 of this series on the Stages of Systemic Injustice.

In the first three stages of systemic injustice, we witnessed the progression of denigrating a minority group...

  • starting with a single majority population member fundamentally misunderstanding a member of a minority population
  • then expanding that to a corporate level, where emerging leaders in the majority misrepresent and nurture a suspicious view of the minority
  • ultimately leading to a fully formed, prejudice-based narrative expressed in the public maligning of the minority.

The final three stages of systemic injustice is where the majority now moves towards the basest of oppressive human desires.  

stage four - MARGINALIZED

The majority community begins to collectively limit the minority group's rights and/or access to political (e.g. voting) and cultural voice, economic and educational opportunities, and in some cases physical movement--that is, the places where the minority can live, socialize or even go to the bathroom.   The goal is to effectively neuter the minority so that it doesn't have the ability to effect systemic changes and causes the least amount of distraction from the kind of culture and lifestyle the majority desires.  There still might be an aversion from using obviously racist, misogynistic or ethnocentric language, so any victories by the majority over attempts by the minority to regain fundamental human rights will be celebrated as the preservation of things like "cultural identity" or "religious liberty".

  Here we go AGAIN!

Here we go AGAIN!

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Initially the hope of the majority community might be to make the living conditions for the minority so undesirable that they will choose to leave ("self-deport").  But at some point, there might have been a realization of the utilitarian value of the minority as a subservient class that helps preserve their most ideal living conditions.  Here the majority can exploit the minority for cheap labor, often in industries that the majority personally finds unenviable.

Stage five - MAIMED

A place has been reached in the majority's mindset where the minority is nothing more than cattle, the kind of which inflicting physical pain in order to maintain their obedience might be required.  But it often goes beyond this to a long-latent fear of and anger towards these sub-creatures who dare consider themselves worthy of the same status and privileges that the majority enjoys.  The majority group now expresses this in physical abuse, often enjoying a sick sense of pleasure while they beat down the oppressed.

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Stage Six - MISPLACED

So disgusted by the mere sight of them, the majority now forcibly removes the minority group to a remote place and then, with the exception of the few required to oversee the operation, forgets they even existed. For those who find no temporary usefulness in forced labor camps, the "The Final Solution" is implemented.  This is the scene of internment or concentration camps and mass graves.  The moral-less majority here demonstrates a shocking disconnect between the evil they are embracing and the dignity and righteousness they assume they embody.  The tragedy of this moment is horrifically portrayed in "The Girl in Red" scene from Stephan Spielberg's film, "Schindler's List"...

so where do we go from here

So we end where we started.  How did we get here?  How did it come to this?  I'd like to conclude with a few brief thoughts on what I think essentially went wrong at each stage and in doing so give suggestions for how we might at each point resist systemic injustice.

  • STAGE ONE: It never ceases to amaze me how it all seems to come down to "The Golden Rule" or "Love thy neighbor as thyself."  The well from which systemic injustice flows might as well be called False Assumptions and Unforgiveness.  Rather, had the individual representing the majority simply treated his minority neighbor "as thyself", the road to systemic injustice would have been short-circuited. Was there a true offense committed by your minority neighbor?  Apply forgiveness because it sure as Hell won't be too long before your minority neighbor will have opportunity to 'return the favor' and forgive you.  You both, after all, are human.  Was there no moral offense but just a misunderstanding of your differences?  Apply an inquisitive mind and plenty of time over coffee, tea or whatever customary comfort food your minority neighbor enjoys.  Then both of you can sit back and enjoy life as it ought to be.
  • STAGE TWO AND THREE: In both of these stages the key concepts are that of voice and proximity.  The rising voices of majority leaders who are spreading suspicion and slander, if not publicly challenged, will pave the road of systemic injustice.  And yes, I said they need to be publicly challenged.  Timid and fearful behind closed door conversations done under the guise of "respect" for "community leaders" will do nothing to slow the advance of systemic injustice.  Meanwhile, in these stages minority voices are drowned out and suppressed.  It is imperative that minority leaders be heard, summoning the courage to be loud when others are telling them to "know their place."  And members of the majority who see through the ignorant and bigoted rhetoric of their community leaders need to leverage the power and position they have simply due to their belonging to the majority to demand a platform be given to minority leaders.  In all of this, proximity is vitally important.  Systemic injustice gains momentum in these stages only when minorities are kept at a distance from the majority.  Minority members must show extreme resilience in humanizing their emerging oppressors and majority resisters must do all that they can do to introduce and broker genuine relationships between the two communities.
  • STAGE FOUR: In this stage, the engine of systemic oppression is beginning to take over.  In other words, injustice is being systematized though laws and the suppression of minority opportunities in popular culture, the economy, and in education.  It will only continue to get worse unless their is wide-scale and well coordinated resistance by both the minority and by members of the majority who stand with them.  The tools they will need to use include political campaigning (for leaders who will oppose the advancement of systemic injustice), civil disobedience, litigation and economic withdrawal.  The first and last of these, what we can call the power of the ballet box and the buck, are perhaps the most effective and I will discuss them in greater detail in future Rage Against the Machine articles/podcasts.
  • STAGE FIVE AND SIX: I approach these last two stages with a sober reverence for the courageous nobility of those who have suffered and died from such atrocities.  It is here that human beings are reduced to a pure survival instinct, the two options being "fight or flight".  It is not my place to morally judge the decisions that oppressed minorities make between those two options.  For majority sympathizers, we can only hope to be counted worthy to stand along side and suffer with these, the bravest of human souls.  In such cases, may history judge them the true heroes and those who joined with them from the majority a mere footnote to their sacrifice.  

May we all resolutely hold to and act upon the belief that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed when he said that... 

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr