We like to believe that history is a grainy footage of a MLK speech, or a newspaper clipping of WWII, or stories about the Free Speech Movement here at Cal, but history is everywhere. This moment is now history. Every moment of action and inaction contributes to how history is turning out. Unless you’re kidding yourself, you will realize that there is no bowing out of making history, as long as your heart is beating you are a part of it whether you want to be or not.
I was watching Race: The Power of an Illusion in Sociology 130 (Sociology of Inequality) and it made me think about my role in society today. In the film it outlined the beginning of structural inequality in the United States. It began in the shape of slavery, then turned to inherently racist laws, followed by the restriction on immigrants (who were less white, than others) and more recently in the housing market. We like to believe that we all have the same chance at making it, but a lot of it is luck. The luck of starting out white is huge, the luck of having parents who were actually able to purchase homes that have any level of significant value today, or the luck of knowing about and taking advantage of programs and opportunities that level the playing field. The point of this post is not to outline that the system is flawed from mistakes made a long time ago, the point is that we have the power to change things and to not be those bystanders in the history films in the future.
In 2060 (if the Earth and humanity hold on that long), I don’t want to be glimpsed in a video or hologram (eh, who knows?) about how socio-economic inequality persisted for so long, I don’t want to be a case study of an immigrant failing to make it because my roots in this country aren’t very deep, and I definitely don’t want to be faceless or nameless in the struggle. Watching this documentary made me realize that everything I do is a step forward or two backwards. Silence itself is a form of submission.
If we want things to change we need to be informed, we need to make wise choices and we need to speak the language of our society: money. We need to know that where our dollars go they aggravate problems. If we shop at Walmart we’re telling that corporation that their treatment of workers is okay, that they should continue to keep prices low (and consequently wages) because we only care about our personal welfare. If we shop online then our neighbors are worse off, the ones who work at their family owned shops and who have done so for generations. If we buy electronics, especially the highly overpriced kind, we are supporting the inhumane treatment of factory workers in China. I know that most of us can’t afford to think this way. Most of the time I can’t either. But in order to be a forward moving society, one that will not be shamed by history, we need to keep in mind a few points:
1) Every human life is capable of greatness. Whether we believe that for certain folks more than others is based on LUCK. Luck to be born in a developed vs. developing country. Luck to have grown up with the ability to dream of a better future.
2) We do make a difference. Most of us are immobilized by the disbelief Collective Action. We believe that we shouldn’t be the ones to bear the brunt of the problem and that if nobody else is trying then…why bother? The truth is that everyone is TRYING somehow. We can detect that something is wrong, that too many people live in streets, that some people earn more in their lifetime than they will ever need and that even if the difference isn’t noticeable at the ground level, do you want to be on the wrong side of history?
3) There is more to progress than profit. I grew up being told that what I wanted to be would lead me to starvation. That means not being an artist, or writer, or musician. Sure, this is true, and I have come to expect a more difficult road than that of pure creativity, but we should live in a world where hard work (in any principle) should award the worker with enough resources to live on.