Friday, November 5, 2010

ABC's What Would You Do? and Social Justice

ABC's What Would You Do? is really difficult to watch. For one, you want to jump into the television and do something. You sit there judging people, saying "How could they say that?" or "Why didn't they tell off the store employee for being a jerk?" or "How could they possibly buy their goods there?" You want to scream at the by-standers who do nothing. You are disgusted by bigots, or maybe freak yourself out a bit when you realize that their arguments are logical or even compelling.

Once the actionless by-standers are interviewed, however, you are forced to see yourself, which is, perhaps, the most difficult thing about watching this show. Many of those who remain bystanders (though perhaps not in this clip) weren't sure it was their place to "get involved." While we all would like to believe that we would step in and do something in the face of social injustice, possible child abuse, fraud, etc., in reality, many of us would just surrender to the fear of being turned into a victim or outcast ourselves. Would you step in against a gang of kids threatening to beat up a gay peer on the boardwalk? Would you stop a Muslim father from dragging his daughter out a restaurant by the arm? Would you hinder a drunken parent from driving their kid to a soccer game? Against the ideas of "minding your own business" or "not getting involved," it is often difficult to do the right thing. "Not getting involved" is often the "American" thing to do. We are pluralist, so we have to let others live their lives as they want to, even if we believe that way to be wrong. We let injustice go by everyday for those very same reasons that are meant to promote justice and liberty.

Sadly, injustice often must escalate to extremes (as it does in the video about teens harassing a gay peer), before others will step in. This undercover camera program shows what goes on during an average day-- though there is an obvious bias in favor of those who are tolerant of other ways of living and those who get involved. I think it's a wonderful show, not only because it promotes tolerance, but because it reminds us that when we see injustice, no matter how small, we should be willing to get involved. We shouldn't have to let it escalate to real physical harm or illegal discriminatory acts before we take a stand. A psychologist who appears on the episode about antisemitism (I can no longer remember her name) states that once one person speaks up, often that is enough for others to join the cause. It only takes ONE person to make a difference.

As my own students begin to work on their Writing as Activism projects, I think that this is a sentiment that they would find encouraging. Though I see that they are not convinced that their projects can make any difference, I think the idea that their voice could inspire others to speak up would help them to find purpose and confidence. As a student myself, I know that is what I am taking away from this series. Maybe the world isn't what I want it to be right now, and maybe I see problems in the future, but I know that I have the potential to create positive changes, if only by being the first voice.

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