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Apathy as a Privilege

Jillian Clark ‘19, Opinion Columnist

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As I plan my trip home I cringe with anticipation as to what will be waiting for me in my small New England town: apathy. A relatively homogenous place, some of the people I grew up with didn’t believe in things like modern day racism. They saw it as a relic, a problem of the past and an idea that didn’t fit in with any relevant conversation of today’s problems.

I remember sitting in a class and having our principle talk to us about racism in the 60s. She was telling us about being young and watching the protests of the civil rights movement unfold in places like Alabama when she asked the classroom full of white students: “Now kids, do you think there were any racists up here back then?” The class answered with a resounding no and Mrs. Avery nodded, “That’s right,” she said nodding “Racism didn’t happen in the north.”

The “that kind of stuff doesn’t happen here” state of mind was taught to us from a young age, resulting in a general apathy that still permeates in certain people when I visit back home.

As a WGSS (Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies) major, I have had my fair share of realizations in certain classes and through certain readings. It’s one of the things I love about the major; it tends to makes you understand yourself just as much as it makes you understand the world around you. I also see these moments of realization in many of my classmates. They may come in the form of silent acceptance, intellectual curiosity, or perhaps, my favorite, complete shock, vocalized for all to hear.

It didn’t strike me, however, until this semester that some forms of surprise or shock are only felt by those coming from a place of extreme privilege. The shock value comes mostly from the sudden understanding that you did not in fact grow up in the same reality as others, that everyone is different from you in some way. Having this initial realization can be powerful for some and that’s pretty cool.

There is a type of shock though, that is similar to that one might get from the nice ladies at my local grocery store who gasp in horror as they see something they’re not used to on the news. They react, horrified for a second, at the idea of someone, somewhere suffering.

Then as quickly as the horror showed on their face, it leaves, allowing them to go about their business as usual. Let me say that there’s absolutely no problem with being shocked by certain ideas or facts. People can’t control where or how they grow up and what information is offered to them before a certain age. The only time I see a problem arise is when that recognition only stretches as far as the fact in front of them. It is when people do not take that extra step to understand that this is what privilege looks like that I cringe at their perceived shock.

It is when the shock pops up again and again, with no perceived impact other than a gasp that it becomes just another problem with systematic oppression. It’s then that it becomes just another part of the apathy waiting for me back home and it is then that nothing changes.

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The student news site of Dickinson College.
Apathy as a Privilege