Why We Don’t Have Structural Change

The last post was not in any way meant to negate the necessity of teaching about structural racism. Rather, I was trying to raise concerns about age-appropriateness and being aware of the context of whom one is teaching, as well as who is doing the teaching, and if the people that Critical Race Theory is trying to address–African-Americans–are getting to do the talking. Critical Race Theory aims to educate people about structural racism, which is a necessity. And structural racism is only one area in which we need to make structural change. The elephant in the room in the United States is class differences (something we have only been discussing more publicly since the advent of the pandemic), and then of course there is the structural change needed for women. Activists have been fervently trying to address these issues for decades, especially since the 60s, and a good deal of legislation has been enacted. But why is there still not structural change on the level we need it?

Institutions are slow to change in any context. But when we live in a culture that so adores individualism, structural change is even more difficult. People are very nice and supportive on an individual level, but may not support actions made in the law or by the government. Consider these examples.

My friend Kathy (her name and some details are changed) has lived in different parts of the world and is herself of multi-ethnic heritage. She loves traveling, meeting people of different cultures, adores children. She has a high level career in a field where she has to navigate dealing with many men. Kathy is one of the kindest and warmest people you could ever meet, always includes people in her gatherings and adored by everyone. And yet she has no faith in the government or governmental institutions, and when I expressed my horror at Trump separating children from their parents, and thank goodness we have a more compassionate administration, she mentioned that she had seen a documentary on how human traffickers dump children from Latin America, and that it is a big racket. Kathy is fed up with politics, and while I would not call her Republican, I would probably describe her as apolitical or libertarian. She dislikes both Democrats and Republicans, thinks all politicians are corrupt. I have struggled to understand how she lives with this dichotomy, how she can be so incredibly kind in her personal life and yet cannot support any sort of government actions that enact social change. I believe that this is because on an individual level, it is easier to get along with different people, but when it comes to looking at the larger scale, it involves money and politics, two things she and others does not want to involve herself in.

A gay man I met who is from the South said that everyone in his neighborhood is very kind to him and his husband, he is well respected as a teacher, and in his church. But he mentions that at the polls, people will vote differently. Again, a sign that people may be going on a personal level, but not on the societal change level. And also (according to Southerners) people will be very nice to your face, as is required socially, but think otherwise.

The Black Lives Matter movement and protests were very strong in California last summer, and people came out in droves to protest despite the pandemic. However, when it came time to vote, at the polls, voters did not approve measures for affirmative action that would’ve helped black people in education. One could argue that the number of people supporting Black Lives Matter is smaller than the number of people who don’t feel black people need any privilege (the sort of people who callously say “All Lives Matter”), and this very well may be true. But the point is, the action needed to help black people structurally did not pass. 

Think about the myriad donors to universities, educational institutions, arts organizations, etc. A symphony may not be able to survive without Mr. and Mrs. Generous Benefactor’s contribution of $5 million, and a cardiology wing of a hospital may not even be built without their money. But if you were to ask this millionaire couple if they would vote for a candidate who supports healthcare for all, it’s possible that they would not. 

Look, for example, at people who serve in the Armed Forces. While I respect these people individually, and many of them are incredibly nice and very admirable on a personal level, I do not necessarily support the institutions they serve, as I am a pacifist and feel that America spends too much money on defense rather than human welfare. 

As a final example, a woman can sleep around like a man, post nude selfies of herself online, and correct people on their sexist language. But can a woman get elected president over the most incompetent moron America has ever seen run for office? Does a woman get adequate maternity leave? Does she get affordable childcare?

It is this NIMBY-like mentality where people do not think structurally that is affecting our country deeply. Our excessive American individualism encourages us to feel that if we have done well on a personal level, if we are individually nice to others, then we have done enough. But I believe this doesn’t work. The CEO of an insurance company might’ve himself lay in a hospital bed after an injury, wondering how he was going to pay his bills, but when he’s making $20 million a year and millions still have inadequate healthcare, all his personal compassion makes no difference. Our puritanical work ethic and individualism with money are killing us; class disparity is increasing radically, and it is my belief that a class issues are a large part of what is driving problems with race as well as gender. 

No one is perfect, perhaps we are all hypocrites to some degree, and people can’t be forced to act on things they don’t believe in. My only hope is that with the current administration, America will learn to be less selfish with money and opportunities, and live up to the ideal of equality and justice for all. If true equality is not possible now, then at least we need to start working on ending discrimination, violence, and life-threatening inequality.