Are we all human?
This isn’t a trick question, but it is a terrifying question before us in the United States.
The social and political climate right now suggests that we are not all in agreement on the question of our shared humanity. Evidence has abounded for centuries that some of us haven’t been considered human from the earliest days of this nation. The Indigenous peoples of this continent were subjected to genocide and have been all but erased from our national political discourse to this day. Even so, for quite some time we’ve managed to make some progress in pressing down the evil urge to dehumanize some of us so that very few others of us can consolidate power and wealth.
Everyone over the age of 18 without regard to race, ethnicity, or gender had the right to vote unencumbered, until recently. Women had the most control we’ve ever had over our own bodies, until recently. We’ve never been an intellectually strong nation, but the current rejection of the truth of our history and the systems of oppression that impact all our lives is particularly weak-minded.
What is particularly insidious is that our demagogues are loudly dehumanizing Black (read: woke) and trans people and quietly dehumanizing people living in poverty, the majority of whom are white. This after a former president spent his tenure dehumanizing Latin immigrants, and our news media promoted and decried assaults on Asian Americans. Race is critically important here. Indigenous, Black, and Latin people are taking on a disproportionate amount of harm. Trans people’s lives have been deemed valueless. And people in poverty, the majority of whom are white, are dying under the weight of inhumane health, welfare, and gun control policies.
This question of humanity is the primary question right now. As a Black lesbian, I realize that I’ve developed a tolerance for news of how the groups with which I identify are attacked physically, socially, economically, and politically. As a citizen of the United States, I have also become rather numb to mass shootings in schools. But recently, I read a story that shook me awake on all fronts.
Alone and Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the U.S. by Hannah Dreier was published Feb. 25, 2023, in the New York Times. Several stories have followed, including one on March 10, 2023, about how Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, herself a mother of 3, has signed a law that will make it easier to employ children while proudly proclaiming a commitment to the deregulation of business. This is a 19th-century Industrial Age story in the 21st century.
Let’s recap. Trans people, including trans youth, living their full lives are harmful to children. Understanding our shared history is harmful to children. Women having full control of our bodies is harmful to children. But child hunger, sickness, hard labor, and mass shootings don’t require our collective focus.
Today, April 4, 2023, is an excellent opportunity to revisit the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was assassinated because of his press for a commitment to honoring our shared humanity. His call for leadership on December 15,1956 is, sadly, perfect for this moment 66 years later.
[We need…] dedicated, courageous, and intelligent leaders…
Leaders of sound integrity. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with justice. Leaders not in love with money, but in love with humanity….
We are desperate for this kind of leadership. But it will not come soon. In the meantime, we must follow Dr. King’s directive in Letter from a Birmingham Jail as the laws being passed in state legislatures across the nation will literally kill us. We, individuals, collectives, governments, non-governmental organizations, and businesses, have “a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
In my line of work, I advise leaders on how to create equitable organizations. The principles that guide our work at Standpoint Consulting are equity, humanity, integrity, and dignity. Everything we stand for is at odds with the current zeitgeist. But we are heartened by data, which is also fundamental to our work. We know that more and more people believe in our shared humanity as evidenced by polls on every social and economic issue from abortion access to LGBTQ+ rights; universal health care to universal basic income.
This suggests that what we’re seeing is the result of a powerful minority, not the will of the people as we are being told. In that same 1963 letter from Birmingham, Dr. King wrote, “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.” I will not enumerate here the ways state legislators, governors, their spouses, and their children are mostly immune to the harmful effects of the wave of hateful legislation. Evidence of that reality is easily found. But what I hope you consider in whatever role you occupy, is the power you have to resist. Now is not the time for those with power to pre-emptively concede but for them to draw the ire, the sanctions, and the lawsuits.
Without irony, I encourage those of you in the truly moral majority, to stand firm in your commitment to our shared humanity.