Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Legal Rights vs. What Actually Matters


Today's featured Annoying Thing That Ignorant People Say To Me is when people talking about rights under the law as though they're the only rights that exist or matter, and as though these rights are automatically applied equally, which is a laugh.

"What rights do I have that women don't have?"

Or more recently, "What rights do I have that black people don't have?"

Relying on this surface-level bullshit exposes an unwillingness to look deeper that's almost certainly motivated by a desire to avoid having to admit one's privilege. I say this because I don't believe anyone's incapable of seeing the obvious problems with statements like these.

Let's look at fundamental rights granted to the people in the U.S.

We have a right to bear arms. We even have a right to openly carry certain firearms into stores and coffee shops and so forth. White people have this right, black people have this right. The difference being that white people who do so only have to suffer the indignity of nervous looks and possibly having the police called on them, resulting in nothing more than a chat with officers. Maybe. But if you're black and you pick up a toy gun in a store, you can expect to die.

"Equal rights."

We have a right to self-defense, and in some states, even a right to "stand our ground." The language of this law doesn't say it only applies to men. Yet Zimmerman walks using this defense after killing a black boy, and Marissa Alexander is arrested for firing off warning shots, not even giving a single person a splinter, and after years of bullshit and delayed trials, settles for three years in prison.

"Equal rights."

We have a right to assemble and protest, but the predominantly black community of Ferguson gets to do so under the scopes of military-style rifles mounted from fucking tanks, while here in the predominantly white city of Seattle, we're escorted by cops on bicycles. Ferguson citizens get tear gas shot into their backyards, while riots following football games and pumpkin festivals play themselves out with burning cars and broken property without the white people having to choke.

"Equal rights."

We have a right to due process and reasonable sentencing, yet women get far more jail time for killing their spouses than men do (despite the reason for the killing typically being self-defense), and black people get far more jail time for drug-related offenses than white people.

"Equal rights."


"What privilege?"

Animated gif of a woman with a champagne glass saying "are you done?"

You can pretend we have equal rights in this country the same way that you can pretend McDonald's fries are vegetables. Doesn't make it true. Equal rights under the law don't mean shit to anyone if the application is still in the hands of a racist and misogynistic system.

What rights do you have that I and people of color don't? The right to equal treatment. The right to fairness. The right to our humanity.

Any other questions?

1 comment:

saber86 said...

"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" was, sadly, only authorized for "all men" and not "all persons." After 238 years, freedom is still a dream for far too many Americans. I have no idea what the case law history is for that first statement I quoted, but a Supreme Court somewhere along the line must have interpreted it to include women and non-white persons. Right? Right?

The despair, it is numbing.