So, as many of you may know, I am part of an all male music group here on campus. My involvement in this group has been a source of laughter, an immense amount of fun, and, of late, a really interesting focus group of people to think about from a social justice standpoint.
The group, when it comes down to it, are really a social experiment in a pietri dish. This experiment is one that is really important: what happens when you put 17 males in a room. The vast majority of these males are white and extremely privileged. People love to watch these males perform, and thus they, well…we, have a large platform to display our privilege.
As a group we have gotten away with a lot over the years. From making a joke out of homosexuality or blatantly anti-feminist performances, the notion that we were just “boys being boys,” has gotten us past a lot of offensive things that we probably should not have gotten away with. Over the years, as I have become more educated and sensitive to this topic, I have begin to become more and more aware of the misguided nature of my performance group.
This misguided-ness (and I swear there is a point to this) came to a head while we were preparing the song “Roses” by Outkast. “Roses,” a hip-hop song that was popular about five years ago is a song about a woman who treats a man badly. It is sung from the man’s perspective, and, while it toes the line of offensiveness, for the most part does not actually make harsh generalizations about woman, instead opting to talk specifically about one person. It does, however, at the end repeatedly use the term b*** in reference to a woman. I, upon hearing this, immediately cut this part of the song. My decision to do this, however, sparked a large controversy within the group. The vast majority of the group’s sentiment can be summed up in this direct quotation from one of my musical colleagues, “We’re not a political group. It’s not our job to be politically correct.”
This statement, while shocking, represents an extremely common sentiment within the privileged majority about issues of social justice: “Maybe it’s wrong, but it’s not my job to make that decision.” In the case of social issues, the majority is a large majority, and while most people are not inherently bad people, most people also do not feel responsible for the well-being of people who might be at a societal disadvantage.
The diffusion of responsibility is a well-known concept within social psychology. Experiments have shown that when there are more people around, people are less likely to help others. This issue seems to be playing out on a mass-scale in the world of social justice. “It’s not our job to be ‘politically correct’,” comes out of the mouths of millions of members of the majority. There are so many people in the majority who can help, so millions of individuals, finding themselves a part of the massive mob of the majority do not find that it is their lone responsibility to help.
So, how do we fix this issue? The moments that I have really faced my privilege, are the moments that I have been alone. I have been the only white straight male in our contemporary racism class, and that has really helped me realize just how privileged I am. The same thing happened to me in multicultural psychology. Outside of classes, I find that I learn the most about how much privilege I really have when I am talking to my friends who are either homosexual, non-white, or non-males.
Perhaps we can take a lesson from this then. We need to find a way to make the privileged mass feel like a mass of privileged individuals. It is much harder to rationalize not helping when a person feels that he is the only person with the responsibility to help. How can we make people feel that it is their job to fight the oppression so present in our society? How can we, on a massive scale, make people feel that they alone are responsible to help.