Busting the BinariesNovember 28, 2011 Leave a comment
I’ve thought a lot about how either/or thinking reinforces hierarchies of oppression. As Tema Okun recounts in The Emperor Has no Clothes, “Inherent in western culture is the very act of defining ‘us’ in ways that claim superiority over an opposite and increasingly threatening ‘them.’”
Listening to a recent news story about the Penn State scandal, I was struck by how this same kind of thinking keeps sexual and human rights abuses under wraps. Townspeople were struggling to make sense of the alleged cover up or ignoring by Coach Paterno and President Graham Spanier of alleged crimes against children. Could these men – whom they thought to be good men – actually have looked the other way? And if so, could they be thought of as ever having been good men at all? People have rushed to redefine these former icons as “bad men,” and by implication, to continue to define themselves as “good people” who would certainly have behaved differently.
Sadly, history teaches us that “good people” do sometimes stand by and do nothing while others are abused or worse. Individuals and groups have great capacity for good, evil, indifference and more. Whether we’re confronting racism, abuse of children or other forms of oppression, we would do well to get beyond the binary that keeps us simply blaming and labeling individuals as good or bad. If we don’t examine and dismantle the systems and norms that enable these behaviors to persist, along with the ways that some folks benefit from leaving the status quo intact, we risk the lives of future generations and guarantee that we will simply repeat the exercise of “finding the bad guys” ad infinitum.
What are your ideas about how to get from here to there?