Simon Williamson, columnist with Georgia Voice

Simon Williamson: The price of hiding in the bubble

My formative years were in apartheid South Africa. I was too young to really appreciate the changes that happened in my country until I got older, and realized how incredibly easy my life was, and the severe horror of what most of my country suffered.

What I do remember, quite clearly, is how incredibly normal it was to have grown up in those circumstances. It wasn’t abnormal in apartheid South Africa to never, ever see white people do menial work. It was reasonable to kill alleged criminals, or set dogs on “illegal immigrants” or for the police to do anything to protect the white population. It was normal to have a black woman clean up after you, having her do things you would never ask your mother to. It was standard to refer to adult black men as “boy,” and use racial slurs in condescending conversation with them as humor devices, jokes they were forced to laugh at because of the hierarchy they were stuck in. It was normal for entire well-resourced parts of cities to be white, and entire underserved parts of the country to be black. It was fucked up. But from my very white childhood point of view, in a very white milieu it was perfectly normal.

In terms of parallels to today, I am not insinuating that this president is going to create apartheid. But contemporary America is vulnerable to having absurd and discriminatory happenings go on as perfectly normal. Just like many citizens of Atlanta never have to actually note the poverty of the city they live in, American people can insulate themselves from what their government does. Of course, this already happens.

Just look at how often Obama’s record deportation numbers come up in conversation about what President Trump is doing to immigrants.

But the scale can be ramped up. Merely look at your new attorney general, who was too racist to be a judge in the 1980s, and who believes strongly in the carceral state, civil asset forfeiture (the formal term for the government taking away the belongings of the poor and selling it off to pad police budgets) and the dumbass “war on drugs,” all of which disproportionately hammer black Americans. This adds, heavily, to the continuation of decades of government discrimination upon the poor and black, much of which has only come to common light in recent years, despite generations of black Americans telling everyone about it.

They weren’t listened to. In fact, the media and this nation’s politicians routinely and willfully ignored what they were being told, and campaigned on ignoring the concerns of many Americans. This can be ramped up.

It is easy to live in a bubble where you don’t have to note the concerns of other people. Where police brutality and murder can be disguised as “law and order,” and where being able to throw LGBT people out of shops and hospitals can be flavored as “religious freedom.” Where the horrific care we take of our soldiers when they come home from active duty gets a cursory nod, and cutting up families dependent on their legal status is a-OK.

Right now, most American voters don’t accept the premise that those are normal. But it is entirely possible to live in a society where it can happen. Being able to consume only media that fluffs your own prejudices wipes out a lot of the country talking, and hides what is happening. It can exist. Although on a different scale, I lived in it.