The death of George Floyd on March 25th, 2020 sparked a wide range of protests in United States on the systemic inequality that has existed over centuries. The outpour of anger and resentment against this under #blacklivesmatter on social media has been immense yet critical of several factors that inevitably play a role such as wokeness, performative opinions, accountability and similar terms that are quickly and often thrown in the contemporary context. Drawing parallels to this incident, there were several reports on hypocrisy that many of us exhibit when it comes to marginalized sections of our own communities, turning a blind eye towards institutionalized oppression.
Laying the grounds for moral policing, such situations are often seen as societal than anything personal. However, I would like to narrate two incidents that helped me to realize this irony. Although personal, they are intended to trigger some introspection:
As a volunteer for an NGO, I used to help a girl in tenth grade to study better. Acknowledging that she came from a relatively poorer background, it was of utmost importance for me to explain how much education matters to access more opportunities and motivate her. Upon her graduation, one of my friends informed me that she scored extremely well and was admitted into the same university that I had been studying in. Although I was extremely proud of her, there was a certain sense of uneasiness that I couldn’t get past. And it was terribly difficult to acknowledge what I felt – “How could she get into the same university?”
Another incident took place when I had taken up gender studies as a part of curriculum at the undergraduate level. Identifying myself as a liberal by thought, I attended a gender forum conducted by a transgender activist. The lack of my interaction with people with varied gender identities was so visible that I constantly failed to address the speaker as ‘they’ while talking about being an ally but not voicing my dissent. Yet, they somehow didn’t smirk at me naivety and asked me to continuously put myself in spaces which make me uncomfortable and where I am the minority.
Having taken months to clearly view these incidents, I could come to the conclusion that they weren’t singular and independent incidents at all. Besides, such incidents are masked in denial. And it requires one to understand my position as a “powerful have” who has always been entitled to a normative understanding of the socio-economic system and the “powerless have-not” who struggle to break those norms. The general acceptance of these inequalities of social groups is what has led to social harmony over years and very much protects the inequality itself. My enabled status quo gives an opportunity for another to hold onto negative stereotypes. However liberal one might be in their personal choices; it always fits a hypocritical frame in a societal picture. The consequential cognitive dissonance is what one needs to engage with, which might be certain amount of internalization or even externalization, given the absence of individual agency that we all experience. And that is okay and ironically, the essence of moral policing.
The concept of moral policing as a part of our daily discourse leads to two settings – one where it actually brings about a positive social impact and even puts away personal bias and another where it actually contradicts that effort by ‘othering’ on the pretext of legitimization. But what we fail to understand that we are ourselves, quite often, on both the sides of the coin purely due to lack of enough knowledge. Amidst the need to have an opinion which is often seen as freedom of speech, we use our sociological truism to critique issues such as racism, marginalization, inequality, class discrimination which are humanitarian yet complex. Fighting such systemic setups comes with eliminating prejudices, unlearning and relearning. And this needs to seen as a process and not a binary decision that one can make in a day’s time. While this is seen as hypocrisy, the burden of the word ‘hypocrisy’ indispensably needs one to be historically, socially, economically and politically aware and make a commitment. However, most of us end up being in a spirit of convenience; which can be seen as “picking our own wars”.
On the grounds of moral policing, it is hard to constantly opt out of complicit societal hypocrisy and personal beliefs. But accepting that one has contributed to problematic views by thoughts or actions is what actually leads to addressing systemic issues as more personal and humanitarian and not just societal. Moreover, the ignorance can be used as an opportunity to participate more and acknowledge hypocrisy as part of the solution and not the problem.
Image Credits: Etienne Class, saatchiart.com