I recently read a New York Times article entitled “12 Great Stories that Have Nothing to Do With Politics.” I read the article almost accidentally; I was hoping for the title to have been click-bait, that I would find waiting for me an article about the reasons that it is silly to deem anything as removed from politics. I was hoping that the brilliant, experienced journalists of this esteemed publication would be able to write a simple column about the impossibility of disentanglement of anything from politics. Unfortunately, the title was exactly descriptive of the article’s contents (and sorry to those of you who clicked on the link of the article with the same expectations that I had).
What the column should have done is explain why it is impossible to have any stories that have nothing to do with politics. Why alleging that certain things are apolitical is harmful because it allows us to think about bad things that happen in the world as misfortune instead of as injustice, which forces us to search for the root cause and correct it. To explain that it is a privilege to be able to “turn off” the bad feelings that come with the current political climate, instead of having to live with racist attacks, nonexistent health care, separated families or substandard education.
Each of the 12 stories has components that are inherently political. It is laughable that these authors classified someone getting involved in Holocaust awareness — in a world where the White House press secretary practically denies the genocide — as non-political. The fact that the instruments in Philadelphia schools are broken is a reminder of the way in which school inequity is such a problem. The cabdriver who got caught up in a chase with police is a scenario that reminds us of the brokenness of the criminal justice system in this nation and the problematic nature of punitive justice systems in general.
To call these stories outside of the scope of politics cheapens the experiences of the people involved. Painting a picture to obscure the systemic issues at play makes it seem like poor saps with no hope for any change in their situation without the intervention of fate or some believed-in higher power. As if it were impossible for anyone to create changes that might fix the problems at hand. As if these problems were unsolvable and were not created by people.
However, in all of these cases, that isn’t true. Genocide denial is something that can lead to future cases of genocide, and it is totally preventable. A redistribution of resources or reinvestment in public education can fund fixing the Philadelphia schools’ instruments or purchasing new ones. And there is no reason that our criminal justice system ought to be punitive as opposed to rehabilitative.
Aside from the obvious components of these stories that are indeed political, they must be political because they involve people, places and things, all of which are inherently tied up in politics. Everything about each of our beings is political, even if we have no aspects of our identities that are non-dominant. We can either acknowledge that and work to make a more just and sustainable place or we can sit comfortably and let things stay as unjust as they currently are.
So, to the people who are tired and just want a break: We are at a point in the history of this nation where we cannot sit idly and let the threads of our democracy unravel. Look at your privilege and recognize that you getting to even entertain the idea of “taking a break” is a gift. That you do not have to think about and live with the literal, life-or-death implications of the political climate. I am not saying, necessarily, that you need to feel guilty about having this privilege, but recognize that you have it. Be grateful that those are not your concerns all the time, that the news is just a headache and not a death sentence. And with that awareness, buck up and do something to make a change about the state of affairs in this nation instead of getting lazy and turning off your brain for a while.
Contact Mina Shah at minashah ‘at’ stanford.edu.