neutrality

There are different kinds of neutrality.

Content note: this post uses examples involving people doing awful things to explain why neutrality can be bad

One kind of neutrality is fake. It pretends to be a matter of principle. People who do this aggressively object to taking sides, and push you to see all sides as equally valid. That’s a bad attitude to take because sometimes the sides to a conflict aren’t equally valid.

For instance, when someone asks a guy to stop hitting on her and he gets offended, there are not two valid sides. When a parent deprives a child of food, there are not two valid sides. When people claim that vaccines cause autism, refuse to vaccinate, and cause outbreaks of preventable diseases, there are not two valid sides. Pretending that there are two valid sides ends up making you complicit in harm done to people who are being hurt.

But that is not the only kind of neutrality. Not all kinds of neutrality are objectionable. It is often ok to stay out of things. Sometimes you’re in them and there’s no way to be neutral that isn’t effectively taking a side by default. But sometimes you can actually stay out of them.

Sometimes neutrality means recognizing that you don’t understand an issue, and choosing to stay out of it, at least for now. A lot of stuff is really complicated to understand. No one can understand every issue where there are sides.

For example:

  • If you’re not in a position to be making military decisions or foreign policy, it’s ok to decide you don’t understand a certain conflict and be neutral about it (so long as you’re not pressuring other people to think it’s wrong to take sides)
  • If you don’t understand a piece of legislation, it’s often ok to not have an opinion on it, even if it’s related to an issue that’s important to your community (unless it’s in some way your job to understand it, eg: if you run an advocacy organization.)

It’s ok to stay out of many things, if you’re not in a position in which you have a heightened obligation to take a side because you have specific responsibility for what happens. Nobody understands everything important; nobody *can* understand everything important. You don’t have to drop everything until you feel up to taking a position on every issue that someone in your life cares about.

Another kind of neutrality is offering certain kinds of help to people who meet certain criteria, or even anyone who asks, without regard to who they are, what they’ve done, and without taking a position on whether they deserve it. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing, in ways that I’m not sure how to explain.

For example:

  • Operating a food bank and giving food to anyone who needs it
  • Advocating for better conditions in prisons for all prisoners, even those convicted of awful things, without investigating to see how strong the evidence is that the people you’re protecting did awful things

tl;dr Neutrality means a lot of different things. Some are good, some are bad. Sometimes it’s ok to stay out of things. It’s not ok to aggressively insist that there are always two sides to everything or to refuse to ever take sides on anything as a matter of principle.

“I don’t believe in neutrality because the world is already moving in certain directions and wars are going on and children are going hungry. Terrible things are happening. And so to be neutral in a situation like this when things are already moving is to collaborate with whatever is going on. And I don’t want to collaborate with the world as it is. I want to intrude myself. I want to participate in changing the direction of things.”

Happy 90th birthday, Howard Zinn.

[photo // post]

[[ Image Description: A photo featuring the fluffy black cat sitting against a white surrounding, licking its lips, with a post on it by user killbenedictcumberbatch.

The post reads: “god i hate when black people make a long ass post about racism and its history and how it has carried over into today, or some like dissertation about global antiblackness and someone reblogs it with “food for thought” like bitch can you shut up?? do you sit in a science class and say “food for thought” when your teacher tells you abt photosynthesis or some shit” ]]

When the white moderate refuses to step up against… “small” showings of racism… ; when the denial of black Americans and other PoC to be the constitutive elements of our society they are is “too difficult” to dismantle; the white moderate IS racist too.

[…] Dr. King called for us to stand against injustice with the “fierce urgency of now.” He did not mean only the all too visible injustices of war and exploitation, but also the injustices of whitewashed histories, of normalized white violence… If we cannot see the bigotry in something so basic as Megan Kelly’s remarks on Fox News, if we cannot stand up and say with conviction a little racism should be unequivocally unacceptable too, how then is it that we will go forth and conquer as the late Reverend called upon us “the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism”?

Our answer is an ongoing battle, but I know this much, we cannot afford any more white moderates.

Executive Order No. 2017, 8/8/1914
Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service
National Archives Identifier: 11036311

With this order, Woodrow Wilson gave the Treasury Department full authority of Customs Offices to help enforce neutrality laws dues to the conflict in Europe during World War I.  It comes from a file about European war, German refugees, deportation of Italians, and alien deportations from 1914–1915.  (via DocsTeach)

This document was recently digitized by teachers in our Primarily Teaching 2014 Summer Workshop in Washington, DC. The teachers found and described over 50 documents relating to operations at Ellis Island, public opinion about immigration, and immigration policy reforms.

Read more about their efforts at Education Updates » Teachers Digitize Immigration Documents in Washington, DC