Universal Human Rights as a Baseline

Hi Friends,

Happy Holidays! I’m using this post to expand more on solidarity, as informed by Jesse A. Myerson’s “White Anti-Racism Must Be Based in Solidarity, Not Altruism.” All of the quotes below, unless otherwise attributed, are from this essential article, along with most of the content I’m summarizing and sharing with you.

Myerson’s article explains exactly what I was trying to express in the earlier blog post I referenced in my last update. It also touches on this idea of a baseline, which I had written about before in the context of “wondering what would happen if we approached the challenge by creating a baseline of access and opportunity that we think every community member should have (things like clean water, reliable internet, safe and secure housing, a certain quality of education, food access, etc.). And if we created that baseline and saw that some of our community members were not receiving that access or those opportunities, that we would then allocate resources to address that disparity by prioritizing those needs first.”

I should have set my baseline at universal human rights. Speaking of which, International Human Rights Day is December 10. When basic, universal human rights are seen as privileges in our society, destitution and poverty become our baseline.

Myerson explains: “But even those who sit atop the racist hierarchy are pressured and bullied into the constant battle to maintain their position. In forcing them to jealously guard their resources and power against those with less — black people, immigrants, indigenous Americans, Muslims, and ‘white trash’ — our hierarchical system makes them develop fearful and contemptuous attitudes that worsen their lives. It alienates affluent white people from their fellow Americans and humans, depriving them of fellowship and cooperation.”

White people suffer in a system of white supremacy, too. In fact, “Losing ground in America is such a scary prospect that it blinds the affluent to the goal they might achieve if they adopted solidarity: liberation from that fear.”

Which means looking beyond discussions of privilege (which divide us) and shifting to demanding universal rights for all of us. Focusing on privilege emphasizes the scarcity mentality, telling us that we have to compete with each other just to survive. Focusing on privilege produces white guilt for racial inequality, which leads to inaction. If we look at universal human rights instead, suddenly we have abundance, and fury over inequality, which leads to action. Universal human rights puts us all on the same team.

Part of this work must address the mythology of the hierarchy of human value, as Dr. Gail Christopher often describes. The idea of valuing some people over others, believing that some people should have more rights than others, is one of the barriers that divides us.

Here’s an example. Max Nisen and Quartz write “Tackling Inequality in Gifted-and-Talented Programs.” They found that “universal screening leveled the playing field for students who traditionally get overlooked in referral-based systems” for gifted and talented programs in schools. “Given how many gifted children the old regime seemed to miss, and the economic and racial homogeneity it seemed to promote, the overtime seems like it might be worth paying.” However, it was more expensive to pay for testing all of the students than it was for only testing those who were referred, so universal screening was not adopted.

If we valued every student equally, if we believed that every student deserved the same access and opportunities to succeed, we would allocate the resources (financial and otherwise) to align our actions with our values. Instead, our actions uphold a hierarchy of human value, not universal human rights, because we are operating in a scarcity mentality.

More on this next time.

Listen. Amplify. Follow.