On Just Mercy and the difference between racism and ableism

First, the film Just Mercy is incredible. It is really hard, and really hopeful–which is not just a cliche. The most hopeful things are always companion to the worst tragedies and wrongs.

It was a gut punch to realize that much of this took place in 1988, the year Michael was born, and that the Sheriff was never arrested and reelected sheriff, serving until 2019.

I highly recommend you watch it, and this month you can watch it for free, either at Amazon or YouTube and I believe elsewhere.

Before and since watching, I’ve been thinking about the nature of privilege, and wondering about the differences between racism and sexism or ableism.

I use the graphs to point out that privilege is not about individuals, but about group trends. Some individuals in a privileged class will have more hardship that some individuals in a vulnerable class, but there is still a demographic gap that needs attention, especially for Black people and Non-Black people of color.

Sexism and ableism are both real and can be very dangerous. Michael has had the cops called on him twice just for being with our kids when I’m not there, just because he has Cerebral Palsy (even though he is an attorney and was close to our home both times). People with disabilities are at a huge risk of being killed by police. Nearly half of all people killed by the police have a disability—more on that another day. Women are also at serious risk of a variety of violent crimes, particularly within their own households. The same goes for children and the elderly.

However, sexism and ableism do not involve the kind of public, violent societal posturing that racism or nationalism have. I think this in part because racism and nationalism are about one community or group having power over another community or group, rather than within. There will be women and disabled people in every community, and women and disabled people have naturally occurring vulnerabilities that can be easy to exploit and systemically perpetuate or amplify.

But when you are talking about an entire community of people, the uneven playing field is not naturally occurring. It may be a remnant of the past, but given a fair start, either community is not naturally less powerful than another community. This means that, as long as another community is in power and as long as *some members* of that community want to stay in relative power, there will need to be more public displays of violence.

That doesn’t have to mean violence towards everyone in the community they want to oppress; it only takes a few instances to make “examples.” Even if only a small number of black men are killed innocently and never receive justice, that sends a message.

Most white people do not want to send that message or perpetuate community differences. However, there are SOME white people who do, and until ALL white people recognize that some cops or judges or politicians want to keep racial power, there’s no way to check the inordinate power of those cops and judges and politicians. That doesn’t address every aspect of privilege or racism, and doesn’t get take into account implicit bias, but I think it is a critical part of what is going on now.

I don’t know exactly what to do with that recognition, in part because I believe the answer to that will be different for different people. But nothing else can change without that recognition.

3 thoughts on “On Just Mercy and the difference between racism and ableism”

  1. I haven’t heard about this movie. Will remember! Sadly, I think there will always be someone or a few people who are the exceptions, who create problems for the many, or who oddly become the representatives of a group.

    But here’s hoping to deep positive change coming soon, xo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thinking thinking about the issues and asking questions is great. Growing up, my family list friends who could not deal with the fact that my sister was facing racism at school; they said racism doesn’t exist in Canada. Recognizing systemic injustices exist is the first step.


    1. Damianne, thank you so much. I’ve only just started to realize, not only how real racism is, but how little I read or hear about it, which is my fault and responsibility. I am really grateful that there are so many resources about racism readily available right now, but I’m sorry that they are needed, and that I wasn’t looking sooner.

      Liked by 1 person

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