Academics write like their words are important. I am an academic. I am not important. This is not a self-deprecating statement–this is an unalterable fact. The population on the planet is seven billion. I am one out of seven billion people, and I used to think that what I had to say was important, but now, I don’t.
What makes one person’s words more important than someone else’s? A number of things–money, political power, gender, sexual orientation, race (at least, in the United States), charisma, physical beauty, education. Many academics would like to believe that those things are sources of privilege, which is to be self-denied, but don’t want to admit the knowledge that those things are sources of privilege is, in it of itself, a source of privilege. But, even with a knowledge of the way privilege works, I see no notable action taken.
Academics create theories for what they don’t understand, then don’t apply the theories literally, because they’re too afraid of making the wrong move, theoretically. Constant is the question, “What are the theoretical implications of my actions?” Thrown into the void is the question, “What can I do to contribute to a free and equal society?”
Most often, I see the cycle of Oppression Olympics repeat itself into oblivion. Most often, I see people analyzing texts and giving their opinions on the lives of real people.
Most often, nothing productive is done.
Once, I was walking with a classmate of mine behind a student who was carrying a pile of books and papers. The student dropped the pile of papers as he went through the door, and I bent down to help him gather his things. After I finished, my classmate said to me, “Don’t you think people might think you only helped him because he’s Black, and you’re white?”
“No,” I said. “He dropped his books; I helped him pick them up.”
That was the end of the conversation.
It seems to me that theories are for people who don’t really know the people they analyze. If they did, they wouldn’t question whether or not their actions were theoretically right or wrong. They would live their lives as if they already lived in a free and equal society, and they would work together with humanity to rid the world of injustice.