What is political about standing up for human rights?

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 at 6:11 PM

In life there are many things that exist on a gradient; situations in various shades of gray, no matter how much people want to paint them as black and white.

However, there are a handful of issues that are black and white: civil liberties, human rights, and the ability to protect oneself from harm, as a few examples. Everyone, no matter their race, sexuality, religion or gender should not be discriminated against, and no one should face the family separation we’ve recently seen at the border. 

And yet at some point, we decided that stating those basic truths was equivalent to making a polarizing “political statement.” As if there were some alternative belief outside of the fair and humane treatment of people. 

Just this past week, our interim university president Dr. Michael Hannan sent out a campus-wide email pledging support to all survivors of sexual assault, a wonderful sentiment, but in concluding his message he emphasized that this was not “meant to be a political statement.” 

That the university had to include this in the statement reflects not on the personal political stance or character of Hannan, but on the current climate of our country. Clear lines were drawn in 2016 when we elected into office a president who called into question the humanity of people of color, degraded women (and still is degrading women), and made broad and sweeping generalizations about immigrants that came to the U.S. for a better life; suddenly, politics became closer to “black and white.” Where you stood was closer to “black and white.” And this was before even the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

To quickly change gears, it’s cool to see people start to realize that politics is something that affects their daily lives. For the first time since I could remember, people were talking about the presidential race not as just another dry political announcement, but as a race that would determine the way they functioned on a day-to-day level. That discussion is what we need more of as citizens.

A tiny part of me understands why so many people try not to mention anything that could be interpreted as being political, especially in an academic or professional setting. After a while, all the bickering and screaming gets exhausting. And of course, the university as an institution is often designed as apolitical in nature.

However, I also believe that shutting out, or lessening the intensity of any mention of important issues to pacify one side or the other is not constructive either.

For too long in the history of our country the majority has decided that it is “uncivil” or “political” to discuss the experiences of minorities (of all types) and victims of sexual assault. In doing so, we allowed for the continuation of gross and atrocious injustices. I like to think that after the Civil Rights Era and into the 2000s we, as a country, attempted to redeem the sins of our past by pointing out injustice in any form that it appeared. Finally, we were making progress. 

However, the election of Donald J. Trump, instead of bringing us closer together under a banner of “equal rights for everyone,” has made things messier than ever. 

Just like that, our country slid backwards and lost all the progress it had gained through the hard efforts of recent years. 

Having to couple what you say or support with whether the public should take it as “political” or not is not the way to gain back the progress that we lost the day Trump was elected. To gain back that progress, we need to start taking stances and standing with those who are affected by the most black and white issues. The university should be praised for its message. But we should also recognize that in today’s climate, it’s OK if the message is political in an instance like sexual assault. The email stated that allegations have been “dismissed by some, criticized by others and even mocked.” These dismissals have often come from a particular side.

There’s nothing political about speaking out for the rights of someone — what is political is that people have problems with that. 

Shayma Musa can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

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