Charity isn’t social justice (or civil rights)

18 Oct

Where to begin… how about quoting Ann Coulter, the social and political commentator who tweeted a week ago in recognition of National Coming Out Day:

Last Thursday was national “coming out” day.  This Monday is national “disown your son” day (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/16/ann-coulter-national-coming-out-day-tweet-glaad-_n_1970502.html).

Not only does Coulter wear her heterosexism proudly, endorsing families shunning their children (and suggesting that choice is worthy of celebration), she manages to slip in some genderism, implying that gay men are more abhorrent (and deserving of rejection) than gay women.

And that’s not even why I’m blogging about her. But there it is.

So here’s Coulter on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on 09/23/12 (http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/coulter-civil-rights-blacks-immigrants-201633682–election.html?cid=outbrain), talking about civil rights:

“I think the way liberals have treated blacks like children and many of their policies have been harmful to blacks, at least they got the beneficiary group right,” Coulter said. “There is the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws. We don’t owe the homeless. We don’t owe feminists. We don’t owe women who are desirous of having abortions or gays who want to get married to one another. That’s what civil rights has become for much of the left.”

“Immigrant rights are not civil rights?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“No,” Coulter responded, “No. I think civil rights are for blacks. What have we done to the immigrants? We owe black people something. We have a legacy of slavery. Immigrants haven’t even been in this country.”

According to Coulter, civil rights is about paying our debts, as opposed to the protection and privilege a nation owes its citizens.

Notwithstanding her confusing claim that immigrants “haven’t even been in this country” (but that’s what makes them immigrants, Ann!), in a technical sense, undocumented immigrants are not citizens, and therefore may not be entitled to the civil rights the US promises its population. Of course, in reality, citizenship status is not that cut and dry. There are families of mixed status because undocumented parents have children born in the US. There are undocumented individuals who participate in civic life and accept citizen’s responsibilities, like paying taxes. And there’s the inequity of the immigration system itself.

Underlying her misunderstanding of the whole premise of civil rights is the assumption that social justice is charity. As Coulter sees it, the have’s designate the worthy have not’s (the so-called “beneficiary groups”) and pay what’s due. Presumably, the have’s also designate exactly how much is owed (I’d love to see Coulter’s math for what we owe African-Americans, calculating the human cost and financial profits gleaned from slavery, to date).

But where’s the social transformation in Coulter’s equation? Again, the problem with charity is not with charity as an act itself, but in how we–Coulter, Romney and countless others (and not just Republicans)–mistake it for necessary social change.

As for civil rights, they’re not just what we owe citizens; they’re what we owe ourselves as a society. Because your rights enhance not just your life, but mine, too. (Even if it drives me crazy when you exercise them, Ann.)

**Thanks to EB for the article.

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