Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sedans, Pickup Trucks, and Systemic Injustice

In this metaphor, there was a superhighway that was the envy of the transportation world. It was seven lanes across on either side and managed an enormous amount of diverse traffic. Small cars, sedans, compact SUVs, pickup trucks, large SUVs, etc. But not all of the lanes were equal. Traffic flowed more quickly in the lanes further to the left. This wasn't necessarily by design; they just happened to be occupied predominantly by sedans.

Since the sedans stayed mostly to the left lanes, they were too far removed from the slower moving right lanes to really understand what it was like over there. They could sort of stretch their necks and look over the middle lanes, but even then they were too far away to really get it. But that didn't stop them from having opinions about the right lanes.

The lane furthest to the right was mostly occupied by pickup trucks. When the superhighway was first built, the sedans wouldn't even let the pickup trucks use it. So many of the pickup trucks were just content to be driving in a time when they were allowed on the road at all.

But some of the pickup trucks started paying attention. They started wondering why most of the sedans were allowed to merge to the left, but most of the pickup trucks that tried to merge to the left were blocked. "Why won't you let us over?" they asked.

"It's not that we're not letting you over. You guys just aren't working hard enough to get in these lanes," the sedans responded.

Meanwhile, in the far right lane, giant holes were beginning to open up with deep, dark caverns below. So many pickup trucks were caught off guard and fell through, crashing to their deaths. A few sedans and SUVs fell through them as well. But the overwhelming majority of the cars that fell through were pickup trucks.

The pickup trucks were doing everything they could to avoid the holes. Some of them were even pushing others into the holes just to have the chance to continue on and maybe avoid the next one. Not wanting to wait on the next hole to open up, they started panicking. "Please! For the love of Henry Ford, let us over!"

Some of the sedans said "Why does it have to be a matter of us 'letting you over'? Why aren't you worried about the pickup trucks pushing other pickup trucks into the holes? That seems like a bigger problem."

It was clear that the sedans--for the most part; there were a few that tried but were drowned out by the others--weren't going to go out of their way to help repair the far right lane or even let the pickup trucks over in the meantime.

The pickup trucks wanted to stay calm and find ways to avoid the holes peacefully. They kept reminding each other, saying "we have to stay organized and peaceful, otherwise our lane will never be fixed." And most of them agreed. But that didn't stop the worrying, the panicking, and the constant creeping fear they all had that any second a hole could open up end their life.

Some of the pickup trucks thought they could see sedans up ahead deliberately pushing pickup trucks into the holes. It wasn't all of them, but at least a few of them. And it seemed like they mainly targeting pickup trucks. As the rest of the pickup trucks began to catch onto what was happening, their fears and worries grew to a boiling anger. "Why are you doing this?!"

Despite their collective fury over the prejudices against them, most of the pickup trucks still tried to hold onto their collective devotion to peaceful organizing. But then another pickup truck got pushed into a hole by a sedan, right in front of a large group of pickup trucks. The floodgates holding back their anger snapped, and the pickup trucks started ramming into the sedans, demanding to be let over.

The sedans in the far left lane craned their necks, wondering what was all the commotion over there. They saw the pickup trucks slamming into the cars in their way. The sedans were appalled, confused, disappointed, and a little terrified. They immediately started commenting on this absurd behavior.

"Some of those pickup trucks have no class," one said seriously.

"Stay classy, right lane," another said sarcastically.

"Yeah, because slamming into other cars always solves problems."

"If they have time for slamming into cars, they should have time to fix those holes."

But the sedans had no idea what it was like to spend a day on the superhighway as a pickup truck. No matter how well intentioned they were, they could not live that experience. Nor could they hover above the superhighway and see that the pickup trucks were just responding naturally to what was happening around them. It wasn't a matter of ethics or proper behavior.

When it came right down to it, none of the cars on the superhighway--including and especially the sedans, as well as the pickup trucks--were really in control of anything they did. Sometimes it just felt like they were in control of their individual cars, and made decisions about when to switch lanes and how fast to drive. Few of them realized that they were all just at the mercy of the flow of traffic.

You couldn't really blame the sedans for taking advantage of their positions in the far left lane. Nor could you blame the pickup trucks for reacting desperately, angrily, or rashly at their disproportionately hole-riddled far right lane. You could only observe the larger phenomenon and ask how to gradually and steadily repair holes in the right lanes, and diversify the flow of traffic across all seven lanes.