My Father the Policeman: A Critique of Anecdotes of the Privileged
This article was originally published here on July 5th, 2020.
Have you ever noticed that upon critique of a power structure a privileged person will pipe up with an anecdote to quip back? "My uncle was the county sheriff." "My aunt is a judge." "My father was a policeman." They mean it—I believe—either to show their understanding of the issue or to illustrate tacitly how they take personal offense. Both deserve to be addressed.
With regard to the demonstration of their ostensible understanding—it only goes so far, given their privilege; they will be sheltered from the gritty injustices that their privileged relatives will commit, because it would be perceived to bring disgrace onto the family otherwise. Or at least, they will be sheltered from the gritty realities that are considered unacceptable within the family culture.
This distinction is one that I can attest to myself; my grandparents worked for the police department. Now I come from a very traditional Italian-American family; the conservative ken of "law and order" runs strong. Most of the anecdotes that I have heard are sourced from my father, since he frequently witnessed the relevant actions of his family members—who worked for the police department. What he saw was awful: the corporal punishment of petty thieves for no other reason than police pleasure, alongside a general abuse of power. They also were quite racist; my grandfather believes—to this very day I believe—that Black people do not deserve equivalent freedom to white people, and he also distrusts Jewish people. This of course would hamper his ability to treat everyone equally, which is supposed to be a necessary skill in the job, given the diversity of people with whom an officer will have to cooperate, as in a community.
There is no doubt in my mind however that he—along with my grandmother, and everyone else in that police department for that matter, all giving their approval to these injustices—believed that his actions and beliefs were correct; everyone is the hero of their own story. But a person's pureness at heart is truthfully irrelevant to these discussions. When minds are scarred, when situations are escalated, when violence breaks out—intentions are no longer relevant, since the damage is still done all the same. If the intentions of the terrorists—in effect, what police are, causing terror to pacify the people out to whom they are dispatched—were ill, then the solution to the problem would be simple: fire all the iniquitous servants and replace them with good-natured people. But no, the problem is in how the structure inherently corrupts; therefore it must be abolished. It has nothing to do with how kind a family member may be.
But then, if the objection is not rational, what about an emotional objection: that one's bloodlines lead them to be victim of personal offense? What a pitiful concept: that one having family connections granting privilege should be accounted for when the institution that grants these privileges is criticized more than the people whom it hurts on the basis of their social status, often derived from their lineage! This can be observed in communities of people of color most notably; their deep family connections—id est their very race—affects the way they are treated by people with hierarchical control. Yet lest not—oh heavens—these people—among other people: neurodivergent people, queer people, and so on—express the same distaste that the power structures they fight against show for them, right back! What a laugh that we should remain in silence because of the abled cishet white person's affiliations!
So in effect this citation of anecdotes is a form of tone policing: that marginalized people should accept their circumstances, lest they face the censure of the privileged minority. Why should we seek respect from the system that gives us none? Why should we play on that field when we'll never win? What reason do we have to not devote our efforts into welding the oppressed masses into a destructive force? There is no need to enable the privileged; we have no choice but to oppugn them until they are free of their control.