The Other Columbus: Being right isn’t enough in a culture war

Those with privilege also need to use the things they control to affect change on behalf of others

Scott Woods
Abortion rights activist Amy Nachtrab, of Delaware, Ohio, protests in support of abortion rights near the Supreme Court of Ohio. The protest comes a day after a U.S. Supreme Court draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked. The 1973 landmark ruling protects a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. About 75 people stood outside protesting as heavy rail fell, which grew to about 150 within an hour.

As we collectively face the barrel of the Roe v. Wade shotgun, it seems important to point out that this was practically inevitable. There was no way conservatives weren’t going to pull the trigger on a Supreme Court so infused with their DNA. 

We are literally fighting fundamental battles we have already won: freedom of speech, desegregation, women's rights, gay rights, voting rights. We won all of those things already. Yet here we are, fighting tooth and nail to ensure that just a basic knowledge of those things remains a graduation requirement.

Modern conservatives have been trying to dismantle anything resembling a progressive society since desegregation became the law of the land. The rollbacks we're seeing now are frequently being laid at the feet of a new Trumpian ideal but have actually been in the works for generations. Like Trump himself, the modern conservative movement is more of a dying canary in the cage than it is an organic moment. 

The problem with being on the right side of history is that history is not agency. This is why I wasn't banging the drum over Ketanji Brown Jackson being added to the Supreme Court. Black people stay making history and pioneering things and working twice as hard for half the check, but the degree to which we control anything — to which we have agency — is so low it doesn't change our reality. It only changes our textbooks and maybe amends some conversations. 

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Agency is control. When you don't have it, you're just a placeholder. You can do that in a positive way or a negative way, but ultimately, it's still just placeholding. When have the powerful ever conceded power for the sake of good in this country? Almost never. I’ve been over cheering for token representation since I was a teenager, and that predates the internet by, well, several years.

Black people have lots of boogeymen, but one that seems relevant here is the Great Race War. We were always warned about the GRW, only to discover it's been raging for decades. Everyone kept looking for acts of physical militancy or homegrown terrorism that might spark the match when really it was a cold war the whole time. (Not that militancy piece can't still happen. In fact, that's when you'll know the war is over and we’ve all lost.) 

We told America about this the whole time it was happening, too. So here is something else we will tell you again: Do not be surprised at the changes. Instead, watch the rate at which these rollbacks and changes are happening. Watch how they sell them. Note who is most affected. That is the front line.

Pay attention to what those on the bottom rungs of privilege have been telling you over and over again. It’s only cyclical because too many people think knowing something is the work. And yes, knowledge is power, but only if you have the will to apply it in concrete ways. Owning the instruction manual for a bookcase isn’t owning a bookcase. When someone tells you to “use your privilege,” they mean use your agency; use the things you control to affect change on behalf of others. Being right isn’t enough.