The Hart of the Matter: Complacency encourages bigotry

By Lily Hartenstein

Illustration by Lily Hartenstein

Living in the bubble of the Silicon Valley, most people will say they are against the ideologies of racism, sexism, homophobia or any other form of bigotry.

Yet somehow, even in this bubble, every single minority I know has been harassed because of their gender, sexuality or race.

Such bigotry continues today, even in the Bay Area bubble, largely due to a neutrality that condones the behavior of prejudiced people.

After the Weinstein scandal was uncovered, in which Hollywood figure Harvey Weinstein was reported to have sexually harassed and assaulted countless women over a huge period of time, the social media campaign “#MeToo” began. In the campaign, women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted posted the status “me too” in order to show how significant a  problem sexual abuse is today.

My social media feeds were flooded. Almost every woman I knew posted those powerful two words. Even in this wonderful bubble, it was apparent that every single woman, and even those who are not women, feel the crushing weight of sexism.

This brings up the question: If we are so open and accepting around here, how is bigotry still an issue?

Asking this to myself, I began to look more closely at the “me too” posts. Many of the people liking, sharing or commenting on them were people I had seen, in different contexts, condoning the behavior of their misogynistic peers.

Herein lies the problem. People in the Bay Area are so comfortable in the way we are open and liberal that few actually examine the issues. On the surface, sexism, racism and homophobia are deemed intolerable. But underneath, they go unchecked.

The only way to truly decrease instances of bigotry — for example, the sexism that leads to the acts of sexual harassment and assault seen in the Weinstein case — is to stop excusing people who encourage such behavior.

Yes, one person may not be sexist. However, if they are constantly surrounded by people who bolster sexist ideologies, and do nothing to challenge those people, they are complicit in the sexism. And as history has shown countless times, indifference to an issue is as harmful as the perpetuation itself.

Look at any of the countless wars throughout civilization, and one can see three parties: the aggressors, the victim, and the indifferent. It is the presence of the indifferent that allows the aggressor to thrive, and dooms the victim.

An extreme example, the Holocaust highlights this concept well. Hitler was able to seize control of Germany by counting on the fact that most people would simply not do anything to stop him. Many people were against what he stood for, but not enough actively fought his rise.

In the famed words of Holocaust survivor and political activist Elie Wiesel, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

In order to keep moving forward towards a more tolerant and accepting society, we must actively hold each other accountable for bigotry, instead of simply believing in human rights. Complacency has no place in a community that does not accept bigotry.