About a minute into the video below, Micah Bournes seems to contradict himself.
“That question, though understandable it’s … I mean, quite frankly, it’s ridiculous,” he says.
It doesn’t seem like both of those things can be true. If the question is understandable — if it seems like a reasonable question worth asking, then it cannot be “ridiculous.” Or if it is ridiculous, then it cannot be a reasonable question worth asking and it is not “understandable.”
Yet Bournes goes on to explain how both of those things can be true. For the sort of people who would think to ask such a question, it is understandable. From where they’re sitting, it seems like a reasonable question that’s worth asking.
But for the sort of people of whom this question is asked, it’s ridiculous. From where they’re standing, the question is bewildering, disturbing and, as Bournes says, offensive.
That distinction, I think, clarifies why so many conversations about this topic and this question seem so confused and confusing. Those conversations take place between people in vastly different contexts, between people who identify with vastly different contexts. For those in the former context, this question seems rational, reasonable, and “understandable.” For those in the latter context, it seems ridiculous and offensive. To the former it seems innocent. To the latter it seems ignorant.
We could quibble with the end of that video a bit, noting that it’s not quite enough to identify with the underdogs and to struggle on their behalf, but that we should also empower them to fight for themselves, joining alongside them or even following their lead. But, hey, it’s only a two-minute video, so let’s not get too picky.
What I think it does very well is clarify the key question: Who is us?
Or, in the words of the old joke, “What do you mean ‘we,’ kemosabe?” Or, in the words of an even older joke, “Who is my neighbor?”
That’s always the question. And it can seem either perfectly understandable or ridiculously offensive, depending on where you’re standing and who you’re standing with.