Rationalizing Injustice: How We Defend Acts Against Minority People

By Justin Massey

It is pressing that we start listening to the valid pain of minorities in our community and begin empowering the beloved of God rather than defending the actions of those who wrong them.

Yesterday morning the students of Wheaton College gathered together, eager to present candid questions to the college president at the annual Town Hall Chapel. Students approached the standing microphones—some asking light, comical questions and some engaging more controversial or serious matters.

The student body showed great respect, occasionally applauding, as these students spoke. However, there was no applause for one student who spoke against the injustice he has witnessed his LGBT peers experience. A brother in Christ and ally to the LGBT community, he boldly questioned the oppression and exclusion that has harmed a demographic we should be embracing and loving. Instead of being greeted by support, he faced mostly silence before an apple was thrown at him by a peer in the crowd. No matter why this individual decided to throw the apple, it was more than simply disruptive. It was hurtful. For some of us in Wheaton’s LGBT community, it felt as if this student was spitting in our face as this ally voiced the deep pain we experience day-to-day.

Interestingly, the response of others following the incident disturbs me more than the action itself. I saw peers exert more effort into rationalizing the offense rather than demonstrating support to the LGBT community whose experiences were disrespected. From three separate individuals I have heard that the disruptive student simply felt “the question was just too long,” “the tone of the inquiring student appeared rude,” and even “ it was simply a joke gone wrong.” Each of these answers has one thing in common: they take responsibility off of the offending individual in an attempt to absolve this student of displaying any prejudice against a minority group. This incident affected more people than just the student who was hit. While it is wrong to show disrespect to any person, acting against an individual who raises minority concerns holds a different weight. It affirms the hateful messages that tell these already disadvantaged persons that they are not valued and undeserving of respect. Therefore, the intent of the disruptive student does not need justification or clarification because, no matter the reason, the incident perpetuated the isolation and pain LGBT students experience. 

I find dismissive responses to be quite common in our society more generally. When a majority person offends a minority we are quick to offer up excuses. We live in a world that encourages us to rationalize our micro-aggressions rather than own up to them. As a male and a white person, I have seen this play out in my own privileged communities. We’ll do anything to avoid having to consider one of our own to “racist” or “sexist” as if coming to terms with the reality of our offenses and prejudices will bring more pain to our community than we have caused to minorities through our own actions. When we see a black person, a trans* person, a woman or any other minority attacked or offended we often brush this off and consider it to simply be a person in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” If that is the case it seems minority people are in a perpetual state of being in “the wrong place at the wrong time” as they face disproportionate rates of violence and discrimination just because of who they are.

We need to consider thoughtfully, especially as people of faith, why we are so quick to defend our actions when they hurt others. We are called to confess our errors and seek reconciliation with those we wrong. If we are more concerned about excusing the intent behind a disrespectful action than the impact it has on those affected, we are not adequately displaying Christ’s profound love and humility. We must demonstrate to our peers that we are unwilling to stand for homophobic disrespect and seek healing and forgiveness for the ways we have hurt our peers. We must be committed to loving and embracing those who are oppressed rather than rationalizing the actions of those who oppress. Let’s stop being defensive in our failings but rather join together as a confessional community united in our pursuit of justice.

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14 Comments

  1. Justin, thank you for this post! I was so appalled when I saw Isaac’s post recapping what had happened yesterday in chapel. The fact that none of the administration, staff, or faculty members on stage said anything about the incident and that a student ultimately was the one who addressed it was absolutely unbelievable and is entirely unacceptable to me both as a human being and as a Wheaton alumna.

    It has been such a privilege getting to know some of the LGBTQ students and allies at Wheaton this year! My thoughts and prayers are with you all often.

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  2. So, I’m pretty sure that one of the “individuals” you referenced was me, and I’d like a chance to explain myself without trying to cram everything I’m saying into little boxes of 140 characters.

    First of all, as I tried to state multiple times on twitter but apparently failed to make clear, I was never trying to take any responsibility or blame off of the person who did this. Whoever threw that stupid piece of fruit is guilty of severe disrespect and, as you said in your post whether he meant to or not perpetuating the isolation and pain LGBT students experience. I agree. Looking back at my comments on twitter yesterday now I realize that I definitely should have made that more clear. I sort of assumed that that was agreed upon as it seemed so evident to me that those facts were non-negotiable so I failed to emphasize that point. It’s awful what the person did.

    Where I was coming from with my comments yesterday was an effort to change behavior at the school, or more specifically the behavior of this one student. I am unaware of the identity of this person, but I’m sure that at least some group of people know who he is and that is receiving some flack for this. If the behavior of this individual is to change (which again we all agree that it should because what was done was awful) than any decent psychologist will tell you that you have to deal with the ROOT of the problem. That’s the only way to change behavior.

    As i said earlier on Twitter I am rather unfamiliar with the regular oppression the LGBT community faces, so I could be wrong on this, but it seemed to me that this action was not in response to a man asking a question about LGBT issues, but due to the timing of the throwing and the specific words being spoken at that point, it seemed to me that it was in response to what seemed like severe disrespect towards President Ryken. Again, let me make myself perfectly clear that I am not justifying or taking blame off this person at all. I completely agree that this individual perpetuated the isolation and pain LGBT students experience whether he mean to or not. I am simply trying to get to the ROOT of the problem so that behavior may change.

    If indeed this person had no intention of hurting LGBT students and was responding to a different matter entirely then this individual reading comments or possibly even getting personal lectures on how important diversity is and on the struggles of the LGBT community, you may get an effective guilt trip that will last for a short time, but if you’re not dealing with the ROOT of the problem, then behavior will not change and this person will not change.

    Again I apologize for not being more clear and sympathetic in our brief conversation yesterday. I really am sorry this happened and was (and still am) outraged when this happened and am hurting for my LGBT brothers and sisters. I’m sorry i didn’t show that earlier.

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  3. Far worse has happened to me as a gay youth in Sunday school, reason 1,343,533 I left the Church. Good luck to you Justin. You do such good work, sometimes I fear in vain…

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  4. I’m reminded of what happened so recently at the Oscars, with Sean Penn’s idiotic remark about immigration. Some articles I read afterward attempted to make the case that because Penn and Iñárritu are good friends, the comment was made in jest and was fine. But really, regardless of how friendly they are, that comment certainly hurt a lot of individuals watching who felt attacked due to their position within our society.

    In that particular case, thankfully, I think that Iñárritu was able to take the occasion to make a very powerful statement about the state of the Mexican government and the attitudes within the US about immigration status, so perhaps it was overall a good thing. Still.

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  5. Wonder where Julie Rodgers was in all this. She’s gone radio-silent on her blog since taking the job at Wheaton; surely she had some thoughts or opinions on all this.

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  6. As a gay man, I appreciate your speaking out about this atrocious incident. I admire your courage and passion. However, you may find that reliance on “social justice” jargon to make your case is unpersuasive and counterproductive. Your piece above is littered with this jargon. It may strike a chord with the small number of people in the world who are engrossed in “cultural studies” or who attend conferences on “privilege,” but many will see it as the insular cultish language that it is. Don’t lecture the world about “micro-aggressions” and don’t try to establish some contrived moral system whereby any action that offends a “minority” is automatically indefensible. Instead, appeal to more widely held bases of morality – fairness, respect for all, kindness, and non-violence. You may find that this is more persuasive to more people, and that you are a better man for avoiding the alternative.

    BTW, don’t take this as a micro-aggression, but there’s a typo in the sentence “Therefore, the intent . . .”

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