February 29, 2020•423 words
Do not attribute to malice what can be attributed to anything else.
We've all heard that before. Though many of us have heard it as "... what can be attributed to stupidity," I find anything else to be more accurate and certainly better for my mental health.
But as I think about it, there is more to the story. Context is critical to the application of this maxim.
This saying is a way for one to interpret the world for oneself: If someone cuts you off in traffic, assume they didn't see you. It'll save you a lot of frustration and they probably really didn't see you anyway.
But when it comes to interpreting the actions of someone toward a third party, we need to approach those interactions in the way that will lead to the greatest good. It pains me to use royal gossip to make a point, but the treatment of Meghan Markle in comparison to Kate Middleton comes to mind. Someone told me that the issue is probably that Meghan Markle is not British, so that's why everyone treats her unfairly -- if even they are treating her unfairly. And that's probably the approach Ms Markle or really anyone on the victim's side of the interaction -- even people of color everywhere -- should take to interpret her treatment for their own mental health.
But when it's me, nominally on the aggressor's side as a white person commenting on royal gossip online, and certainly not possibly a victim in any way whatsoever, I need to view the interaction suspiciously, assuming that the complaints of racism could very well be true.
Why? There is no benefit to me assuming that racism bears no import on the situation. Well, I suppose it would let me feel better about the world being less racist than it is. But that's about it. However, if I assume that there may likely be a racist component in the public's treatment of Ms Markle, then I can look more critically at people's actions to attempt to get closer to the truth, I can look at my own actions to make sure I'm not being racist, and I can look at the actions of people close to me and help them look into their own motivations.
Put another way, it's healthy to accept certain inconsequential injustices on oneself, chalking them up to the stupidity or ignorance of the aggressor. But we need to expose and fight injustices elsewhere so that they can be routed out and eliminated.