Tolley Jones: The luxury of ignorance

  • Tolley Jones SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 11/18/2020 1:33:19 PM

As the parent of a child with life-threatening food allergies, I have learned that some people’s lives are dependent on whether or not other people care enough to keep them safe.

If someone with a food allergy has a reaction, the people around them need to understand what is happening, know what to do, and then choose to do it, in order to keep them safe and alive. And even before an accidental ingestion of an allergen, the people around the child have to understand, and also care, that their own behaviors and actions have an impact on that child’s life and experience.

Most people are willing to make sacrifices to their own experience in order to ensure that the allergic child can be one of the group — safe. They heighten their awareness of their own actions, environment and the impact of their decisions on this child because they recognize that they won’t be able to enjoy their own life if it comes at the expense of the other’s.

But there are also people who are angered by the idea that one person’s food allergy might place demands on them and interfere with them simply doing whatever they want, whenever they want. There are those who aggressively insist on advocating for their right not to have to consider someone else’s needs ahead of their own want.

These are the parents who resent a child because their own child can’t bring a peanut butter sandwich to school. And then there are the people so committed to their own comfort being paramount, and so angered by the concept of not getting their own way 100% of the time, that they deliberately expose the person to their allergens.

I see the parallels in elections in America. Half the country is incensed at the idea that anyone else’s needs might come before their own. But even some of the so-called progressives don’t practice what they preach, insisting that the river isn’t for everyone (because it’s annoying to share) or this town isn’t for everyone (because of the sort of people who will move in to that low-income housing) or that education isn’t for everyone (because it’s inconvenient to make it so.)

The stronger a group is, the more apathetic they are when it comes to taking the time and making the effort to learn how their thoughts turn into choices, how those choices can influence policies, and how those policies can influence the trajectory of the entire country.

If a person fails to see that their apathy is a luxury afforded to them — unchanged by ever-changing presidents, laws and Supreme Court decisions — then I don’t know how to explain it otherwise to them. As someone who can check off several boxes equaling “Not In The Dominant Group,” I have to be alert for when I might have to run, when we might be legally silenced, legally disempowered, legally owned, legally killed.

Black people were not originally included in those who were created equal. We couldn’t run away to freedom, and, if we did, no one could legally assist us in gaining such freedom. Lawmakers later determined that we were free. The 14th Amendment and the Supreme Court made it possible to shut down any laws in states that denied such equal protection to any of its citizens.

Yet women still did not gain the right to vote until 1919, thus proving that interpretation of the Constitution and its amendments is not set in stone. Until the people in charge grew to believe that a Black person is 100% the equal of a white person, or a woman 100% the equal of a man, no real change occurred. Equal protection meant equal protection for white males, until enough of them agreed to vote to include others besides themselves.

A healthy, straight, white man of median income in the United States can afford to not pay attention to elections because he has always been the dominant paradigm. He can play around and vote for a dangerous, power-craving megalomaniac because it seems like fun to shake things up, precisely because the things that get shaken up are never the things he needs. He knows that laws are written for him.

However, for everyone else in America, we don’t have the luxury of being ignorant of the end results of elections, and we definitely don’t have the luxury of watching the consequences play out on a TV screen, like an interesting movie to be enjoyed with popcorn.

Those who sit in their armchair of assurance while voting for a single issue — or solely on behalf of their own demographic — are responsible for the consequences. They are as guilty as those who voted to secede from the union because they didn’t want to agree to anything that meant they had to prioritize human rights and dignity over their own prosperity.

If you are one of those people who vote for bad people because they will keep your life the same — while knowing deep down that others’ lives will be worse — I know that you would have voted to keep me a slave.

I wonder if you know it, too.

Tolley M. Jones lives in Easthampton with her two children. She has worked with children and families in western Massachusetts for over 30 years. She is currently an intensive care coordinator.

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