As my semester at Moravian College and my internship with Alliance come to an end, I’ve been ask to write a piece that weaves my semester’s work together. In the past few months, I’ve been able to write pieces that focus on colonialism in America, sexual assault, gun control, racism today, and what we teach about Columbus. What do all of these pieces have to do with sustainability? Why should an organization dedicated to sustainability care about these topics? To be sustainable, their mission extends farther than just environmental concerns. We need to look at all the issues that divide us in order to break the barriers blocking us from sustainability.
So what links gun violence, sexual assault, racism, colonialism? This is a question I’ve struggled with until I finally realized the answer wasn’t all that complex and has been staring me right in the face. It’s feelings of entitlement that wraps all of these problems together. We live in a society that forces us all to compete to get ahead; most of us don’t do things for the betterment of humankind, but rather because we want to be superior to others. As I thought about the central problems I wrote about this semester, they all led me back to a sense of entitlement that have allowed for violence to prevail in our country.
When we talk about the colonialism of the Americas, we know that the Europeans came here to exploit the land and resources. They took the land as their own, forced the Indigenous tribes elsewhere (if they didn’t murder them), and began abusing this land because they believed they had no regard for those who already lived there. The colonialists disregarded the land and the people already on it in their search for a new life and riches. Not surprisingly, since entitlement started this country, the problem is still prevalent centuries after the settlers arrived.
It’s obvious when men are driven to sexual violence and aggression through privilege that is bestowed upon them through birth. Our world tells boys that they are powerful creatures and need to be dominant. There is a desire for power over women that is formed by the patriarchy and actually continues to feed the patriarchy. Boys are expected to be strong, aggressive, and tough; they learn that they have power over others, especially females, and grow up needing to prove their superiority. It’s not the sexual urges that drive men to sexual assault, it’s a feeling of superiority.
Gun violence and gun control debates have been on the rise as the number of victims killed by mass shootings also rises. But we haven’t been able to make progressive moves for gun safety because it’s avidly opposed by many. They don’t see why there should be stricter laws even if it is in order to protect the lives of the innocent. After the tragic mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, students are standing up for gun control and people would still rather cling to their guns than realize that it’s unfair to value their guns over children’s lives. Is the right to own a gun worth more than the right to live? Why isn’t safety a priority but owning firearms is?
Somehow throughout time, it became common practice to believe one person is better than another based on a physical attribute. Our country was built by slaves that our ancestors insisted were inferior. People of color have faced centuries of oppression and racism based solely on their appearance. Today, they are oppressed by systematic racism that prevents them from having the same advantages as white people. Instead, they are pushed aside, much like the indigenous people were when the settlers arrived, and not treated with equality. According to the Black Lives Matter movement, the systematic racism is what is getting black people killed without consequences for their murdered so often, as if they’re worth less than a white person.
What we have in our world is the “me first” mentality. All too often, people want to feel superior than the person next to them which is why we start marginalizing racial groups, assaulting women, and disregarding the safety of others. The colonizers thought it was their god-given right to this land, Manifest Destiny, and took everything from the Native Americans while also stripping the land of resources. Men who commit sexual assault (which through the #MeToo movement, we’re finding is all too common) want to feel dominant in sexual situations and will go as far as to rape someone. The push back on gun regulation comes from the mentality that one person’s gun is more sacred than another person’s life. And racism is alive and well in America even if it’s taken new forms since the days of slavery.
The Alliance’s mission is to promote sustainability. We need to be culturally sustainable as well as environmentally sustainable, which can start with solving these problems brought on by entitlement. We can’t just focus on one issue and expect our society to turn utopian. Our problems are intertwined and to fix one means we must first understand its relationship to others.