Voices Silenced by Privilege are Amplified

Image by BethelCT via Flickr / Public Domain

“Nevertheless, she persisted,” said Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, in defense of his decision to rebuke Senator Elizabeth Warren due to her alleged violation of Rule 19. Little did McConnell realize the fierce proclivity with which his words would be reclaimed by the feminist community. Doing justice to Warren’s tenacious performance, an essential feat in all forms of resistance, the phrase was quickly adopted as a rally cry for feminists.

Senator Elizabeth Warren was interrupted while reading excerpts of a letter written by Coretta Scott King. The letter was written in 1986 objecting to the nomination of Jeff Sessions as a federal judge. Decades later, the letter served as a testimony condemning the confirmation of Sessions as the Attorney General for the United States (he was inducted the following night).

As Attorney General, Sessions now leads the nation’s Department of Justice. This is a violent irony. By occupying this new space, Sessions acts as a powerful threat to any and all justice in this country. A high volume of concern now surrounds the progress of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Sessions is a racist “leader of justice,” making his lack of concern for police bias clear. He condones bias, reducing it to merely a negligible consequence of “life” and thereby invalidating the seriousness of the threat police bias poses to black people on a daily basis. Sure, it is easy to brush off the legitimacy of violent police bias when your whiteness has shielded you from it your entire life.

An overarching theme has become increasingly apparent within the newly selected Cabinet. The new administration is stocked with people who occupy privileged spaces. Antipathetic to the use of their power for good, they greedily cling to the inherent privileges bestowed upon them. Sessions is no exception. As a white, cisgender, heterosexual, American-born man he is soaking in a bubble bath of privilege and actively oppressing those who were not automated with equal validation of existence at birth (further information here, here, and here).

Although Coretta Scott King’s letter was written three decades ago, it is clear that her words still provide an accurate depiction of the alive and thriving maliciousness of the new Attorney General. Additionally, the majority male (and white) Senate’s decision to silence Warren, a women, in the midst of her reciting a testimony from another woman – a person of color and figurehead of the civil rights movement – highlights the callous exercise of privilege performed by the Senate in their 49-43 ruling.

The majority Republican Senate referenced Senate Rule 19 as the basis for their decision to silence Warren, contending that her testimony was impugning on Session’s character. Yet again (see Brock Turner, Gabriel Piterberg, etc.), we see the maintenance of the perpetrators’ reputations being prioritized over victims’ human rights. Sessions perpetuates the oppression of black people. King reported he, “had used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens;” thus, the Senate’s decision modeled another instance of overlooking the well-being of victims.

Examining the power dynamics at play, it becomes increasingly clear that the nature of the decision was both gendered and racialized. The majority male and majority white Senate demonstrated a sickening preservation of white privilege, seemingly predicated on a racist “white person do no wrong” fallacy. The heavy concern of the Senate to protect Sessions’ reputation dramatically outweighed the concern shown for injustices highlighted in King’s letter.

Fortunately, with power comes resistance. In wake of the of the blunt privilege exercises which took place at the Senate, many have used social media to express their discontent. People are demanding the voices of both Warren and King be heard. The attention drawn by the circulating hashtags has encouraged many to read King’s letter in their own pursuit, including those who blasted King’s letter through a bullhorn outside of McConnell’s homes. These actions of resistance have made sure this is a silencing that will not, like so many disrespectful and unjust acts before it, go unnoticed. Remember, the first stage of dismantling harmful privilege is to listen.

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