I often hear the opinion that saying “I’m not political”, or choosing to avoid conversations about politics, is an act of privilege. That only sheltered people have the option of non-involvement. I would agree that if you’re personally effected by an issue, you are far more likely to care about it. I also recognize that people who are poor, or non-white, or immigrants, or women, or not straight, are often judged as “being political” when they’re just relaying their everyday experiences, because their existence itself is deemed political. All of this is true. But there are also ways in which marginalization can prevent political focus. Here are some examples.
A person who is homeless and living on the street is more likely to be focused on the basics of everyday survival than on contemplating political topics. If you’re expending all your time and energy trying to find food and shelter, you’re not going to spend hours reading about politics on the internet. You (most likely) won’t attend marches. You don’t have money to donate to causes, and can’t boycott products because you need to take what you can get.
Back in the fall of 2011, I was involved with the Occupy movement in New Haven. I’m glad to have taken part, as I learned a lot and met some wonderful people. Many of them made efforts to give to the homeless people on the New Haven green, which was good. They gave them food and offered a media platform to those who wanted one. But not every homeless person was enthusiastic. Some of the Occupiers were sleeping in tents on the green, and a homeless woman informed me she didn’t like it because “me and my friends need this space.” There was a notable moment when a fellow Occupier tried to high-five a homeless man in solidarity. He shook his head, clearly not enjoying the gesture. I’m not going to assume that none of the homeless people cared about politics, but many were too focused on their immediate needs to invest themselves in philosophical theories and keep up on current events.
If a person is not homeless but still living in urgent poverty, they may be too busy to pay attention to politics, get involved in community organizations, or similar things. They could be working so many hours that they barely have time to sleep, let alone dedicate large blocks of time to an ideology.
Additionally, mental health can play into this. I know people who disengage from social justice issues and choose not to involve themselves in political conversations—not because they’re apathetic, but because it will throw them into a psychological crisis. Extensive involvement in these things can be very detrimental to some peoples’ mental health, particularly if they struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or agoraphobia. There are people with these conditions who choose to be involved, and that’s perfectly fine. But I respect the choice to disengage for their own well-being. Sometimes the ones who are most impacted by these topics are the ones who most need to pick and choose their battles, or else they strain themselves to the breaking point.
Some who are impacted by these social issues don’t have access to education that will teach them about it. Some are politically invested, but not liberal. I know people of marginalized identities who have right-wing values. Some don’t have the time, and others care so much that it drains them and they need to maintain distance for the sake of their health.
Many privileged people are involved in politics—and that can be a problem when they’re out of touch with others. It’s true that privilege can also play into non-involvement or apathy, but it can be more complicated than that.