Why Does Society Pretend to Care About Marginalised Groups?

An ongoing onslaught against marginalised groups has characterised the last few years, with slashes to funding for the disability community, people of colour and nonwhite people, mothers and children, and other people who need a variety of forms of assistance. Such groups, traditionally viewed as vulnerable, are in fact still vulnerable, even more so in an unstable economy where it is hard to get social support.

The overall social response to this has intrigued me. Obviously, there are many individuals and even organisations and politicians who do care deeply about these groups, for a variety of reasons; many have experiences rooted in these communities, or an overall ethical desire to make the world safer, better, and happier for everyone. But as a society as a whole, I cannot help but feel that there is more of a pretending to care going on than an actual commitment to care, and it really becomes evident in the way society handles social programmes, subsequent cuts, and marginalised people.

If society genuinely cared, surely we’d see meaningful social change, because society would commit to making that happen. Take, for example, the huge wealth gap between white people and Black and Latin@ communities. That’s a significant social problem that leads to systemic and multigenerational class issues, with some people having inherent advantages that are simply not available to others. That gap is increasing over time, especially with the huge loss of Black net worth that occurred during the real estate crash.

We can identify this as a problem: there’s no reason why a racial wealth gap should exist. The fact that such a gap does exist is a function of racism in society, and it’s something that should be addressed. There are all kinds of ways to do that, including better college funding for students of colour, more community opportunities, better schools, small business grants, and other options for, yes, transferring wealth to distribute it more equally. Yet, we haven’t taken the large-scale initiative on any of these things, despite claiming to care about racism and the fact that there is a wealth gap.

Government agencies in a position to do something about this are often underfunded and limited by policy handed down from above. They might very much want to take action, but find themselves functionally unable to do so because we don’t actually care, as a society. We want to put on a face that says we do, we want to make it look like we care, we want people to believe that this is important to us, but it’s not, really. It’s just something that we know looks bad, so we pretend to make it a social issue that we will do something about. We’re aware that without some pretense, the rest of the world might raise an eyebrow, and the communities affected might be even more angry than they already are.

See, too, for example, the approach to health care in this country, where we’re assured that no person in need of lifesaving medical attention would be left to die. Because we care, you see. Except that patients can be and are left to die, and, to boot, patients with ongoing chronic issues, high risk factors for injury and disease, and other medical issues are left largely alone. The trend of patching patients up, slinging them back into the ditch, and waiting for them to roll through the ER doors again continues.

Not because medical providers are unfeeling jerks who don’t care about their patients, but because the care they can provide is very, very limited by the self-same programmes that claim to offer protection to the most poor and marginalised. These programmes don’t offer much in the way of coverage, and while hospitals may have a legal obligation to provide lifesaving medical care, once a patient is deemed stable, the next steps are no longer the hospital’s responsibility. So administration usually pressure providers to get nonpaying and uninsured patients out of precious beds to make room for those who yield a profit.

Why do we pretend to care about children when we force them to endure crowded, filthy, and inhumane conditions in schools? If children are our future, how come so many are eating sub-par food in school cafeterias and then starving at home? How come so many don’t know how to read, and struggle with basic math? How come so many go to school in outdated, decaying facilities where they endure lockdowns as part of their regular school routine? How come child abuse is such a huge issue in the United States, and how come so many children face physical and sexual assault as part of their lives?

Why, as a society, do we pretend to care when we so patently don’t? This veneer of caring sticks in my craw, as everyone merrily skips along acting like everything is normal, as though there’s nothing unusual about the conditions for so many groups in society, as though we’re doing everything we can for those who are struggling. This is what breeds the complacency that keeps people in check; with only a small (though thankfully often vocal) group agitating for change, it’s hard to get the pretense of caring to transform into action, and to turn into something that can be effective on a meaningful scale.

So much of how your life will turn out in this country depends on where you were born and innate traits that are part of who you are; your race, your disability status, your gender, your cultural background…These determine whether you are rich or poor, have access to health care or not, eat or starve, endure abuse or do not…and society pretends to care about this, but it doesn’t.

Why? Why do we keep up the pretense instead of rebelling?