When Some Isn't Enough

By Brian Carr

If you aren’t willing to stand up for everybody, you can’t stand up for anybody.

I've been thinking about that statement a lot recently. I have been doing a lot of theological reflection lately, trying to flesh out my own theology and convictions, and this statement became a focal point of my thoughts.

If you couldn’t wrap your head around that, or don’t understand what I mean by it, let me explain.

Essentially what I am saying is that if you aren’t willing to stand up for everyone who is oppressed, then you can’t truly stand up for any oppressed person.

Here is an example—if you stand up for African-American rights, but not for the rights of women, then are you truly able to stand up for African Americans? One of the first problems becomes what happens when you encounter an African-American female. Will you stand up against those oppressing her for being black, but not against those who oppress her for being a woman? If that is the case then you are simultaneously trying to stand up for her and oppress her. That can’t work.

The other issue is that if you stand up for one group of oppressed people but not another, then you are an oppressor by definition. To me, there is no gray area in the realm of oppression. You are either standing up for the oppressed or taking part in the system that oppresses them. There is no in between.

By not standing up for an oppressed person you are by default oppressing them. Silence is a form of oppression. Gandhi once said that choosing not to speak is choosing to speak and choosing not to act is choosing to act. If you hear someone make a racist joke and stay silent, you are taking part in that form of oppression. You are just as much of an oppressor as the person making the joke because you are allowing that person to oppress others.

Again, there is no gray area. You either oppress or you stand up for the oppressed. You have to choose a side.

Let’s bring this back to the initial statement—if you aren’t willing to stand up for everyone, you can’t stand up for anyone.

You must be willing to stand up for every oppressed person in order to break the system of oppression. If you stay silent with even one person, you have become a part of systemic oppression and that fact alone limits your ability to truly stand up for anyone.

In a similar vein, what if I said that if you aren’t willing to love everyone, you can’t truly love anyone?

If your love is limited to certain people and not others, if it is conditionally based on the person you are choosing to love or not love, if it is not broad, then is it really, truly love?

I truly believe that our love is meant for everyone, and if we limit this love then we are not using love in the way it was meant to be used. In the same way, I believe that we are meant to stand up for everyone who is oppressed. So if we only choose to stand up for certain people, then we are not using our ability to help people in the way we were meant to do.

That is the problem.

So now I say more confidently—if you aren’t willing to stand up for everyone, you can’t stand up for anyone.