Standpoint theorists argue that certain standpoints in society are more conducive than others to (at least) certain kinds of knowledge; and that some standpoints will make it very hard to obtain certain sorts of knowledge. Generally, the focus is on the way that less privileged people have access to knowledge that more privileged people find it incredibly difficult to get. This is all extremely abstract, so concrete illustrations are useful.Several months ago, in the Dunbar Village projects, in Florida, a woman was raped by 10 men and forced to perform oral sex on her son, and both were temporarily blinded with bleach, over the course of 3 hours. The walls were paper thin. The question was asked over and over: why didn’t anyone call the police? How could anyone be so morally corrupt that they just don’t care? But this question is based on the presupposition that the only reason for not calling the police is a lack of concern. Here are some thoughts that undermine this, and that are very unlikely to occur to those of us who haven’t been black and extremely poor.
- From Brownfemipower:
Do you really think that calling would have done anything when people call for help all the time, and it takes police and ER crews some times up to two or three hours to show up if they show up at all? A young boy here in detroit called 911 because his mother was dying and the 911 receptionist hung up on him. Hung up on him even when his gasping and wheezing mother got on the phone and pleaded for help. Why? because he was from the ghetto part of town and the 911 folks have a policy that includes not having to take the calls from that part of town seriously.
- Today I was listening to NPR’s Justice Talking, which was doing a program on New Orleans. They interviewed Ursula Price, from Safe Streets/Strong Communities. She told the story of a black mother of three who called the police because of domestic violence taking place next door to her. The police came, but instead of doing anything about the domestic violence they arrested her for a five-year-old traffic violation and put her in jail.
- Just a few days ago we learned that the black woman who had just been imprisoned, beaten, and raped for a week by had been arrested for writing bad checks. Her name came to the police’s attention through the horrific crime of which she was the victim, so they arrested her.
It seems completely and utterly baffling to those of us who are white and reasonably well-off that those who are poor and black might fail to call the police when there are crimes taking place. But if we listen to what those from these communities say, we learn that there are lots of very good reasons that a poor black person might not call the police. What seems completely incomprehensible from one standpoint is readily understandable from another. The fact that we can learn from each other this way is partly responsible for the fact that a lot of standpoint theory has mutated recently into a call for diversity and dialogue in knowledge-seeking.
- And on a less intellectual note: what appalling police priorities.