Over the past few months I’ve heard a lot of conversations regarding discrimination where people have made statements that a person didn’t ‘intend’ to be prejudiced or cause someone harm. They simply didn’t know their words or actions were racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. This got me thinking about these situations and whether intention has an effect on impact.
Imagine you’re out taking a walk and you come to an intersection. You’re in the crosswalk, you pushed the button and the person lights up the sign across the street as the little box tells you to ‘walk’. You stride into the street and have only gone a few steps when a car turning right on red hits you. It wasn’t intentional – they didn’t come barreling down the street aiming at you or trying to kill you. Nonetheless, you’ve been hit by a car.
So what’s the impact of this situation? It depends. Maybe you only have a few bruises and the driver is very apologetic. If that’s the case, maybe it’s easy for you to brush it off as a simple accident. But maybe you’re hurt. Maybe you broke your leg. Would it matter to you then that it was accidental? Or would you still have some anger that because of someone’s carelessness you’re now injured?
Now imagine it was worse than that. You fell and broke your back. You find out in the hospital that you’re paralyzed. Are you still willing to so easily write it off because that person didn’t intend to hurt you when the impact will affect the rest of your life?
How would your feelings change if you found out that it wasn’t this person’s first accident? Let’s say that they’ve hit five people before but since it wasn’t intentional they never had serious repercussions and were still allowed to keep their license.
And finally, imagine it wasn’t the first time that you’ve been hit. Imagine that you’re someone who’s been hit 10, 50 or even 100 times, always by someone who didn’t ‘intend’ to hurt you. At some point the intention ceases to matter. At some point you get fed up and want to shout, “Stop hitting me with your car!”
This is how prejudice works. The driver of the discrimination may not think the impact of their actions were harmful. And for a driver who’s never been in a situation where they’ve been hit by a car, they may have a hard time understanding why the person who’s been hit is so upset, especially if they can’t see any bruises.
The fact is that we can’t ask the driver their intentions and judge a situation solely on that. Impact matters. Regardless of whether the driver can see the injuries, they can still be there. After you’ve been hit multiple times, you might be afraid to walk down the street. You may approach an intersection and pause, even if you have the right away. You might see a car and automatically question whether the driver means you harm.
This is why we need to be cognoscente of our words and actions and whether they hurt people. And we need to listen to those who’ve been injured, because their experience and perspective matters too. None of us are perfect. We all have areas in our lives where we still have a lot to learn. We all make mistakes. But we can’t simply walk away from these ‘accidents’. In order to educate ourselves and have a positive impact on change, we must all ask ourselves: Who are we hitting with our car?