Asbestos Abatement and Injustice

I am going to ask you all to please bear with me while I talk around my point for a moment, because I know I will lose many readers if I get there too fast.

Before the 1980s, it was common (and legal) to use asbestos in buildings. It’s fireproof and was often used in insulation inside walls and ducts. Sometimes it was even part of the texture on the exposed ceilings of buildings. It was cheap and a good insulator.

And it took quite a long time to discover that it was toxic.

It had been in widespread use for over 100 years when it was banned, and it was intrinsic to a great many public buildings including schools and stores. Its removal was difficult because it was part of the original construction, requiring walls to be opened and ceilings to be scrapped and replaced. Removal was hard and costly, but ignoring the problem would leave generations suffering. It took planning to ensure that the people doing the work were protected from the thing they were extracting. Many organizations tried to contain the problem, but even then, it had to be dealt with when one structure came down to make way for a new one because the asbestos was still there and still dangerous.

The problem had to be taken on, deliberately and with caution, because it was innate to the structures. Ignoring it was insufficient; even when abatement wasn’t possible, action had to be taken to isolate the substance and render it moot.

Toxic Ideas, Baked Right In:

So it is with injustice in our society. White Supremacy is exactly like that. Patriarchy is exactly like that. Classism and elitism are just like that. They are ingrained into the structure of our culture and our systems of power, and they cannot be dealt with except by intentional and careful abatement.

If you believe that I need to prove that these issues are innate to our nation, let me remind you that slavery was shrugged off in the constitution. Sure, the enslaved population was counted (as three-fifths of a person) for the purposes of tabulating representation at the federal level; they were still property, having no vote or voice under the law. Remember also that it took over 120 years from the ratification of the Constitution to the ratification of the amendment to the constitution allowing women to vote. If you need it proven to you that these problems have always been with us, then I beg you to examine history from the point of view of the marginalized.

These injustices will not go away on their own. It will take work, just like Women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Act took work. Reconciliation will come in pieces, and it will not come in even measures. It will be uncomfortable, and it will require changing how we talk about these issues. Justice requires naming White Supremacy for the pervasive force that it is. Establishing equity will require admitting that one does not need to be a misogynist to perpetuate and benefit from Patriarchy. These things will exist until we actively remove their influence, and that process might not have an endpoint.

It is work worth doing, friends, because we are committed to justice, equity, and compassion. And if our commitment to justice or equity fails us, then please let our compassion guide us; let us alleviate the barriers and burdens our culture places on our fellow human beings out of love. The Beloved Community cannot be created for only a few. We cannot build it unless we all build it together.

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