I am sure that this scenario has played out in virtually every household at some time or another. A broken glass, a chipped cereal bowl, a tear in the screen door, dirty tracks into the house, a nick in the wall. When parents inquire about the responsible party, the familiar refrain comes from at least one child – “wasn’t me!” Having been a guilty party in the past but not owning up to my indiscretion, I have to admit to saying this a time or two. And other times in my childhood, I have said it in truth, fingering my brother or a friend.
The majority of the time “wasn’t me” is an innocent denial of something that somebody did, and we don’t want to be wrongly accused. Sometimes “wasn’t me” is a falsehood – that we actually did it but don’t want to accept responsibility or we are too embarrassed to admit that we did. I am writing today not about the latter (that we are lying) but about the former (that we didn’t do it and we bear no responsibility for the act).
The “wasn’t me” of denying any responsibility for actions while knowing that you are not guilty can be extremely satisfying. You know someone else did it! You know that you are free and clear. You know that they will find the guilty party and you will be shown to be right.
Yet I would argue that sometimes we might be innocent and clearly state “wasn’t me” and still have some responsibility. What do I mean? That makes no sense! Well, there are numerous examples, but I will just use two here.
The Confederate flag is clearly a symbol of the Confederacy and what the Confederacy stood for. The Confederacy sought to preserve slavery, the subjugation of a race of people, for unjustifiable means. Arguments to the contrary deny the oral and written documentation that proves the basis for the Civil War. Many folks argue that the flag is only about heritage (honoring those that fought for the South) and anyway, slavery is no more, and they had nothing to do with it. “Wasn’t me” comes to the forefront here. They didn’t do it, and they bear no responsibility for the sins of their forefathers. I agree that they didn’t do it, but I think that we all bear some responsibility to right past wrongs going forward. I think it is wrong to display such an egregious symbol of our ugly past. It is our duty to try and promote a positive stance going forward. Granted, it “wasn’t me” but it “was us.”
Voter suppression is another example. Attempts (past and present) to keep a certain group of people from exercising their privilege to vote in a democratic society are repugnant. Peaceful efforts to lead voter registration drives in the South in the 1960s often led to severe injury and even death. And many folks let it happen by failing to stand up to those in authority that stood in the way. Folks in areas of such overt voter suppression might argue that they had nothing to do with the past failings in society (“wasn’t me”) but unless they actively seek to correct present wrongs from the lingering remnants of voter suppression, they are complicit. Wishing that someone else will correct the problems does not get the work done. Active participation is necessary, so in 2020 – vote and be sure that everyone can vote.
While a “wasn’t me” stance to correct past wrongs can feel morally right, it misses the point. Significant wrongs have occurred in the past (and still do). It is our duty to not say “wasn’t me” but to say it “was us.” Only then can we seek to be a part of the solution going forward instead of being entrenched in the past.