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Resist the Temptation to Perpetuate Injustice

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Brandi Blessett
March 10, 2017 

Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed, “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

In the first two months of 2017, at least seven transgendered women of color have been murdered: Mesha Caldwell (Canton, MS), Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow (South Dakota), Joho Striker (Toledo, OH), Jaquarrius Holland (Monroe, LA), Keke Collier (Chicago, IL) and most recently Ciara McElveen and Chyna Doll Dupree (New Orleans, LA). Murder in any instance is appalling, but the silence associated with the victimization and killing of trans women of color (WOC) is deafening. Unknown perpetrators have committed these acts of violence, but it is important to note the role of the state in contributing to the victimization of trans WOC.

In a previous column I argue, “the ability to recognize multiple forms of oppression, as experienced by persons of color informs holistic solutions about the best ways to combat injustice.” Specifically, my focus was on the intersectional experiences of Black women in U.S. society. Dr. Gaynor’s “When Will PA Become the “New Black?” further examines the experience trans WOC have because of their intersecting identities — as black, as woman, as transgendered, among other characteristics. The stigma associated with being a trans WOC results in the negligible policy responses as witnessed by the recent reversal of Obama-era transgender bathroom protections by the current White House administration. Ultimately, basic human and civil rights are being undermined.

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It is ironic and telling in the United States, where the values of fairness, justice, democracy are fundamental values of society — at every turn, state actors are using tactics to dispose people with intersecting identities. “Make America Great Again” essentially equates to a political environment where discrimination, marginalization and disparity are new realities for people outside of the white, male, heterosexual and affluent characteristics of humanness. The interaction of intersecting identities, varying uses of power and tools for social control by government officials are effective methods to maintain and restrict the freedom and limit the dignity of those deemed as “Other.” For instances, Executive Orders and Executive Memorandum have been used to deny women autonomy and decision-making authority regarding their reproductive health, established limitations on due process rights for undocumented and Black people who have encounters with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or law enforcement respectively, and placed restrictions on transgendered people from merely existing in public spaces because of public shaming. Such realities justify state intervention in the form of incarceration, deportation, harassment and even violence when deemed necessary.

In all the ways that matter, the current administration has not minced words about who is deserving and undeserving or who will benefit and be burdened by policy decisions. The normalcy for which subjugation has been legitimized through 140 character tweets and alternative facts reaffirms U.S. society to be complicit and accepting of injustice when it happens to “Other” people or groups. The superficial interrogation of such ideals and the moving target of rules that apply to some and not others is problematic. Better yet, the continuous propagation of blatant lies and mistruths, which have consistently been supported by media outlets, pundits or the average person, sets a dangerous precedent. Political discourse and public sentiment informs policy, administrators implement policy through public institutions, while using public resources. Consequently, injustice is sponsored and reinforced by the state and its actors to keep “Others” in their place.

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Now more than ever, the discipline and practice of public administration must be a voice and an ally to those most vulnerable groups in society. Some of the worse atrocities in history were committed when society turned a blind eye to unfairness and inequality or when administrators succumbed to willful ignorance, whereby consciously or unconsciously they followed rules regardless of the impact — deadly or otherwise. Martin Niemoller’s “First They Came” said it best:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.

ASPA’s Code of Ethics is a reminder of the responsibilities for public administrators to be responsive to all people, to uphold democratic principles, to act with personal integrity and promote ethical organizations. Within the realm of responsibility for a person’s personal and professional standards, there must be a collective will toresist normalizing dysfunctional behavior, resist contributing to the marginalization of the most vulnerable groups in our society and resist the collective efforts to undermine democracy. The integrity and legitimacy of U.S. society depends on it.

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Author: Brandi Blessett is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Policy and Administration at Rutgers University-Camden. Her research broadly focuses on issues of social justice. Her areas of study include: cultural competency, social equity, administrative responsibility, and institutional racism. She can be reached at [email protected].

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