Hey everyone! So this week’s blog post has been one of my favorites to write thus far. It’s not necessarily just about law school, but about a topic that we discuss regularly in law school. It’s not an easy topic to tackle, and truly not just a law school related or Harry Potter topic, but one that is plaguing the nation we live in. All I ask of you while reading this post is to keep an open mind. I am not asking anyone to agree or disagree with the topic, but to simply hear me out.
(And, if you haven’t checked out the podcast “Harry Potter and the Sacred Texts” please do. Usually I don’t listen to the podcast of the chapter I am writing about until after that chapter is blogged, but this week I was too intrigued to not listen first.)
Here’s the recap of this week’s chapter:
It’s Christmas time at Hogwarts, and boy is everyone excited. On Christmas Day Harry wakes up and finds gifts for the first time in his life. These gifts include a Weasley sweater and a invisibility cloak. They enjoy a nice Christmas and Christmas Feast. As Christmas passes Harry goes on a mission to find out who Nicholas Flamel is by using his new clock to sneak into the restricted section of the library. Harry finds himself running away from Flitch who figures out a student is out of bed sneaking around the library. Harry seeks refuge in a random room of the castle finding the Mirror of Erised. Curious, he walks over to the mirror and sees his family (which he doesn’t recognize at first) looking back at him. Confused he looks around the room thinking they are behind him, but finds himself alone. He then leaves, and brings Ron back the next night. Harry thinks Ron will see all of the Weasleys but is disappointed to hear that Ron sees himself a Head boy, and Quidditch Cup winner. Harry returns the next night to stare into the mirror and see his family, when he is interrupted by Dumbledore who explains that the mirror reflects the heart’s deepest desire and that men waste away sitting in front of the mirror. Dumbledore tells Harry the mirror will be moved and that he should not go looking for it again.
This week’s theme: Privilege.
‘Strange how nearsighted being invisible can make you,’ said Dumbledore.
One of the common topics of law school is that of the Reasonable Prudent Person standard. For all those non-law scholars out there this standard is meant to be a baseline in which we judge the actions (civil or criminal) of others; it’s our societal idea of the perfect person who acts appropriately in all situation. A common discussion we have on this standard is whether it needs to be changed. The law was created in a time when white protestant landowning males made the rules and morals of the world. Which means the Reasonable Prudent Person was created by these same law makers and held to the standards they felt necessary in the world. So this pretty much if you were of any race or gender you were and still held to standards not in align with the norms of your gender and race.
The reason we talk about changing it is to take into account different social backgrounds. Women and men for example don’t commit crimes in the same way or for the same reasons. People with varying educational opportunities or backgrounds act differently in situations or understand crime differently. People with mental health issues are charged in crimes or torts under the same mental capacity of a person without the same mental health issue. While changing it could revolutionize the way we understand people and how they interact with the law, the arguments on the other side say that changing this objective standard will give people more excuses to not be charged with crimes and won’t help us reach our social utopia that the legal works to create. It’s a slippery slope and a fine line to toe… and better yet every discussion ends with people on both sides upset.
And here lies the problem, we are blinded by privilege on either side. When looking into the law school’s equivalent of the Mirror of Erised (class discussions) we see the desires of each student. People for an objective standard (and this is subjective to my experiences in class) are typically people for whom the justice system has been in favor of for most of history… white men. Having some of your privilege questioned (not even necessarily taken away) causes an immediate reaction of anger because your very being is threatened. Not all white males asked for the system to be tipped in their favor and certainly not all white males are privileged, but history tells us otherwise. When you feel your rights and privileges are being stripped from you or that you are being made a villain it can cloud your judgment. You suddenly feel a need to defend yourself and nearsighted in achieving that goal (and keeping your privileges). It becomes a strong desire to keep the scales where they are, blinding them from seeing how minority groups are being suppressed by the world they desperately want to keep.
For people on the other side they are nearsighted in a different way. When the scales of justice and privilege have been tipped out of your favor you feel a strong desire to right these wrongs. It’s the side I find myself on more often than not. While I am white, I am still considered a minority in gender and it wasn’t until getting to law school that I found out just how sexist the world can be and is actually. Now, I am expected to have some privilege in my background because I am white (though if you put my upbringing on paper with a friend of mine who is from a minority race and you left out the color of our skin you would find out just how little privilege I grew up with), but the scales are still tipped out of my favor in many cases. Minorities want a voice, they want the scales tipped a little more in their favor and want the same privileges as people on the other side of the justice system have. However, in their pursuit they too become nearsighted in their desire for privilege and forget to see the effect of their placing blame on white males as a whole.
All of this to say is that sometimes we forget to look out across the lines we draw by our desires and see how they affect the people we’ve segregated. Females blames males, males blame females, whites blame blacks, blacks blame whites… all we do is keep on making the line we’ve drawn between us thicker and thicker, not wanting to move away from an objective standpoint and really understand how other people work, relate and contribute to the world. Putting our desire to keep or grab ahold of privilege away and just starting to understand each’s worlds can change the world we live in. Creating a legal system that helps give voices to all communities and groups of people is far better than continuing to create these huge divides between them.
Sure, we don’t know what problems will be created by changing the Reasonable Prudent Person standard to be more subjective, but I think our approach to conversations around this topic need to change to be more understand and less nearsighted on both sides. We can no longer let minorities be invisible and we cannot allow white men to be pushed out of the conversation (which would make them invisible). We have to start making baby steps to creating a better society that gives everyone an equal voice in the conversation (which means the louder voices will be quieted a bit while the quiet voices will be turned up a bit more). Unfair privileges will be lost and not all sought privileges will be given, but everyone will one day have an equal say and equal privilege. It just takes us looking into the Mirror of Erised and facing our deepest desires and making the decision to help or hinder the changes needed in the world.
Until Next Time,