(Disclaimer: I understand that the substitutes are poor here, and the whole exercise may well be taken as trivialising racism, rape and rape culture, which are very serious concerns. If it is taken that way, I apologise in advance. I also realise it is horrible, as a white male, to put words in the mouths of fictitious indigenous females; but the characters are purely figments of my imagination, and I hope that I get across relevant moral considerations despite the means.)
* * *
You live in a town called Hell. In the town live 195 men and many more women. It is a one-company town; most of the people in the town are employed by a single company. Your father is head of the company. You are a white female.
One day, evidence comes to light that a large number of men in the town have committed rape. Some of the men have worse evidence against them than others, but there is serious evidence against almost all of them. The worst evidence is against your father, who has ruthlessly abused his position of power; the company’s other executives also have damning evidence against them.
A friend comes to visit you; she is of indigenous descent. She tells you she is one of the victims of rape, and the perpetrator is a close associate of your father. Among the depraved inhabitants of Hell, the perpetrator is by no means the worst, and less brutal than your father; but among the associates of your father, he is one of the worst, and his record of crimes is long. However, the perpetrator is black, and the only black man among your father’s associates.
No charges have yet been laid, despite the abundance of evidence. But your friend wishes to press charges over her crime, knowing full well the difficulties of seeking a rape conviction, all the more so in the local political climate of Hell. She sees it also as a step in the struggle for justice for indigenous people. She asks for your support.
You: “I applaud your courage, and your efforts to stem the historical tide of injustice against your people. But don’t you think it might look racist if the the only person prosecuted is the one black perpetrator?”
Her: “This is my case. I can only carry on my own struggle, and I need your help. Besides, a crime is a crime regardless of the colour of the perpetrator.”
You: “You are right, and your cause is just, but for me the circumstances are difficult. Even though it is not racist to prosecute your case, if in fact only your case is prosecuted, that is a racist outcome, although the racism would have nothing to do with you. If I am not to be racist, I must support not only the prosecution of this one black man, but all others also. Moreover, if I am to be consistent, then I must support prosecution also in the much worse case of my father. Would it not appear hypocritical to support you without first getting my own house in order? My father is the most powerful man in this town, and he is family; and he is a monster. He will do everything in his power — and his powers are vast — to avoid it.”
Her: “I do not envy you your problems, just as I am sure you do not envy me mine.”
You: “You put me to shame. You take painful efforts to seek justice while my father lives in impunity. But think practically. Your chances of success are not great, but at least you have a chance. A successful prosecution of my father in this town would be nigh impossible.”
Her: “That is your question, though you will have my solidarity if you seek justice. Though we live in a rape culture, and we live in Hell, your position is one of economic power and white privilege.”
You: “To go into active opposition against my father, and the company, is to oppose all the greatest powers of this town. I would have to oppose the whole system, every one of its meannesses and cruelties, every pompous crime and lying institution in our world. You ask me to declare one way or the other. You force my hand.”
Her: “I understand your difficulties. But would it not be worse to refuse to support your friend, and with me the struggle of my people, after all we have suffered, than it would be to embark on a quest for universal justice — pure, transparent, consistent justice — with all the difficulties and struggle that entails?”