Photo Credit: @randycolasbe

My rights are not my rights.

We claim we have them as human beings. We claim we have them as citizens of the Republic of the United State of America. I believe we have them simply because we all have intrinsic value as sons and daughters of God. Unfortunately, it is apparent that many of our brothers and sisters do not have them. Why is this the case and what can we do about it?

Why talk about rights?

I’m talking about rights. What is a right though? It is a privilege or entitlement to put it simply. “You have the right to remain silent.” That one easily comes to mind from all the Cops shows I’ve watched. That means you have the privilege or are entitled to remain silent so as not to unduly self-incriminate. Ernesto Miranda was not afforded this right when arrested in 1963 which later was named after him as the Miranda right. (Read more of his story here)

You have the right to free speech, the right to worship freely, the right to bear arms (I have to admit when I hear that one, I usually think of a hairy grizzly bear arm. I easily grow body hair and don’t like my bear arms so I exercise my right to bare arms now and shave them.) Anyway, these rights are privileges that we enjoy under a commonly upheld constitution, representative of the people’s voice.

I’m going to insert my opinion here about rights. Follow me to the end, please. I don’t believe rights actually exist. I’ll say it a different way. The idea of a right exists, but I don’t believe a right belongs to the individual. And herein lies the problem of our public discourse and our infatuation with ‘rights’ talk.

To paraphrase a favorite psychologist of mine, Jordan Peterson, we speak of rights too much without its companion, responsibility. We cannot speak of rights without also speaking of responsibilities.

My rights are not my rights. My rights are your responsibility. Your rights are MY responsibility. Why aren’t we speaking of responsibility first? Rights exist only as a byproduct of our collective responsibility.

When we say we have a right to this or that, we are really saying that we have relinquished our privileges to a common public understanding and agreement of what is right and what is wrong.

“Rights dominate modern understandings of what actions are permissible and which institutions are just. Rights structure the form of governments, the content of laws, and the shape of morality as many now see it” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

This is a basic principle of any republic: That the power is held by the people. People cast their voice to elect officials to represent them at higher levels of the general governing body. We see this same principle was implemented in the Book of Mormon among the people of the prophet, Mosiah. Mosiah observed that “It is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right, but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:26).

I do believe this—the fact that the majority of people are willing and able to do the right thing, or even just recognize right from wrong. If that’s the case, what is the problem? Why is racism so much alive even in 2020?

What can we do about it?

Our brothers and sisters in minority communities are among those not being afforded the same privileges every human should be able to enjoy. Individual racism is easy to spot due to its overt nature. That’s why we see such an outrage with every unjust death of an African American person at the hands of a white cop. It’s blatant. What can we do about it though?

The far less subtle, but widespread form of racism is institutionalized. Let me share an example from Stokely Carmichael’s book Black Power.

“When white terrorists bomb a black church and kill five black children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But when in that same city — Birmingham, Alabama — five hundred black babies die each year because of the lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and discrimination in the black community, that is a function of institutional racism. When a black family moves into a home in a white neighborhood and is stoned, burned, or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which most people will condemn. But it is institutional racism that keeps black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents. The society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation, or is in fact incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.”

If we are responsible for other people’s privileges, then it is our job to add our voice to the “content of laws” which justify, or uphold these privileges for all. How do we do that? We take politics seriously. We study, read, and become educated on the topics that affect everyday life, not just for us, but for our brothers and sisters in distant communities. We take seriously who we place in office from local to federal government positions. We learn which policies they plan to push forward if elected and if those promote or diminish institutional racism.

Again, we have the responsibility to allow all people the privilege to cast their voice how they may but to do it without understanding the effect on people not of your skin color, socioeconomic status, or any other difference is irresponsible and could result in their loss of rights.

And as we pledge allegiance to a republic that supports justice for all, I believe this is how we will begin to actually see justice for all.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Brian Collier

Brian Collier


Child of god, husband, father, son, brother, curious by nature , designer, brander, long-distance runner, intrigued by religion, comedy, philosophy, psychology.