When I was working on my teaching degree, I had to take a class on educational law. It was an interesting subject, if a bit dry, and I always looked forward to that class.
The room was set up with a number of round tables, likely in order to facilitate discussions (and there were many). This was helpful during group work, of course, but if you were unlucky enough to have to sit with your back to the front of the room, it could be a bit of a pain during lectures! At my usual table, I normally sat with two other women who happened to come from the other two Abrahamic religions. Looking back, it seems almost like the setup for a joke. ("A Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim sit down at a table...") But the three of us got along extremely well, and I suspect that if we'd been able to spend more time together, we would have become very good friends. As it is, I think of M. And V. often, even now, and I hope they're well.
Especially V., these days, because she was the one of the three of us who was Muslim. And since the attacks in Paris a couple of weeks ago, all the things I've heard of happening to Muslims, especially women—I hope that she will not be targeted for abuse. In my years of postsecondary education, and in the years since my formal studies ended, I have met many people who are Muslims, or who at least come from Muslim families. And every single one of them is a reason why I care about the discrimination which they face, and why I'm fairly vocal (elsewhere, not necessarily on this blog, if only because I've been neglecting it in recent years) about saying that Muslims are not the enemy: hate and fear are.
But let's get one thing straight here: I would still care about what's happening if I had never met these people. I suspect that there's a lot of that behind other people saying, "Of course I care! I know someone who's [insert marginalized identity here]!" as well.
I must admit, it annoys me a little when people accuse others of not caring enough because they've stated that they care about any given issue because they personally know someone who's affected by it. Or saying that these people's caring is selfish or superficial or just an attempt to avoid examining privilege by hiding behind a marginalized friend, acquaintance, or family member. And maybe sometimes it is. I won't pretend that I think everyone's motivations are always perfectly progressive or altruistic all the time. That would just be hopelessly naïve. But I am willing to entertain the idea that knowing people who are marginalized in some way gives people who do not share that experience an extra reason to care, or maybe that initial impulse to do so in the first place.
It's a very human thing, I think, to be more engaged in a cause, or to be more open to certain ideas, when you know someone who's personally affected by it if you aren't part of that population yourself. People need connections. And that's not purely selfish; it helps with understanding to be able to put a human face on something that, to you, might have once been a far more abstract concept than it is to someone who has to live it.
So when I hear about discrimination against Muslims, I think of V. And because she was one of the first Muslims I ever got to know particularly well, she is one of the reasons I care. But she's not the only one, and I don't believe that the personal connection makes my caring less valid. As long as I don't try to pass myself off as some kind of expert or authority just because I know people who answer a particular description, how is that personal connection a bad thing?