The Status Quo
Little Kahu in Ihimaera’s Whale Rider is talented, gifted, and capable, but she is also the victim of prejudice and discrimination in her patriarchal culture. Chieftain Koro refuses to love Kahu and refuses to appoint her as his successor despite her unconditional love for him. This discrimination that Kahu faced is not unlike the discrimination that Jose Antonio Vargas faces because of his status as an undocumented immigrant. The laws and norms of society do not allow Jose to have equal rights, and he is forced to fight the laws to obtain those rights. Ihimaera, Jose, and other writers highlight the injustice that can occur when the status quo is unchallenged.
Jose Antionio Vargas is a renowned journalist who wrote an article in TIME magazine to illuminate the larger truth about immigration. At the lecture “Define America,” Jose first explored Martin Luther King’s contribution to the Civil Rights movement, then subsequently chronicled his own life as an undocumented immigrant in America. He first discovered he was undocumented when he was refused his divers license. His grandfather had forged his papers in order to get him into America, and later told him “Why are you showing those papers to people? You don’t belong here son.” This conversation was a life changing experience for him, and would continue to affect him for the rest of his life. Jose not only struggled to obtain a license, he struggled to find a job, and even respect from other Americans.
The main point of Jose’s talk was that undocumented immigrants are people too. They deserve equal rights, because that’s just. They are Americans like everybody else and deserve an equal chance at life. His talk illustrated that morality always comes before legislation. He stated, “An immoral law is no law at all.” Jose’s decision to value morality over the law parallels Kahu’s persistence in her calling despite the patriarchal culture that held her back. Both people refused to let discrimination determine the course of their lives. They challenged the status quo of their culture and prevented further injustice from affecting their life.
Mending Wall by Robert Frost also illustrates the importance of challenging the status quo. In Mending Wall, a man meets his neighbor to repair the wall that separates his property from that of his neighbor’s. However he realizes that he is only repairing the wall out of custom, and realizes that there is no real need for the wall in the first place. After talking to his neighbor about this, the neighbor simply replied, “Good fences make good neighbors.” His poem illustrates that superficial customs and rules often separate us. Both Kahu and Jose could testify to this fact. Kahu was discriminated against because of her femininity and Jose is denied equal rights because of immoral federal laws.
Accepting the status quo may not only be immoral, it may also be ridiculous. The poem Accident by Jill McDonough illustrates this perfectly. In the poem, a man and elderly woman get into a car accident. They immediately begin following the status quo by shouting profanities at each other. “But she lived and drove in Boston, too, so she knew, we both knew, that the thing to do is to get out of the car, slam the door as hard as you fucking can and yell things like…” However once they discovered that no damage was done, their moods change and they laugh together. This poem illustrates the duplicity of a person that unreflectively follows the status quo. Unlike Jose and Kahu, the man and woman let the customs of the moment control them and allowed injustice to take place.
Another poem that challenges accepting an unjust status quo is Learning to Read by Frances E.W. Harper. In this poem a woman overcomes the repressive customs of the time and learns to read. “Knowledge did’nt agree with slavery- ‘Twould make us all too wise.” By overcoming this obstacle set by her master, she became educated. By learning to read, she liberated herself from the oppressive culture she lived in. Like Jose and Kahu, she rebelled against the unjust laws that held her back.
In conclusion, a person cannot live life justly and simultaneously follow an immoral status quo. Either they will inflict injustice, or they will be victims of injustice. This is illustrated in the life of Jose as an undocumented immigrant, Kahu as a girl, and the characters of the poems. Father Hans Kolvenbach also stressed the importance of justice in society as well in The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education. Father Hans emphasized that in Jesuit education, justice needs to be propagated along with the faith because “The way to faith and the way to justice are inseparable ways.” People of faith are called to exercise justice, and constantly challenge immoral social norms. We are called to fight societal injustice just as Kahu and Jose fought injustice.