The Politics of Being ‘Apolitical’ and Why This, In Itself, is a Political Statement

Narratives & Perspectives

We can’t deny that there’s a huge temptation these days to tune out the world and focus on positive thoughts instead, given the negative impact recent news can bring to our mental health. Despite this, though, here’s why we must resist and stay vocal if we have any hope of rebuilding our country—even if that means constantly wallowing in the despair of politics.

Earlier this week, a TikTok video went viral for stating that we should “normalize being apolitical,” while the creator showed off his relaxed state at one of the country’s most luxurious hotels. Understandably, it caused quite a stir among Filipino netizens who saw the whole thing as problematic, and reeking of privilege.

According to the trusty old dictionary, to be “apolitical” is to not be interested or involved in politics, whatsoever. It’s a common thing people say when they don’t want to express their opinions on what’s happening in the country, or all over the world. It’s also something that we’re sure most of us have used some time in our lives, perhaps when we’re uncomfortable to discuss with peers, or we’re afraid to share our thoughts on something so sensitive and divisive. But isn’t it such a privilege to have the liberty to turn a blind eye on what’s happening all around us? That’s not something everyone can say they have.

To discuss the problem with being apolitical, we also need to touch on privilege. Why it’s turned into such a bad thing according to social media, to be specific.

Privilege, in itself, is not necessarily a harmful concept. In fact, it’s an advantage that we can use to get a head start for our advocacies, passions, and whatever pursuits. The problem lies in the fact that privilege, in today’s world, tends to keep amongst itself—looking inward at how to forward one’s own wishes, instead of extending it to uplift other, less privileged, individuals. More often than not, privilege thrives in the oppression of other people.

Think “white privilege” and how it allows caucasian people to get away with the most atrocious crimes while people of color get thrown to jail for less; think “male privilege” and how men can typically get away with mediocrity, nudity, or bad behavior just because society deems it acceptable; and think the privilege of the rich who don’t have to worry about politics because they have enough money and influence to take care of themselves without the government’s aid.

That’s why it’s usually the privileged who can afford to not have a care about politics, because they don’t believe it will affect them and the life they lead.

But millions of Filipinos are not born with this same privilege. Many have total dependence on politics because of where they live, where they work, and who they are. These are the marginalized groups like farmers and fishermen whose livelihoods are controlled by the laws passed in Senate, communities living in the slums whose homes can be demolished overnight thanks to corporations who want to build in the places they called home just because they have nowhere else to live, LGBTQ+ individuals whose rights are still constantly being debated by officials, and so many more.

The truth of the matter is, everyone of us is affected by politics, whether we choose to see it or not. The places we’re allowed to go to, the state of the beaches we want to visit, the clothes appropriate for us to wear, the products we can import or export for business—everything is governed by some set of laws determined by government officials we elect.

The rich, privileged, and apolitical people, however, believe they have the means to remain unscathed no matter what the government decides. Which also inherently means that they don’t care about what happens to the rest of us.

The Internet, of course, did not back down from the discussion. And, especially in a time when the gap between the privileged and the oppressed are more pronounced and visible as ever, remaining “apolitical” is, in itself, a political statement. As explained by these TikTok creators, and more:

Netflix film Enola Holmes also made some important points on this particular scene:

Precisely, choosing to be apolitical means choosing to side with the oppressive system that allows them that privilege in the first place—which means they’re not “without political interest” at all.

Instead of using their social media following to promote causes they believe in, or their money to support non-profit organizations fighting for justice across the country, they’re wasting their privilege to service only themselves. And this, at its very core, is synonymous to “selfishness” or “conscious ignorance.”

So no, we must not normalize “being apolitical.”

One, because it’s impossible to not have an opinion when your conscious decision to not have an opinion, is an opinion all in itself.

Two, because apathy basically means you’re okay with whatever happens to the people around you.

And three, because no matter how you wish it won’t affect you, politics will always have a play in your life.

If you wish to live in a world where you continue to thrive by yourself, while everyone suffers below you—then, by all means. Be “apolitical.”

But if you wish to live in a world where you truly do not have to worry about politics and you can trust that you’ll be okay without constantly talking about laws, policies, and justice, then speak up now.

Speak up for the less privileged whose voices have been stripped away from them. In an ideal world where all of us are treated fairly and humanely, maybe then we could afford to be indifferent with the confidence that no one’s getting left behind.

Until that day, though, we must continue to speak, educate, and care.

Additional text by Leo Balante