The most important—and nebulous—freedom that’s up for grabs in 2016 and beyond is this: the freedom not to be the exemplar of your race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, hair color, height, gluten sensitivity, etc.
In other words, the freedom to fuck up and not have it cost the rest of your peer group.
The Jackie Robinson Story is being replayed, in a hundred huge and a thousand tiny ways, every single day in this country. A black person or a woman or a gay person or a transgender person or a poor person or a Muslim—if one of them stumbles in any attempt? If they misspeak or act impulsively or otherwise royally screw up? That error is applied to the entirety of their population. If they fail? That failure sets their entire group back a dozen steps.
“See how that one woman got emotional? It’s how they all are.”
“See how that one Muslim guy went on a rampage? They’re all ready to pounce, just like that.”
“Check out this one redneck and his backward, homophobic views. They’re all that way down South.”
The examples are endless, and they don’t belong to any single point on the political spectrum. Hillary Clinton isn’t 100 percent perfect in the decisions she’s made in her long political career, so no woman should be president. A mentally unstable individual finds justification for his bloodlust in the Koran, so all of Islam is a religion of death. The elected representatives of North Carolina—to the surprise of a majority of their constituency—pass laws discriminating against LGBT people, and the entire South is a fundamentalist, homophobic and transphobic wasteland.
This is nothing new. Two millennia ago a minority of conservative religious elites (and the mediocre politicians trying to score points with them) decide to execute a voice for the non-elite, and from that point on it’s “the Jews killed Jesus.”
And on and on and on, further into the past and, sadly, probably into the future.
The day that a gay fuckup or a black fuckup or a Muslim fuckup or a female fuckup becomes known as a fuckup first, and then whatever group they belong to is noted as an afterthought, if at all? That’s the day we take a big lurch forward.
I bet I don’t get to see it. Not in my lifetime. I’m doubtful my daughter will see it in her lifetime either, or her children in theirs.
But if we give people the same number of times at bat as, say, a George W. Bush or a Kim Kardashian? The wiggle room to be 100 percent incompetent, without it being applied to everyone else like them?
That’s when we head to the stars.
Patton Oswalt is a Los Angeles–based stand-up comedian, writer and actor.