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The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

June 26, 2018 by

If “Incivility” Makes You Sympathize with Racism, You Were Racist Already

When I was an undergrad, I sat on my Women’s Center Collective. We made decisions by consensus. All it took was one person to block something and it wouldn’t happen. So it took a while for things to happen. We had to talk about everything. And it could be super frustrating when something you cared about died in process because of the deeply held convictions (or intransigence) of some who maybe didn’t even totally understand the issue.

God, it was annoying. God, were we annoying. Believe me when I say that I fantasized more than once about a (benevolent, run by me) dictatorship of liberal ideals. Think about how much we (ahem, I) could get done! Imagine how quickly we could organize if we weren’t so minutely attuned to what might cause offense to…someone. Anyone. 

The way people on the left side of politics run things—whether it’s deferring to marginalized voices, pushing language to be more inclusive, or protesting raucously—has the potential to be frustrating. So some on the other side have made a virtue out of opposing what is painted as overly zealous policing of language, actions, and behavior. publicly airing their racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted feelings in the name of opposing “PC” culture. And when they get called out, they claim that their voices are being silenced. They insist that they are being bullied. 

They are bolstered by the “centrist’ claim that the angry left is once again being overly and ridiculously and even oppressively aggressive in stopping civil debate.  The Washington Post and the The New York Times recently used left-wing protests to declare that civility is dying or even dead. And maybe Trump started it, the sober voices say, but how very sad that the other side didn’t simply rise above. How very sad that the Red Hen restaurant couldn’t rise above Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ mendaciousness on behalf of an administration that is forcibly separating families, instead (civilly) asking her to leave.

How very sad that people are judged by their treatment of others. 

But as others have said this week, sometimes incivility is the only way to respond to inhumanity.  There are some acts of cruelty that cannot be responded to in nice language. There are some debates that gain undeserved legitimacy when the other side chooses to engage politely. When Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high,” I believe she wasn’t talking about words. She was talking about ideologies. Going low is hurting children with your policies: going high is fighting for human dignity whether it’s through yelling at someone in public or organizing online.

The problem with the president isn’t that he is uncivil (he is, and that’s a poor reflection on his office and his position) It’s what lies behind his incivility. It’s not what he is saying, it’s what he’s doing.

What’s the civil way to respond to kids in cages?

What’s the non-racist way to support this president?

There isn’t one. 

Those consensus-based decision makers, or hippies with drum circles, or angry college students that the right likes to rail about? Their tactics may be frustrating at times, but what they’re fighting for is just. So if PC culture is enough to make you gain new sympathy for injustice and cruelty, you were hanging by a very thin, perhaps nonexistent, thread to begin with. 

Writer Bethany Mandel (inadvertently) made that crystal clear in her article for The Forward a few weeks ago which bemoaned the “angry left.” She’s so angry about the way “the left” responds to Trump supporters, she writes, that she herself is just about to become one in response. She pleads with “the left” to extend our understanding to those who felt and continue to feel oppressed by this PC culture run amok. Why, she objects, should disagreeing with “the left” automatically label someone a fascist, racist, bigot?  Bethany, it doesn’t. Trust me. The left disagrees all the time. All the damn time. It’s disagreeing with the left in support of a fascist, racist bigot (see: kids torn from parents) that makes someone a fascist, racist bigot.

Mandel is like many people profiled in the endless journalistic deep dives into the minds of voters. She is outraged (outraged!) that, “In 2018, supporting the President of the United States will get you labeled a racist.” Well, yes. Supporting a racist does, in fact, make you racist. Defending the supporters of racists against those who call out racism also makes you racist. And using PC culture as a way to justify racism makes you (you got it) a racist.

Even if that racist is the President of the United States. Especially if that racist is the President of the United States. We still get to, we still have to, protest fascism, racism, bigotry. The office alone is not protection against critique. No office is. If you use that as an excuse, you’re just following orders.

If we can’t protest the President of the United States simply because he (sigh) is the President of the United States, guess what that makes the United States? And guess what that makes the President? A dictatorship. And not the benevolent one of my fantasies.

My Women’s Center consensus model was inefficient. It was annoying.Listening to everyone’s voice, making sure everyone gets a say, is hard. It’s slow. It’s painful. It’s arduous. It’s also kind of amazing.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.