No, I’m not going to actually discuss why racism is bad. If you’re seeing this article in your feed, then you likely already have a pretty good grasp as to why racism is not acceptable or beneficial in any way. That said, it would seem it’s a conversation we are going to have to have. And no, I’m not just talking about the USA, that troubled kid next door. Racism is a real and present issue in Canada too. One only needs to read comment threads on any news story that deal with any story even tenuously related to race issues or members of any racially marginalized community for that matter, to see the misguided, uninformed racially charged vitriol pour forth. Wait – I know what you’re thinking: “Misguided”!? “Uninformed”!? Yes. Don’t get me wrong – racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism etc. are all repugnant. But to paraphrase Nelson Mandela, “People are not born with hate in their hearts”. These attitudes are taught, and somewhere along the line, right attitudes are not taught.
I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon in the comment threads. Many who support policies and views of the alt right agenda are painting the left as fascists, Orwellian in their suppression of free thought and speech and the rejection of moral equivalency. The story goes that there is a cabal of “Cultural Marxists”, intellectual elites that are waging a class war against traditional Western culture and values. They use the continued shutting down of the discourse and the refusal to give the alt-right any kind of moral equivalency as evidence of leftist fascism that will ultimately lead to the end of democracy. Clearly, any view that discriminates or takes away freedoms cannot give any kind of any kind of equivalency with the hard-fought, legally enshrined philosophies of universal human rights. But clearly, they feel they aren’t being heard, and sensing a moment of entropy, they are grabbing their chance.
The uprising of hate in the USA has certainly been disconcerting to most of us, and surprising to the relatively sheltered, white social justice activists located in the big cultural centers of North America. I don’t think it was a surprise for any member of any marginalized group, or anyone who has spent time in the small towns and rural areas. I believe a big reason why there has been such a perceived backslide in enlightened progress just when things seemed to be going so well, is a failure to communicate. Communication is not talking at someone. It is listening, processing, reiterating and engaging. It is a lost art to many. There are large swaths of society that social activism has failed to engage. Another failure is a propensity for social progressives to focus on the macro at the expense of the micro. Just like free trade is in fact a boon for society at large in the long run, it can cause a lot of short run pain. If free trade shut down your local mill, it’s a bad thing for you regardless of national GDP.
While there have been some hard-fought and hard-won victories in environment, economy and social justice, not everyone has gained. Coal miners, factory workers and farmers are victims of the same system as those who are fighting for environmental and social justice. Just because their situation is arguably less bad does not make it good. They are losing jobs, access to health care, access to social services, and suffering a deteriorating environment. Indeed, often they are at the pointy end of many environmental and social impacts of globalization. At the same time, they are indeed invisible to the social justice movement of the major cultural centers. There are no movie stars visiting hollowed out rural communities with no jobs and no health care. All they have is the same political system that in their grandparents’ day, when they could not feed their families fed them Jim Crow. The core of that message has not changed with the times.
Clinton called Trump followers a “Basket of Deplorables”. That is probably one of the biggest gifts she gave to the Alt Right. Maybe some are, or at least their views are. But what to do with them? No matter how deplorable, are we going to round them all up and incarcerate them? Do we shoot them into space or set them adrift on ice floes? We can’t simply plug up our eyes and ears and chant “Na Na Na Na…” and hope they slink away.
Let me be clear. Since Charlottesville we have all have seen some pretty chilling stuff. As much as I like to think otherwise, some people may be irredeemable. There are certainly some actions one just can’t walk back from. But I have seen people change, and does not happen through yelling at them, denouncing them and calling them names. I’m not suggesting that we need to start giving intolerance any leeway, and I am CERTAINLY not insinuating that marginalized groups need to go out and teach white folks a history lesson, or how to be decent people. It is incumbent upon us to take care of our own house. But if those on the side of social justice are supposed to be enlightened, it’s time we started acting like it. Yelling at each other clearly isn’t working. One way or another we will have to find a way to communicate.