This Election Cycle, Minorities Are Stuck Between Two Idealisms

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“When exactly was America great?” John Green has said it, President Obama has said it (to whatever degree he is allowed to say things) and even I have said it. This attacks the fundamental notion of Trump’s campaign: the idea that there exists in America, a kernel of the past unblemished by inequality or racism or sexism, and seeks to say that his nostalgia constitutes a clear and present danger for the many problems we face today that will be swept under the rug, yearning for a past that never actually existed.

This time around, though, he’s not the only one with a problem.

Right now, minorities are stuck in a chasm between two idealisms.

On the one hand, they’ve already become accustomed to the dog-whistling and even blatant alienation of the right, which has appeared to do everything it can to get less and less people to think, “I want to sign up for that.” The right has also done an excellent job of ascribing to an intensely specific version of the past that does not reflect the totality of it, and actively desires to transport us all back there, which they might not try to do if they fully understood that it’s not a place to which many minorities would like to return.

On the other hand are the liberals.

For liberals, the problem with conservatives, they say, is that they refuse to accept things as they are, blinded by the allure of the past. Their refusal to live in the present represents a stubbornness that liberals can’t wrap their minds around. What goes unnoticed is that liberals’ insistence on living in the future also poses a danger to minority communities.

Right now, minorities are stuck in a chasm between two idealisms.

Liberals often lambaste conservatives for this kind of hyper-nostalgia that comes from thinking that the 1950s were a time of greatness to which we need to return, but are often guilty of the same thing when mistaking the future that they idolize for the realities that are.

The conservatives are stuck in the past. The liberals are stuck in the future. The minorities are stuck in the present.

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This problem spans at least three movies.
Michelangelo Signorile recently made an appearance on the Daily show that highlights the dangers of liberalism. The danger is that, being liberal and progressive people can cause you to think that change has occurred even when it has not, simply because you wish it very much to be the case. Many liberals are unaware of how many laws are on the books regarding hiring and firing processes for LGBT people, or they are unaware that the fight for LGBT rights didn’t end with a Supreme Court decision.

Once again, being stuck in the future and practicing utopic thinking can lead to a severe lack of engagement on social issues that liberals care about. It’s the difference between thinking that Roe. V. Wade was the end of the battle and remaining engaged enough to fight every single conservative legislature and demagogue that makes abortion today technically legal, but impossible to get.

It’s the kind of lack of engagement that can lead to the disastrous midterm elections of 2010, where only 12% of youth and minorities voted, feeling that a victory had been won for them in 2008, while older, whiter voters rushed to the polls, “cranky about how ‘tall’ the president was.”, and instituted a political gridlock that made it vexingly difficult for President Obama to do anything at all.

And engagement is not the only area where the problems of liberal future-pressing are made manifest.

Let The Adults Drive

Often, in their push to create a more just society, liberals are guilty of devising a political revolution to which minorities are essential in supporting, but when it comes to structuring that revolution or being “in the room where it happens,” minorities consistently get the short end of the stick.

It’s the difference between thinking that Roe. V. Wade was the end of the battle and remaining engaged enough to fight every single conservative legislature and demagogue that makes abortion technically legal, but impossible to get.

Consider that blacks and Hispanics have already been told this election cycle that they are voting against their best interests by their strong support of Hillary Clinton. But in the gallons of articles about these issues, is there ever a sense of introspection at the infantilization necessary to tell people that they don’t know what is good for them?

– Is there ever any question of precisely why blacks do not feel that Bernie Sanders would be the best bet for them?

– Is there ever any questioning of Hillary’s decisive win in Puerto Rico, full as it is of people that are routinely disenfranchised from the political system and process?

– Is it always viewed as an insulting statistic to ask the question of why Sanders’s wins did not span a more diverse demographic range?

To me, this suggests a fundamental misconception among liberals: minorities like blacks, who vote reliably Democratic, are needed for support, not input. This again creates a dynamic of blacks sitting in the background while the adults make the decisions. For the conservatives, it’s “We don’t want you.” For the liberals it’s, “We want you…to get on board.” I understand that not breaking into that particular voting bloc was disappointing for Sanders supporters, but you’ve got to come up with an answer that’s less insulting than “They don’t know what’s good for them.”

Where does that really leave minorities?

Identity Politics and Economic Policies


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Another troubling aspect of the Sanders campaign is the outright rejection of the validity of identity politics. I’ve heard many liberals, including Senator Sanders himself, brusquely shove identity politics to the side, saying things to the effect of, “Well, when you fix the economic disadvantages, the racism goes away.” And that is simply not true. Economics are certainly a part of the black struggle, but it’s not as if blacks who aren’t poor don’t experience their fair share of racism. Has Barack Obama not experienced extreme racism, even as a laureate of Harvard, one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation? I’m listening.

The reason Barack Obama still experiences a startling amount of racism is that it is simply not a construct reserved solely for blacks shackled by the manacles of low socioeconomic status. The problems of racism and prejudice are not purely economic, and therefore cannot be mended tangentially. Rejecting identity politics out of hand is probably a good way to not speak to the concerns that many minority groups have, including Hispanics, blacks, and the LGBT community.

Economics are certainly a part of the black struggle, but it’s not as if blacks who aren’t poor don’t experience their fair share of racism.

Simply because they are not affected by economic setbacks, as Barack Obama is not, that simply does not magically solve the particular problems of unity, diversity, and racism, in the same way that 60% support for gay marriage doesn’t mean that 30% of those people don’t still feel uncomfortable with same sex PDA.

However, rather than connecting with the concerns, liberals have gone a different way, and decided, like Bernie Sanders, that the South’s votes don’t matter because “it’s the most conservative part of the country,” or that Planned Parenthood (who does great work in minority communities that desperately need it) and its endorsement of Hillary Clinton constitutes “the establishment.”

Rather than thinking there were legitimate reasons that minority voters didn’t want Sanders to be their president, liberals opted for the insulting fantasy that Hillary must’ve just rigged the election, because “Well, I know what’s good for black voters, and it’s Bernie, so she must’ve cheated or tricked them.”

To me, this suggests a fundamental misconception from liberals: minorities like blacks, who vote reliably Democratic, are needed for support, not input.

Another reason that Bernie’s campaign may have failed to strike a winning chord with the black community is that one of the chief identifiers of the communal black struggle/experience is endurance, not idealism. Mothers resolutely praying for the safety of their children, Negro spirituals that sing about the struggle, the grind, the endurance of cyclical, everyday violence, and the slow, step-by-step march towards freedom that every generation gives its energy to for the next – these features dominate the black story.

How then, do you pitch idealism to these people, and wonder why it doesn’t appeal to them as much as an approach that is billed as thoughtful, pragmatic, and consistent?

Trickle Down Revolution


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The last point I’d like to make is that liberals have much to say about the pure applesauce of trickle-down economics, but not a lot to say about the blind spots necessary to believe in trickle-down revolution. Any kind of theory that puts forth the idea that the specific problems of unity, racial division, and minority communities in this country can just be solved by another problem means that once again, minority interests get trampled by the white people who know what’s really best for them.

It’s just like the problems that communities (the LGBT community, the feminist community, and the atheistic community, for example) faced when they realized that there were persistent problems of race and diversity that were not addressed and did not simply go away with revolutionary change for the whole. So you still have the world’s most famous atheists being 4 white dudes, white feminism, gay white men still getting gobs more representation than anyone else also emblematic of the gay community, bisexual people treated as if they don’t even exist, and Caitlyn Jenner somehow being the “face of the trans community” despite being straight trash as a person.

Liberals have a lot to say about the pure applesauce of trickle-down economics, but not a lot to say about the blind spots necessary to believe in trickle-down revolution.

The minorities in these communities often did not find that revolution trickled all the way down to them, and therefore there was no reason for them to expect that Sanders’s revolution would trickle down to them, either, or that they should prefer his revolution to the slow, steady, and pragmatic grind that Clinton represents that is much more characteristic of the historical and present narrative of how these communities took a seat at the table for themselves in the first place.

Unity


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As we wrap up the primary process, it is apparent who minority voters have chosen as the candidate that would best serve their interests. They are attempting to deftly straddle the dangerous nostalgia of the right as well as the demoralizing naiveté and utopic thinking of the left. Because we have problems to solve today, and a step forward is a step forward.

Perhaps it is up to us to get behind them as we always insist we are, rather than their job to get behind the plan that we’ve devised, if we have any interest in listening to what they have to say, instead of simply getting them in line. We might find that, in doing so, we will gain a better understanding of the biases and prejudices that run rampant throughout our whole country, not simply one particular party, and discover the true power of unity, not the false pretenses of unity that create chasms such as these at crossroads such as this.

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Dear White People: Yes, It’s Offensive When You Say It

“Apparently, a bigger issue than…the problems that face us that the president was discussing…was that he said the word ‘nigger’.”

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During the summer of 2015, Marc Maron invited onto his WTF podcast the 44th leader of the free world, President Barack Hussein Obama. They quickly cycled through a lot of topics, including things that the president has discussed before, like his upbringing and policies and issues that are particularly close to his heart.

One of those issues was racism.

“Racism. We are not cured of it,” President Obama said. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.”

Guess which part of that the news cycle ran with the next day.

Apparently, a bigger issue than criminal justice reform, police brutality, indiscriminate housing and job opportunity, minimum sentencing, the privatization of prisons, and the mass incarceration of minorities, and the problems that face us that the president was discussing…was that he said the word ‘nigger’.

Apparently.

Racism. We are not cured of it,” President Obama said. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public.

So there’s this confusion about “nigger”, and the inevitable question, “Why’s it okay for you to say it, and not me?” as if it’s a privilege of sorts that we are refusing to share. Let’s break it down.

Yes, white people, it is offensive when you say it. 

I hope you’ll have noticed by now that I have said the word “nigger” and not “the N word” more than once in this article, and that’s because it’s not a spooky word. There’s nothing mystical about it.

But there’s a simple and solid reason that black people don’t take well to your use of the word ‘nigger’: You don’t share in the experiences of black Americans, and people have the right to define their own experiences. 

For example, sometimes I write about LGBT issues, but I don’t write from a position of being able to speak for a gay person. I don’t pretend I’m in that experience. I certainly don’t use words like “faggot” or “dyke” outside of the context that I just did, which is simply saying them, because those are words that have been used to harm the LGBT community.

For example, sometimes I write about LGBT issues, but I don’t write from a position of being able to speak for a gay person. I don’t pretend I’m in that experience.

If at some point, they decide that they would like to re-purpose those words and wring a new meaning from them, then that’s fine, but it still doesn’t make it okay for me to indiscriminately use them, given that I do not share in their experience.

The same is true for black people. This also explains why in certain cases, people believe that it’s okay for white, Chinese, or Hispanic people to use “nigger”, because they perceive certain individuals as having similar experiences that allow them to “enter” a community.

“Nigger” has been used for centuries to denigrate black people, so the reason I “get to” say it is that I get to decide what it means.

That is where black people take their power from, the repositioning of a weapon used to harm them into a tool for social cohesion, describing their own experience, and sapping it of its power.

So the next time you ask, “Why can black people use the word ‘nigger’ and I can’t?”, just bear in mind that what you’re really asking is, “Why don’t I get to define someone else’s experience?”

And then ask yourself if that’s really the kind of question you want to be seen asking.

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