How to talk to the Right:
A Three-Point Guide for All You Weepy [White] Liberals with Feelings
I know. I’m upset too.
Interestingly, that was the supposed trump card (I’m so so sorry, but there’s no better expression I can think of) in a recent argument: that I’m just too soft. My whole problem, according to a Drumpf-supporting relative on Facebook this week, is that I’m basically a Big Damn Baby (the phrase, “Put your Big Girl panties on, Lauren,” was supposedly the game-winning point in our several, very public, scuffles. Joke’s on her, as I haven’t been able to get out of pajama bottoms for about a week now).
But I do believe that part of the reason the country is such a mess right now is that each side has been trained by our respective media outlets to see the other as a series of stereotypes, culminating in, “They’re just willfully stupid.” This stupidity supposedly takes the form of entitlement on the Left, and bigotry on the Right. You know why? Because reasoned opinions don’t grab eyeballs, nor do they stick with us. Nuanced discussion is way less fun than, “Look at these awful people, doing this thing we know you find offensive! What is wrong with them? Good thing you’re so much smarter than they are.” Boom. Shares, likes, reposts. Ad sales, baby.
Fun. And it’s gotten us all screwed.
As a white liberal, I fell for the lies that a) Drumpf supporters were too dumb to know they were being manipulated by a bored billionaire, and b) that was fine, because there were more of us than there were of them. Neither one of these turned out to be true, either the stupidity or the numbers.
Whatever you think about the fact that the actual citizens of the U.S. who voted elected Hillary, the reality is that somehow, Drumpf is our next President, and we liberals are shocked because somewhere along the way, we just quit trying to interact with people on the Right because — well — they’re just dumb bigots, right? And they stress us out.
Welp… too damn bad.
We have to talk to the Right, especially now, especially if we’re white or male. Ignoring that aunt who continually posts memes about how women are only feminists when they’re fat, or walking out of the room when our bro-tastic brother-in-law pontificates about black-on-black crime, doesn’t work— clearly — and it’s resulted in a gigantic slap across the face for those of us who, until this point, have not had to deal with a lot of bigotry.
Here’s their rationale: many Americans don’t actually see Drumpf as a racist, or a misogynist.
I know. Deep breath. Here’s how you can talk to these folks anyway — when you’re ready — and not lose your mind.
- Treat bigotry etc. as a system, not a character flaw — because otherwise they’ll just tune you out.
One of the most effective cognitive splits we privileged folks ever performed was convincing ourselves that “racists/ sexist/ homophobes” were just bad individuals: people who held invitation-only seminars in their basements in West Virginia about How to Get Away with a Hate Crime, or who steepled their fingers and muttered “Jews” in dark rooms all day long. That way, we could tell ourselves that, because we did not actively and consciously “hate” brown folks, we could not possibly be racists. We made racism individual, not systemic.This allows progressives to feel morally superior, while still benefitting from systemic inequality. It also allows Conservatives to use the “I have a black friend” defense, and to believe it.
The thing is, just because someone doesn’t think they’re racist, doesn’t mean they aren’t. Right now, those who feel like they’ve “won the argument” with a Trump victory feel superior because, despite being racists, they’ve allowed themselves to believe they are not. Far as they’re concerned, they’re the good guys.
What this racism-is-for-bad-people nonsense means when it comes to talking to folks on the Right is that when we call Drumpf out for saying racist things, they hear, “He’s a racist, therefore he’s a bad person; you voted for him, therefore you’re a bad person.” That won’t convince anyone, so we have to phrase it differently.
Racist/ misogynist/ xenophobic statements feed systems of privilege, and those are what we can go after. You may even need to say, repeatedly, that you’re not calling someone racist (say it, even if you believe they are flaming hood-packing skinheads.) Say it, because you have to engage them however you can, because Lord knows they’re not listening to the brown people.
Realize, though, that folks on the Right will often hear any callouts about racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia as personal attacks on them anyway. Saying the r-word, even if you’re arguing with a racist statement, feels like an insult to many. Which brings us to Point Number 2:
Both sides, but the Right in particular, have been trained to see personal insults as valid arguments, and vice-versa: valid disagreement with actual issues is seen as personal attack, and telling someone they’re “just being sensitive” is an actual talking point. It’s a way to discount what people say: if someone is “just” stupid, or racist, or entitled, then we don’t have consider whether they have a point, and our worldview remains intact. This, as previously discussed, is not only useless, but actually shuts down any kind of meaningful discussion right out of the gate.
So when you’re talking to someone you ordinarily would just Block on Facebook or get blitzed on Christmas to be around, think of it like talking to someone who is unable to speak without chucking flaming dodgeballs at you. This is how we have been taught to talk by the media about “them,” so don’t take it personally when, for every sentence they say, they throw four balls of flaming rubber at your face. You don’t have to catch that crap and throw it back. You don’t have to let it hit you. Just pivot out of the way, face them again, and try to hear their actual, valid concerns, assuming they have some.
The other thing about pivoting is, try to make sure you’re not throwing your own dodgeballs. I know it’s tempting, but again, remember that chucking pointless dodgeballs just makes people shut down, and it got us to where we are now. Pivot, pivot, pivot, and try to remember oppression is a system, not a trait; throwing flaming balls at you is how they’ve been taught to relate, they don’t actually hate you. (Or maybe they do, in which case, they’ll never hear you anyway so save your breath.) For me, it was cracks about “participation trophies” and “you just don’t know how the real world works;” for folks on the Right, it’s “read a book” or “you’re just a hick.”
Please note: this is only something you can do if the dodgeballs are not hate speech — meaning, this pivoting thing really only works if you’re a member of a privileged class. Which brings us to Point #3:
3. Recognize, and walk away, when someone’s just a being a dick.
This is a thing white people and men get to do as part of our privilege: we get to disengage from the fight when we’re tired. If we leave the house to get away from the nonsense on Facebook, no one will follow us at the store because we’re black; if we go for a run to clear our heads as a dude, no one will catcall us. This is not an option for people of color or for women because the world constantly reminds them/ us of their/ our difference, and this is exactly why it’s the privileged folks’ job to speak up.
If we are white and female, or white and gay (trans folks, I will not ask you to do this, as trans people are the victims of an astonishing amount of hate crimes and need to be safe), Step Three is stepping away from the fight when someone’s just being abusive, not because your feelings are hurt, but so that you can come back and engage again. Same thing for dudes: if you’re a guy, as far as you’re concerned sexism doesn’t ever have to be a Thing. Make it a Thing, because sexists literally do not listen to women. That’s their whole thing. Then take a break because you can, and come back when you’re ready to face the flaming dodgeballs again, because otherwise no one will change the minds of the Brock Turners of the world.
All the personal mudslinging and memes about ‘Merica was fun, but now it’s turned into a lot of insular opinions, and that makes both racism and elitism grow like warring mold on a very big shower curtain. We’re angry and divided as a country, but if we’re going to stop the next four years from actually devolving into the things we’re afraid they will (more sexual assault, hate crime, mass deportations) we have to at least know what’s on “their” mind.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy some Big Girl Panties. Think they sell em at Walmart? Thank God for Chinese labor: maybe I can get a six-pack.