Day 25: Thank you, Heather McGhee

I did not like the way I ended yesterday’s post. It was past midnight, and I just wanted to wrap up.

It felt … not quite glib or facile or defeatist, but it had the whiff of some mixture of those. It was honest, but it was also incomplete. I woke up early the next morning and started on a postscript to append to the article itself. But I didn’t know what to write.

I couldn’t complete the thought if I had a novel in which to do so. There are too many nuances and aspects to how we conduct those aspects of our social and political lives.

But I did leave it in an honest place. That honesty, combined with that inability to complete the thought and not really wanting to address the problem in the first place, is what bothered me.

I don’t like that I’m tired of the whole conversation and would just prefer to talk about the weather. I just don’t have the energy. I think I’ve felt that way since the midpoint of my undergraduate years. I tired of hearing and making the same points. I burned out. And I do not like that jaded, detached aspect of myself.

Now, I love a good wonkish conversation. If I could have a good-faith, intellectually rigorous conversation about the minimum wage, for example, I’d enjoy that. We could talk about theory and look at the empirical evidence. We wouldn’t necessarily come to agreement, but we could understand the parameters of the disagreement.

The problem is that it’s hard to have a wonkish conversation. We get wrapped up in ideology. The conversation quickly takes on the tone of a bad religious debate, where we cling to unacknowledged assumptions and take disagreements as personal affronts. Empiricism never enters in, and theory is a system of beliefs to defend at all costs.

I am definitely including myself in that “we.” I suck at these conversations. If they don’t start out detached and wonkish, I find it really hard to not close up. I find it hard to emotionally step back and direct the conversation to a healthy place. I get as reactive and defensive as anyone; I just may keep it inside.

In the midst of all of these thoughts swirling in my head throughout the day, I saw this video of Heather McGhee responding to a C-SPAN caller who wanted to know how to deal with his own racism. Please, take a minute to watch the video and read the Washington Post’s follow up interview with McGhee.

This still doesn’t do that much to address my fundamental unease. How we can get to a point where this kind of conversation can happen is what bewilders me. But his courage and her response remind me why it’s worth the effort (whatever that might be).

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