I got into a fight on Facebook today. That’s rare for me. Over politics of all things. That’s even rarer.
Jude Mikal: Why It’s Not OK for Liberal White Men to De-Friend Over Politics
Facebook is usually a place of respite for me. A place I go to write banal status updates like:
My ‘truncated review’ of the new Under Armor underwear I’m sporting today would go a little something like this: woops! I think I accidentally put on women’s Spanx. In related news, my butt is so firm you could bounce a quarter off of it.
“Finally got the baby to take a nap – just in time for a little trick I call the ol’ Mikal “mad-dash-to-clean-the-house-before-company-arrives-and-I-apologize-for-not-tidying-up-even-though-I-totally-did-it’s-just-that-my-house-looked-like-a-tornado-hit-it-before” number.
“I’m going to try to make ‘casual Friday a think at the office. Sadly, given my usual wardrobe, I think I’m really going to have to do it up in order for anyone to notice. Fortunately, I think I have just the crop top…”
Some might call me a narcissist with a bit of a penchant for dad jokes. It’s not the usual recipe for political idealism…or ideals…or even really ideas. But I made a new friend while blogging. A smart friend. A smart friend, with political ideologies who people seem to listen to. My antithesis. The yin to my yang. The person who holds fervent beliefs – beliefs I also hold – but who expresses them feverishly, articulately, and with a passion I can only seem to muster for Taco Bell and the Simpsons marathon coming up this Thanksgiving.
So it should have come as no surprise that this friend got into a heated political discussion with one of his friends on Facebook: a discussion that ended with a fuck off and a friend delete.
I am sure I would have agreed with my friend’s political position, but as a natural peacemaker – and Facebook friend hoarder – I wrote to my new friend saying, ”I think a lot of us get filled with a sense of righteous indignation when people dismiss bigotry, racism, and misogyny as par-for-the-course in political discourse. But I wonder who wins when we respond by de-friending. Your friend probably left the conversation all the more convinced that liberals are overly emotional and unable to ground their opinions in facts. Sometimes I think our obligation as *white, male* liberals in particular is to use our positions of privilege to continue to challenge conservative political ideals in areas where we are more likely to be heard…where we speak the language.”
My friend replied that he’d stayed the course for months – and that, at some point, liberals have the right to defend themselves. And this set the tone for a series of comments, none of which agreed with my point of view. According to the comments: we, as liberals, have stayed the course long enough; at some point we have the right – if not the obligation – to fight back; this may not be our typical behavior, but desperate times…and so on. Soon it had become clear that I had lost my Facebook fight.
The score was: Ideology, 1; Diplomacy, 0.
And yet, the whole interaction got me to thinking: at what point is it appropriate for liberals to strike back? How often do we have to be diplomatic before non-diplomacy is in order? I mean, if I don’t plunder and pillage 360 days a year – aren’t I mostly not a pillager? Moreover, are those obligations different for a white men liberals than for other liberals?
As white men, we occupy social positions characterized by high privilege and low burden. Most liberal white men acknowledge this. Many of us even use positions of privilege to speak out against injustices. It is called advocacy and is an effective use of privilege. We use our voice to amplify others’. Yet many of us get swept up in emotion, righteously indignant at social injustices. We dig in our heels, tear apart friendships and family relationships under the auspices that we sit atop the moral high ground. We tell ourselves that we are being disloyal to the cause if we sit idly by and allow people to say disparaging things about women or people of color. We take on not only the cause, but the personal affront. In a sense, we appropriate the cause and the hurt as our own.
Conservatives are just liberals who haven’t been educated, enlightened, exposed, or convinced. And it is only through education, enlightenment, exposure, and convincing that we reach the critical numbers necessary for political representation. So the problem with white men appropriating the experience and hurt of under-represented people is that we minimize their emotional burden, and we stop advocating. When liberal white men get angry and tired, we ultimately take the easy road that is only available to us because we’re white men. We rest. And while we rest, we leave the fight to women and people of color. We stop using our voice to recruit. We slam doors because dammit, sometimes that feels good. But for every door slammed…for every democrat vote lost – we put someone else in jeopardy, while we stay safe. It is not our future on the line.
When we allow righteous indignation to couple with a sense of moral superiority, we widen the chasm between liberals and conservatives that white men are in a unique position to close. Fatigued and frustrated, we retreat into our camp of like-minded progressive liberals who will reaffirm our beliefs – who will reaffirm that we’re better off with one less friend, if that one less friend is a racist, or a bigot. We fail to “close the sale”, to recruit one more voice that could ensure the protection of the rights of the people for whom we advocate.
So to white liberal men, I am encouraging you to keep talking to conservatives. You are in a unique position to be heard. Don’t get swept up in emotions. Racism, sexism, and homophobia are not our story, so we are not allowed to suffer from the same fatigue. We can continue to advocate. And we advocate best when we echo, point to, and make space for others’ voices.
Mike Kasdan: It’s My Facebook and I’ll De-Friend If I Want To. Liberals Don’t Have to be Nice to Everyone Always.
I don’t know Jude very well, but he seems like a nice person.
I too pride myself on being a nice person. It’s pretty much the one thing I ask of my teenage son: be nice.
If I had unlimited bandwidth and patience that exceeded that of an ordinary human, I might agree completely with what Jude is saying here. But I don’t. For you scientists, here is how I see it:
It’s like the “Ideal Gas Law.” It is true under “ideal conditions,” and knowing it as a guideline is incredibly helpful for all sorts of applications. But because life rarely operates under “ideal conditions,”
I’ll get back to this.
Like Jude, I like me some Facebook. Sure it’s good for goofy interconnections, funny memes, posting picture of my kids, and for sharing Vines of the NY Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis, but – to me – its also become a place to connect with a group of wickedly smart and passionate and diverse people that I am lucky to call my Facebook Friends.
Like Jude, I am a liberal. I am also a white man. And I do a lot of posting and talking and writing about topics like racism and sexism and bigotry, both on Facebook and as a contributor to The Good Men Project. I recognize too that these—and others, like gun control, abortion, the Israel-Palestine dispute, the NC transgender bathroom laws—are polarizing topics and that bridging the gap on polarizing topics is really the only way forward.
A ways back, I wrote a post called The Singular Wisdom of Both Not Giving a F*ck and Totally Giving a F*ck (At The Same Time) in which I summarized my philosophy on, well, life. It went something like this:
1. Be Kind.
2. Always be open to learning.
3. When you see something, say something.
4. And then do something.
Back then, I had never unfriended anyone on Facebook. And, I prided myself on what I considered to be my one super skill – moderating conversations. I was also a big believer in responding to any speech that I disagreed with with counter-speech.
I was so adorable back then. So naive.
Now, I’m not saying that’s wrong. I’m saying that sometimes points (1) and (3) above stand in conflict to each other. Sometimes—no matter how much you talk about it and no matter how many ways you come at it, there is a guy who is simply not going to accept that there is such a thing as institutional racism. Or rape culture. There is that woman who answers every patient response with a trolling one, devoid of facts or evidence, but full of truthy Christian feeling.
There is a Jewish parable told on the holiday of Passover, during a ritual called “The Four Questions,” about four sons—the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask—asking about the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt. According to tradition, those sons are each answered in a different way, based on their different character and perspective.
In an ideal world, I would come at folks like the above with a different tact. Instead of calling them a racist or sexist or a crazy “Second Amendment” person, I would patiently shift the conversation to asking them to consider the lived experiences of others— friends, family members, etc. Ask your black friends about their experiences with police. It could surprise you. Ask your female friends about their experiences with sexual assault. It could surprise you. I firmly believe that’s the path forward.
But sometimes—and more and more it seems during this election season —those attempts are met with the same trolling nonsense. And that is when the Ideal Gas Law goes to shit for me. Because, as I’m slowly learning, my bandwidth is not unlimited. I have to pick and choose who and what I invest my time in and myself. And while I am a patient man, I am not Buddha. And if you’re not dealing in facts and if you’re not open to listening, we’re wasting each others time.
Also. Sometimes people are assholes. They call me names. They insult my religion. They call me a “libtard” or a “cuck.” I’ve decided that just because I’m a liberal doesn’t mean I have to be nice to people who are assholes to me.
Finally, I want to address one thing that Jude said above, and that is that “Conservatives are just liberals who haven’t been educated, enlightened, exposed or convinced.” That’s a nice theory, but I don’t believe that to be true. So sure, I’ll be nice. And I’ll talk to just about anyone. And I will spend a lot of time patiently explaining my beliefs and backing them up with facts. But there are certain folks I’m not going to have the patience or desire to broker peace deals with and I don’t see my role as having to benevolently educate them and convert them to liberalism. I don’t think it works that way.
While I understand that we can’t simply throw all those folks in a giant basket and ship ’em off to sea and that large constructive bi-partisan solutions must be hammered out, I sure as hell am not going to waste my time with them on Facebook.