“Never discuss politics or religion in polite company; it will only cause ill-will and indigestion. Should an unpleasant discourse threaten the peace, smile serenely and quickly change the subject.”
So went Miss Abigail Jenkins’ 1875 rule of etiquette.
Thought leaders and activists are calling out the manipulative tactic the rule has been all along. After all, who was it who didn’t want us to talk about these important subjects, and why?
Although Miss Jenkins wrote the rule in her book, Holiday Etiquette, she was just the messenger, parroting what she had been taught. Then and now, people in power don’t want the people they dominate to discuss how they are being oppressed lest they organize and figure out how to win justice to the detriment of the oppressor.
Found on Facebook:
Being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack of understanding of politics and religion. What we should have been taught was how to have a civil [emphasis added] conversation about a difficult topic.
I agree with most of the meme. We have to have the conversations, and being civil is a good place to start. However, “civil” conversation is based on a rule of systemic abuse set up by the privileged: Don’t talk about how my system of oppression disempowers you; I don’t want you to figure out how to overcome and thrive, rendering my power invalid.
If the purpose of programming people to not discuss politics and religion was to maintain decorum, what about not discussing sex? If you grew up in The United States, you know how taboo the subject of sex has been in “polite company”. Could it be that being taught to avoid talking about sex has led to not only a lack of understanding of sex, but also systemic abuse related: men asserting their control over a woman’s body and the politics related.
What if ‘polite conversation’ etiquette is precisely how we arrived at—and continue to normalize and support—this volatile state of systemic misogyny, institutional racism, and homophobia?
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