Watching the comments and tweets surrounding the recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner reminded me of Hamilton-Gate.
For those not entirely familiar, this “gate” involved a performance of the Broadway musical Hamilton that was attended by Mike Pence. Brandon Victor Dixon, a cast member of the show, directly addressed the (then) VPE. The actor took an amazing personal risk and leveraged an opportunity to voice the collective concerns of fellow humans.
Why would a successful, financially secure person take a very public risk by calling on Pence and asking him to govern for all Americans? Because, as an openly gay, HIV+ person of color, he likely recognized the very real risk presented by the incoming administration. He attempted to humanize the concern being experienced by all those who don’t look like Mike Pence.
Temporarily shifting the balance of power to shed light on social injustice is not bullying. Having a voice (or microphone) to speak for those without one is also not bullying.
Michelle Wolf sparked conversations about Mike Pence as well, commenting that if he hadn’t already been watching the TV show Handmaid’s Tale “he would love it.” Controversial? Maybe. But let’s take a closer look at his history.
Pence advocated to direct funds intended for HIV/AIDS programs to organizations that did not “celebrate” homosexuality. Pence also delayed the implementation of a clean needle exchange in the midst of a public health crisis. His position put peoples’ lives at risk. Putting aside for a moment the human cost of contracting HIV, this delay resulted in additional drain on resources for years to come, as newly infected people necessarily relied on treatment and health services.
Let’s unpack that for a minute. Pence, not a physician or scientist, decided to approach addiction as a moral failing and denied a clean needle exchange so as not to “enable” users. Then, he continued to delay—even as infection rates rose at unprecedented rates. As a result, HIV continues to spread and more people rely on treatment and expensive medial protocols for the rest of their lives. For women, this potentially expands to any future children who may contract the disease through perinatal transmission.
When policy is determined by religious beliefs or personal gain, it contributes to a lesser than / greater than social structure.
All people matter, but some matter more than others. This sets into motion a series of events that culminate in unnecessary negative outcomes for marginalized populations. By not actively responding to this behavior, it becomes normal.
Normalizing works both ways. Seeing a person of power expressing misogynistic, racist, and xenophobic language under the guise of being a ‘non-politically-correct straight talker’ opens the door for those in the dominant culture who feel infringed upon to do the same. Conversely, gay marriage sounds less ominous when it’s your friend Bob who works over in the development team.
Michelle and Brandon used their access to disrupt the narrative. Folding stark realities into comedy is an effective approach. Making the absurd more relatable is easier when people view the experience through a lens of entertainment.
In her closing statement, Michelle reminded the audience that the water crisis continues in Flint, Michigan. This should have been more shocking and worthy of outrage than her comment about eye makeup.
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