I think a moderately universal experience for anyone who consumes popular entertainment is the inevitable experience of bonding with another human being over fandom, but having it be for offensively different reasons. In some subcultures, this is almost a cliché: those of us who fell in love with the complicated story of redemption and addiction at the heart of Iron Man’s story in half a century of comic books, or have been championing Nicki Minaj’s skills as a pure lyricist since 2009 often encounter equally enthusiastic fans who just want to talk about Robert Downey Jr. and American Idol. It can be frustrating.
Similarly, there can be a very jarring moment that many people committed to social justice and progress can encounter wherein they find kin who line up with them on one issue or another, but the reasons contrast. Now, in some spots, this is perfectly reasonable. I’m committed to environmental efforts and care deeply about climate change because I feel doing so is both ethically correct and an investment in human race’s future. I am also an atheist. When I meet a religious person who shares my views on environmentalism because they subscribe to doctrines calling humans to be stewards of the earth and to the care for what they consider to be their personal deity’s creations, I don’t take any umbrage. That to me is a totally cool way to go and I’ll gladly work alongside such activists.
What I’m talking about is more a perversion of moral justification. I first noticed it following the initial election of Barack Obama. Now, I’ll state openly that I voted for him twice, and I do not regret either of those decisions. I did so the first time with some minor reservations, mainly that he was frankly too moderate for my taste. I did so the second time after a lot of soul searching and hard thought.
More Radical Reads: Ally Etiquette 101
My personal politics are pretty welcoming, but they don’t make a lot of room for those who continually run drone strikes that murder innocent children in the Middle East, who deport 2.5 million (and counting) desperate immigrants, and pass health care reforms that benefit private insurance companies at the expense of universal care. Still, I threw my lot in, reservations and all, and did so with at least enough conscience to talk about why I didn’t like him. Sometimes, this worked out fine: people who disagreed with me generally got where I was coming from, and some even sided with me on some issues. Other times, I would be dealing with those who despised the president because he was a socialist (I wish), because he was going to take their guns (he’s less restrictive than Reagan was), and of course his heritage, both visible reality and fictional garbage.
It is very singular to sit in a space with a person speaking in this manner. You almost never know where to start. Do I begin with a disclaimer that I do in fact dislike this politician’s policies before launching into corrections? Do I start dismantling each problematic element and if so, in what order? Most of the time, I just excused myself from the conversation because what would really be accomplished other than exhausting myself?
In more recent news, we have had the “Berniebro” phenomenon, where mostly white, educated cis-men have gleefully jumped on the economic progressivism of Bernie Sanders, while simultaneously proving every stereotype of their demographics. As a movement acting even outside of the wishes of its own candidate, its constituents act like that dude in a junior-year Economics course arguing that class is the superseding factor of all suffering in the United States, that other intersectional issues must take back seats if progress is to made.
They demonize Black Lives Matter protesters for putting their platform in front of arguably the only presidential candidate who will listen. They attack Hillary Clinton not for being a supporter of the Patriot Act (twice), the Iraq War, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the bank bailouts, the death penalty, the Drug War, the Keystone Pipeline, fracking, increased funding to Israel, civilian bombings throughout the Middle East, Dancing With the Stars, and a whole lot more evil stuff, but because she’s a woman.
One of the most fascinating splits I had ever seen in the American Left followed the attacks against Charlie Hebdo. I had never even heard of the Parisian newspaper prior to the shootings that took place at their offices in 2015. When discussing it, I felt weirdly attacked from two ends. My Free Speech advocate and many secular friends couldn’t understand why I criticized the newspaper for being patently offensive, publishing racist and Islamophobic drivel strictly for the purpose of inciting anti-Muslim ire. Meanwhile, my interfaith friends couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t condemn the PEN American Center for awarding its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the objectively terrible magazine (though I did support the various writers who publicly withdrew from the gala in protest), an omission based on my belief that callous and monstrous as the publication may be, they did represent something a rallying point for the importance of free speech.
Basically, I had complicated feelings over a very complicated subject, but that put me in the same wheelhouses as some folks with whom I fundamentally disagreed. Nuance rarely wins in these situations. I’m often left questioning my fundamental beliefs when I realize just how many of my allies stand with me for reasons that I consider abominable.
I don’t believe these questions are bad in and of themselves. We should always be questioning ourselves and probing the reasons for our commitments to some ideas over others. I grew up convinced that political correctness was some form of demon-bogeyman that was coming for my free expression. It was only after realizing how many of the people upset about it were more concerned with their right to make lazy jokes at the expense of marginalized communities than with actual free expression that I realized political correctness was just another term for being respectful.
In other instances, like the Berniebros situation or Charlie Hebdo, I find that it helps to simply ask myself where my beliefs stem from, and be willing to hold that nuance in my own head, whether or not I choose to dive into it with others. I like Bernie Sanders for the most part and I’m going to vote for him over Hillary Clinton because he represents my beliefs more than she does. I’m also not going to sweat the fact that there are a lot of horrible people who are going to stand with me for terrible reasons. If Sanders can say that he’s not interested in their support, than I can stand comfortable in my choice for my own reasons.
More Radical Reads: Ally Ettiquette 102: Using Privilege As An Ally
Some progressives like to use the mantra, “All your faves are problematic.” Normally, they are referencing celebrities we love and the really offensive stuff they sometimes say, do, and believe. This absolutely extends to politics. No belief system is above criticism and self-analysis. No opinion, politician, journalist, publication, or stance is perfect. If we are committed to social justice, our job is to recognize this and act with knowledge of the nuance.
That means calling out our allies for their problematic aspects even when they’re supporting us. It means choosing to engage (or deliberately not engage as good judgment permits) on the side of compassion and Radical Self-Love even if it means losing a supporter. We have to make these calls for ourselves, of course, but for my part, I would rather stand in a minority dedicated to pursuing progress for the right reasons than bum-rush the path forward with those who may be of the same mind, but not of the same heart.
Ready to cultivate a radical, authentic community? It often starts with creating that space first for yourself to discover your own views and worthiness of them. Join us for our next workshop 10 Tools to Radical Self Love.[Feature Image: An individual with a short haircut sits at a cafe table peering into their laptop with a look of frustration and hand resting on their hand. Pexels.com]
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