Here are a couple of facts about me:
- I don’t like conflict. By which I mean I don’t like people yelling at each other and not coming closer to a mutual understanding. I don’t like it when people talk at cross-purposes and don’t take the time to understand the other person’s position.
- In times of great stress, my first thought is always “what can I do to make this better?”. I don’t like dwelling on discomfort. I want to move on.
- I am an optimist. I think that the things that bring us together are more important than the things that make us different. That doesn’t mean that I ignore the problems that we’re facing as a species, but that I want to figure out how to solve them so that we can explore the galaxy together.
Donald Trump is President Elect of the USA. He ran on a platform of economic protectionism backed by a calliope of dog whistles, and straight-up racism. 61 million people voted for him. Some of the people who voted for him are cross-burning, klan joining racists. Fuck those people.
However, there are (I hope) a large number of people who voted for Trump who are not consciously racist. They’re people who bought into his economic plan, or his promise to “drain the swamp”. These are people who have never examined their privilege, because for them, it doesn’t feel like privilege. This privilege is undeniably a part of what drove them to commit the undeniably racist act of voting for Donald Trump. These are the people that we need to get on-side. Yelling at them, and calling them racists, particularly doing this online, is only going to drive them towards institutions that explicitly support white nationalist causes.
I want to digress for a moment. I mentioned up top that I like to think of what I can do to make things better. I also know that people who have been bearing the brunt of this oppression are sick and tired of reaching out and being rebuffed. They have a rough enough deal without having to add an “educate racists” task to every to-do list. I’m not saying that they should.
However, I am a cis-het white guy from a very privileged background. It is not my place to be a leader in a queer space, or a feminist space or a space for people of colour. I am and will continue to be an ally. I will continue to protest unjust laws, and stand with my queer friends, with my Muslim (and other non Christian) friends, and with my friends of colour. But I can also put my privilege to good use. It’s much less dangerous for me to go into spaces with these unintending racists, and try to change their minds. It’s much less dangerous for me to challenge them on things that they may think of as “harmless banter” which are actually hurtful and cruel. But that challenge has to be the beginning of a conversation. Screaming “RACIST!” and then moving on will not change anyone’s mind; talking to them about the impact of their words, and why they chose to speak like that just might.
Vox has a couple of articles that I found very interesting on this topic. One was about a study which explored methods of changing voter attitudes towards anti-LGBTQIA+ laws and the other was about applying some of these techniques to combat racism. There are no easy answers here. I like to think that living in a liberal bubble like Seattle, the “this has an impact on people who aren’t you” lesson isn’t one that needs to be taught, but as the Seattle Times shows, there are plenty of Trump voters around, they’re just in hiding. Beyond that, I don’t know how to drive an effort like this in a structured, organized manner, which is what’s needed if it’s to be effective on the large scale.
If what you need right now is the catharsis of venting your frustration and anger at someone who did something stupid for reasons you don’t understand, then that’s great. But if your goal is to win people to your side, to help them learn not to be racist, and in doing so, to make the world a better place, then it will only happen through an open, judgement-light conversation.