Last week in The Typescript’s weekly COVID-19 Happy-Hour meeting, our editor said something that was both simple and profound. Matthew Friedman said that he appreciated my willingness to reach out and understand the other side but that he really did not want to do that himself. It would be easy for me to get on my morale high horse and say that his “attitude is a part of the problem;” a part of the problem in the sense that this failure to seek out common ground and understanding is leading this country, and the world in general, to a more polarized state.
But then it hit me like a car slamming into a brick-wall. My privilege smacked me across the face and I realized how lucky I was, how privileged I was not to be personally the victim of others’ ignorance. Sure, the jokes about my academic career path hurt my ego and sure, living in a conservative state and working in education kills my paycheck, but at the end of the day the only thing that someone else’s ignorance hurts is my pride and my ability to take an extended vacation.
However, my Jewish editor, my non-white friends, my LGBTQ+ friends, and my non-Christian friends not only have their paychecks and their vacations threatened, they have their humanity threatened by the ignorance of conservative American thought. It is one thing for me to expect a privileged person to try to meet in the middle with a conservative but it is another to force a non-privileged person to sacrifice their humanity to have a meeting of the minds.
The point I’m trying to make is that it is neither just or realistic to expect someone who suffers the effects of bigotry to be gentle in arguments with those who disagree with them. Why should we expect our non-privileged friends to protect the egos and the ignorance of those who hate them?
Having said that, it is the job of white-privileged people to win over our RWNJ and conservative friends and family. It is our job to explain to the American conservative how their policies hurt others and why it is important to understand that fact. This applies equally to white progressoves. I know that conservative ides trigger and offend us. And I know that conservative tweets and Facebook comments turn us into keyboard warriors.
At this historical moment, we need to aspire to be better than “white saviors;” we must actually become allies. Now is the time to use our privilege, our personal connections, and our familiarity to reach out to American conservatives in hopes of changing their minds so that they support policies that help those that we supposedly care about.
This is our time to do some tangible good.
My friends of non-privileged classes, races, gender identities, and religions should not feel obligated to extend an olive branch. It is not their job to sacrifice their humanity and safety to change the oppressor’s minds. Their anger at both racists and white progressives who have failed to stand up for you in the past is right and legitimate. Their anger is what fuels change. And their anger should push their white allies to do the right thing.
Photo by Rosemary Ketchum