“Don’t make everything political”

People like to demand we “don’t get all political” when we talk about certain things, particularly identities, or even whenever we’re talking. It could be in the form of “fans” of a show moaning about the representation of diverse kinds of people, whether race, sexuality, gender, body shape, age, disability… (as if all these people don’t exist in the real world and casting them must be some form of propaganda).

It’s not like we’ve all been relegated to playing white, male characters and seeing them dominate screens our whole lives (less so now, thankfully) – but that’s different apparently.

Or it might be your annoying family member(s) who don’t think your own identity should ever be discussed, that “politics” should never be the subject, as if the mere mention of LGBTs might summon The Pansexual Beetlejuice, or something. (Who wouldn’t want canonically pan Beetlejuice?? Maybe he should be.)

For some of us, this is not abstract. This isn’t a thought experiment that lives in our heads. This is our real, flesh and blood lives.

Ellie Dowd

A pet peeve is when people do this with reference to science, or claim it can be separated. As if science has ever been “apolitical”; newsflash, people came up with it, people do it, and people make use of the results. People live in societies awash with political decisions, implications, norms and rules – of course science is political.
It always has been.

But given recent events, let’s focus in on the personal identities form of politics – I don’t necessarily mean “identity politics” per se, but the way people view discussion of identity and react to it more generally.

The BBC has decided that certain current-events reporters should not be seen to attend or tweet about certain events/issues/movements lest their “impartiality” apparently be compromised. Let’s see where this goes – hopefully swiftly to the bin once unions and lawyers are through with it – but also let’s talk about what impartial really means when it comes to identity.

The thing is, identities are made political when they’re sidelined, marginalised, oppressed and so on. Denying people agency, political power, earning/economic power, academic voices, or various forms of social power (through stereotyping, prejudice and the rest of the vicious cycle) makes their identities political since standing up for them and demanding equality in law or fair social support is then a political issue.

This twitter-question got the response it deserved; variations on Lillian’s theme all around.

The narrative that acts like feminists inappropriately insert their politics into everything while men mind their business is a farce. Men insert their politics and male agendas into jokes, television, journalism, children’s books and movies, toys, religion, social common sense, cultures, traditions, classrooms, the economy and the entire system of human living.

The only difference is that the male has declared himself the voice of objectivity: going against men is challenging nature itself.

knaz16 (Tumblr)*

The above is a longer version of the often quoted “Objectivity is Male Subjectivity” – mentioned in and reminiscent of one of my favourite pieces, The Rise and Fall of Default Man by Grayson Perry, which I strongly recommend reading.

When we talk of identity, we often think of groups such as black Muslim lesbians in wheelchairs. This is because identity only seems to become an issue when it is challenged or under threat. Our classic Default Man is rarely under existential threat; consequently, his identity remains unexamined. It ambles along blithely, never having to stand up for its rights or to defend its homeland…

Default Man feels he is the reference point from which all other values and cultures are judged. Default Man is the zero longitude of identities.

Grayson Perry

This related short piece of writing about simply existing as a woman/person of colour/gay or trans person being made political by others also highlights the issue: if a group’s characteristics, desires, views and feelings have been established as the default then anyone who exists or treads outside of those bounds can be branded as statement-making:

It’s practically the same with why centrism and “political nihilism” are bigoted as they practically call to abstain from politics and “making things political” thus preserving the ‘default’ understanding of things which is already sexist, racist, capitalist et cetera.

Οδυσσέας Κουτσός

Whereas having identities that are already unquestionably normalised or socially powerful – white, male, cis, able-bodied, slim, straight, wealthy – typically go unremarked and are not considered politically hot. But that uncontroversial nature is not an inherent quality of those things! It’s because of power imbalances, hierarchies, which were set up and are maintained consciously and unconsciously over time; because of attacks on the rights and freedoms of the others.

Of course, god forbid we do try to point out that white and male are identity aspects; Default Man doesn’t enjoy that and will rail against it by wheeling out feeble accusations of “reverse racism/sexism“, when he did not care about the actual inequalities to begin with; only now you’ve pointed out that he does in fact exist within these systems and his existence is also of political note. He wants to fly under the radar, remain unexamined.

Remain uncontroversial

Being a relatively rich, white, gay man is significantly less politically controversial than it once was in the West and that has come about through advocacy work and in part assimilating into power structures that already existed. That’s another topic, but it’s what feeds into the BBC’s implied “well it’s fine to celebrate being a gay if you’re just having a party and getting married and not otherwise rocking the boat”.

Ah, how ironic

Let’s remember that Pride is and always has been a protest (just because it looks like a party in some places, while some of us are not free, none of us are – we march for those who cannot; people are still being killed for not being straight all around the world and such protests were and are against shaming marginalised genders and sexualities so the BBC is already demonstrating ignorance here). Edit: it is important to note that the commercialisation and ally-pleasing evolution of Pride has been exclusionary to many and this is discussed elsewhere.

Politically, in terms of movements and politicians, the right has traditionally been the home of more restrictive and oppressive ideas, whether pertaining to gender roles that seek to narrowly define and control women (and men), recoiling at the possibility of a range of sexualities, seeing disabled people as fully human, providing for the needs of the youngest and oldest, or seeing, respecting and celebrating diversity of ethnicity.
I have little doubt that it is the right-wing, evangelical Christian-supported hate groups that have influenced the BBC in its decisions. But we can oppose this.

Whether it takes the form of going out to protest, making something your career, sharing information or just being angry that bad shit is happening sometimes – it’s called being political and often pejoratively.

But talking with our families and friends is important and the whole “Don’t talk politics” idea that’s intended to create harmony where severe disagreements exist has actually had some seriously negative impacts.

I just want to relax at home

Demanding an avoidance of “politics” is not actually about improving things anyway, but about preserving personal comfort; avoiding conflict because it’s unpleasant. The potential improvements, like finally getting the old racist at the table to accept they could work on it (they’ve had decades), sail on by.

I’m reminded of this excerpt from Dr. King (emphasis added):

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’…

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”

Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

And as some have commented on Ellie’s post below, if you do have the energy to engage friends and family who say hateful or concerning things, absolutely go for it. Other people who don’t have it or wouldn’t be respected and listened to are relying on others to take those steps. So it’s good to try.

Equally, if we run out of energy and kindness when what we receive is vitriol and hateful things directed at aspects of our own identities and lives, it’s fine to bow out. No one is owed your time, and no one deserves abuse for holding and sticking to values. Personal boundaries are important.

When I see a white liberal post something like, “I don’t defriend people because of politics,” or, “I sat down and had dinner with a Trump supporter,” as some kind of moral high ground, it tells me that for them, this is all a difference of opinion over abstract ideas. Similar to supporting a particular sports team over another.

For some of us, this is not abstract. This isn’t a thought experiment that lives in our heads. This is our real, flesh and blood lives.

And your commitment to civility in the rise of fascism shows us we can’t trust you.

Ellie Dowd

People often talk about compromise or understanding – but what limits will you put on that, if any? This post asks important questions:

When people decry polarization and insist that we all just have to understand each other and work together, I always want to ask this: How bad does it have to get? What horror could one side commit that would make you recoil? Is there a line they could cross that you could not accept or forgive?

…I urge you to think hard about where you would draw it. If you don’t, they’re going to keep turning up the heat a degree at a time — and you will be complicit, talking about compromise with the people who are boiling your friends to death.

Greta Christina

Those limits matter. The Paradox of Tolerance is as pertinent as ever – being friends with people who think that it’s an “opinion” to think Black people inferior, gay people unnatural, or Jews suspect is not a virtue;

Morality is vital if we’re to uphold the freedoms and values we’ve been working towards collectively, which create worlds in which not being the default is not punishable as a crime, or worse, by death. Where being different is not met with distrust, suspicion and defensive hatred.

Being more concerned with being perceived as ‘nice’ than actually practicing what helps people (in a kind of utilitarian way I suppose) doesn’t actually make you a good person.

Now we’ve got to the nazis (yes, they are still around), consider this picture:

laugh-Auschwitz

“It’s the perfectly nice, normal person trying to go about daily life without “being political.” The ones who go with the flow. Who don’t raise a fuss, or step out of line.

These [Auschwitz staff] are the faces of people who “aren’t political.”

And somewhere in their immediate vicinity, maybe at the exact moment this photo was being taken, Anne Frank’s mother was being starved to death.

So please. Don’t kid yourselves. Look around you at what’s happening in this country.

These are the people who don’t want to upset their racist aunt and uncle by saying Black Lives Matter on Facebook. Who don’t want to skip brunch to march in the streets on a rainy day. Who just want to coo over people’s babies and dogs on social media and get annoyed when the conversation turns to current affairs and human rights. Who know they should vote in the midterms but ugh, getting up early.

Don’t kid yourselves. That’s exactly who these people are. And if at this moment in time you yourself are “not political,” know that the rest of us know exactly what that means.”

Lydia Graham

Not being political can just mean you don’t care enough to do anything for other people, even when that something is – in the grand scheme – as small as standing up and confronting a family member or friend.
Or… god forbid, having a good swear about some injustice.

I don’t think it is preferable to keep a faux smile on your face when confronted with hateful views and acts, just to “keep the peace” – it may be more peaceful for you all in that moment, but it’s not for others when that hate finds outlets. Perhaps we’d all be more understanding and less hateful now if the Nazis hadn’t burned a whole load of sex, sexuality & gender research.

My thoughts are with all affected by the BBC’s statement, and ongoing political turmoil of greater and lesser impact across the world, and I hope these absurd restrictions are correctly and swiftly addressed.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. 

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor – Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech 1986

*I don’t automatically endorse all the views of everyone/thing I quote in a post, to be clear. I am not a biological essentialist nor do I support self-proclaimed “gender-critical feminists” (transphobes).

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3 thoughts on ““Don’t make everything political”

  1. Pingback: International Women’s Day: action – Purely a figment of your imagination

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