Viva la différence
I keep hearing this idea that it’s important to have people in your life who have differing opinions, because that helps inform your own. I agree with this to a point. Yes, I’d like a friend to tell me why he thinks the Red Sox are a more important team than the Yankees. He may know more about baseball than I do, so I could benefit from his knowledge, or vice versa. Also, arguing can be fun.
The problem comes when this idea is applied to politics.
Every day, I see someone online talking about how we need to stop letting politics separate us. They say we can reach “compromise” if those on the political left “keep an open dialogue” with people they know on the right. The implication is that all ideas are equal because they are ideas, but that is flatly false. There are such things as good ideas and bad ideas, and they should never be treated equally. It’s a good idea to eat several times a day. It’s a bad idea to jump out of a plane without a parachute. Even though you never hear anyone say, “I can’t decide if I want noodles or to plummet 30,000 feet to my death,” somehow there are still Republicans.
The Republican Party bases itself on tradition, and if you are a minority or a woman, the traditions of this country are based on your exploitation, at best, and, at worst, your death. Slavery is a tradition in this country that extends through sharecropping and the deliberate ghettoization of the urban poor, all the way to the present, as black people continue to be disproportionately jailed in a for-profit prison system. The right wing is not entirely to blame for keeping this tradition alive; Bill Clinton admitted his 1994 crime bill made mass incarceration worse. But if you hear hate speech or hear of a hate crime in this country, the chances are overwhelming that the instigator is a right-winger.
Abortion clinic bombers vote right-wing. The KKK votes right-wing. I’m surprised more people don’t ask, “Which way is the Klan voting?” and then say, “Thanks, I’ll obviously vote the opposite way.” Occasionally I hear people say they support right-wing candidates and causes because they’re a fiscal conservative. But that just means they think money is more important than lives.
Imagine for a moment that there is a widely held political philosophy that considers your human rights — and, by extension, your life — of lesser value than the rights and lives of the majority of the people around you. (This is harder to do if you are not a woman or a minority, but try anyway.) Now imagine talking to someone who proudly espouses this philosophy. Could you “keep an open dialogue” with this person? Can you “compromise” with them, and if so, what can you change in deference to their point of view, your genetics?
To even entertain the idea of compromising with someone like that is to concede that they could be correct in believing you are less than human.
This is what it is to be gay and fight for marriage. This is what it is to be a woman fighting for reproductive rights. This is what it is to be a person of color and watch your state’s governor try to withhold money from cities and towns that refuse to allow police to question residents’ immigration status. That was an actual proposal by Paul LePage that, thankfully, went nowhere last month. Who do you think cops would be requesting papers from? Romanians? Slovakians? Probably not. They would be questioning people of color.
I really want you to let that sink in: The actual governor of an actual state in the year 2016 proposed a plan that could’ve sanctioned police to interrogate people based on the color of their skin. These are the kinds of “ideas” we’re supposed to “keep an open dialogue” about and “compromise” on.
Now, some might say LePage is an outlier, that he doesn’t represent the vast enterprise that is the Republican Party, but I say one look at the top of the Republican presidential race proves otherwise. This Election Day, remember to ask someone in the know, “Which way is the Klan voting?” Then say, “Thanks. I’ll obviously vote for the opposite.”
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He lives in Portland and can be reached at email@example.com.