As I wrote yesterday, I’m completely fed up with the intersectionality Hunger Games. The price of hewing to non-conservative politics in the Trump era is unending death-match sparring to win the right to be the biggest victim in the room. And to do that, we choose a single strand of the interwoven fabric of gender, gender identify, sexual preference, race, ethnicity, and linguistic and cultural identification that makes up us all, and act like all the other strands don’t matter.
We’re now so willing to throw each other under the bus to be king of the victimhood hill, all so that our preferred progressive leaders can use our narrowly focused, objectified plights as political battering rams against the Republican Party. And everything else we are–or that our allies or our loved ones are–must stay silent. Sit on your hands. Don’t claim your experience. Don’t own your pain. It’s not your turn yet.
Why again do we liberals think it’s our place to tell anyone they don’t have a right in public to express, embody, and own their own experience? Speaking as a progressive myself, I sure didn’t give anyone else the right to decide for me the who, what, when, where, why, and how of my human rights to being and to self-expression.
Every time I experience a fellow liberal telling another person–often an ally–that they don’t have a right to own their space in whatever room they find themselves in, I cringe. It’s an automatic signal that says, “My pain is greater than yours, so you don’t matter.” And while I agree that organizing and managing events and spaces for specific types of expression and airing of grievances is a good thing, very often that becomes a pretense in wider public spaces for shutting people down.
That’s exactly what the #MeToo hashtag did in needlessly–and falsely–defining sexual predation as a problem afflicting only women. That’s how Jewish Americans have multiple times been shut out of LGBTQ and #Resistance events in Chicago, or shut down on college campuses across the country. And that’s why outside allies are often told by the leaders of liberal movements to sit silently until until they learn how to be a “good” ally. With “good” ally usually defined as making sure that the allies don’t attempt to connect with the movement on emotional grounds–much less on grounds of shared pain–but simply do what they’re told.
And then right down the line on the left, we all act so incredibly, unbelievably surprised when nothing ever changes. When we tell the people we want and need to love and respect us back–for growing love and respect is the point of every human movement–that we matter but they don’t–what else do we expect?
That’s not a rhetorical question. Give me a good answer and tell me I’m wrong. I’ll wait.
Well, actually, I stopped waiting for that answer several months ago. I don’t remember the exact email that broke my camel’s back of progressive patience, but it arrived over the summer. After the election, I signed up for every liberal political organization and email list imaginable. I didn’t have many more to go, because I’d been a virtual-card-carrying member of all the usual-suspect progressive organizations for a long time. I spent years happily adding my name to polls, sending what donations I could afford, attending occasional events, and writing across my social media–including this blog–about the “good fight” of the liberal left.
And it is a good fight. But then Trump happened. And my incoming political email quickly devolved into two huge, obnoxious piles. The first? Excessive–often daily, sometimes every few hours–and breathless appeals for money to fight that good fight. As if I–or most of the other modestly incomed working- and middle-class liberals receiving these repetitive, repetitive, repetitive appeals–were made of money.
The second? Emotionally charged, demographically narrowed, intersectionality-be-damned, choose-sides-now screeds on whom to respect and whom to hate, framed in this-week-we’re-only–supporting–X’s–pain messaging. Allegedly motivational emails aimed at mobilizing all sorts of liberal bases. Except, sit on your hands keep yourself silent unless this week it was your community’s turn to express your universal human experience of joy and pain.
But don’t forget to sign our petition first.
It was the Disney World Fast Pass theory of human identity. Sorry, Hispanics, your pain isn’t valid yet. Come back at 4. Only Muslim pain is valid between 2 and 3. Low-wage workers? Sorry, your window was at Noon. Your pain isn’t valid anymore. But you’re welcome to log into your MDE app and see if there are any Fast Pass slots left to validate your pain this evening. We can’t guarantee any availability, though.
My mother always said the boat only floats when everybody’s in it. She was a wise woman. Everybody in that boat doesn’t have to agree or even particularly like everybody else. But what they do have to do is stand together and validate each other’s humanity. That doesn’t work when we deconstruct each other, part out our interlinked communities like we’re diagramming sentences instead of picking apart elements of identity and community that don’t work like they’re meant to when thrown into political isolation units, like jail for demographics.
Over the summer, I realized I had started to wait for permission for the “correct” times to express myself in the context of a politically turbulent world. But I don’t need anyone’s permission–and neither do you, for that matter. I can’t say what disgusts me more: that the liberal left has decided that it has ownership of the human experience of liberals; or that I had allowed myself to fall into thoroughly unexamined agreement with the idea. My breaking point was reached in a single email from a major liberal PAC that told me who I was allowed to be, what I was allowed to believe in, and how I was allowed to express myself–and on all of those counts, how I wasn’t, if I wanted to be a good liberal. I finally got the messaging. I let it finally sink in.
That’s how the Great Unsubscribing began.
I spent the rest of that day in my email archives, reading and re-reading every political email I had received for the past three months. I held no sacred cows among the organizations represented there. I looked for messaging that brought people together, that honored the intersection of identity and community instead of establishing a pecking order. I searched for emails that gave everyone a way in instead of telling specific communities to stay on the outside for now. I looked for events and appeals that empowered a community of communities, rather than empowering just us but not you. I sought out emails that offered allies alternative ways in that honored their experience, rather than objectifying allies as political pawns.
I ended up finding very little of any of that and unsubscribing from almost everything.
I’d like to say it’s one thing for conservative leaders to objectify the experiences of Muslims, Hispanics, women, LGBTQ people, and immigrants into “things that don’t matter for political purposes.” But actually, objectification is objectification. It’s actually the same thing for liberal leaders to objectify the experiences of the same groups of people into “things that matter for political purposes, but only at the right times.”
No thanks. There are other ways to fight good fights. Know yourself and where you stand. Be brave enough to share that publicly without seeking anyone’s permission–that you don’t need anyway. Base your politics, your life, your goals, your dreams–which, since the personal is political, are one and the same–around love, compassion, justice, and fairness. Embody that and you are more powerful than any political party or movement. Living like that is how the world changes.
Live like that to the extent you humanly can, and to the extent you can humanly express it, and you are literally changing the world.
No online petitions required.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.