Civility is hard for the oppressed
Letter to the Editor | Monday, October 26, 2020
A couple weeks ago, I attended a BridgeND event that emphasized the importance of civility in political discourse. After receiving similar emails from Fr. Jenkins and my rector, I decided to see for myself as to what this meant.
This BridgeND event began with an enlightening lecture about the history of voting rights, then was followed by a discussion between a progressive and a libertarian. This discussion, led by two white students from Catholic backgrounds, was probably productive for the two of them, but was devoid of any actual political discourse. If I, a biracial gay male at a mostly white catholic university, was a part of that discussion, I probably wouldn’t see the conversation going as smoothly.
While discouraging verbal warfare in political discourse is important, embracing civility makes it uncomfortable to say anything outside of the status quo. It allows for my experience as an American to go unnoticed. It allows for those who are complicit in oppression, whether intentional or not, to not be held accountable and learn from it.
For example, the idea of marriage equality was not discussed, but if it was, both parties could have peacefully walked away from the discussion. No matter what their views may be, they would have been feeling okay, because they do not have any stakes in the matter. Their right to marry will never be infringed on regardless of what they say or who they vote for. Similar issues arise when discussing the history of police brutality against the black community. They will never fully experience the repercussions of denying the racial bias against BIPOC individuals in this country. To hear the denial, silencing and rejection of the oppression faced by millions of Americans in political discourse is something that many Americans take rather personally. Expecting them to remain civil at the rejection of their oppression seems counterproductive. A rejection of our experiences means to me that you don’t see me. I’m not going to agree to disagree on my right to marry who I choose. I’m not going to agree to disagree that my life matters in this country. It’s all very personal to me, and many others on this campus.
I’m not saying that we should silence those who have no stakes in the argument. Many of these ideas require opinions from everyone to be exchanged for solutions to be produced. I’m just that saying maybe the message should shift to listening to others who are different than you. Talking to only like-minded individuals from similar backgrounds is not political discourse; it’s reaffirming your own beliefs. Politics are intersectional; to avoid talking about ideas that are divisive does not do anyone any good.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.