Is progressive politics ending prejudice, or just shutting down its outlets? Lately I’ve come to suspect the latter. And I’m totally ok with that. It means the next generations are raised in a society that (outwardly) frowns on public bigotry. Of course, that doesn’t stop it at the dinner table, but it’s progress nonetheless. But I don’t think silencing prejudice is enough. Doing so turns prejudice into a game of don’t-get-caught-saying-what-you-really-think.
I’m starting to believe we need to address prejudice at the root rather than the branch, and that this requires a different approach: changing the minds of bigots. I believe silencing prejudice is ethically right, but is it tactically sufficient? I’m not sure. I don’t want an endless game of whack-a-bigot. I want to convert bigots, not bash them.
I don’t think ending hate is purely an ideological, structural or discursive issue. I think it’s also a human/interpersonal issue. In other words, I think ending hate comes from helping a bigot understand the radical humanity of their ‘Other‘. I’m talking about empathy.
I think prejudice is uprooted by making bigots think ‘oh, [group x] aren’t so bad’. I look back on my own personal growth and my successes at getting through to people, and I think more people were convinced by meeting/hearing the story of their Other than by ethical arguments.
I believe art and human interaction are crucial here. Good art (especially film/television) has the power to circumvent prejudice and make bigots empathise with their Other. Good stories draw us in and help us relate to a character. Our identity markers fall away, we move beyond our self and into the world of another/an Other. Good art can open minds and change opinions, and it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining than a 100 minute lecture on the analytical value of the many lenses in intersectional feminism. Watching Slumdog Millionaire with your racist uncle may not sound very radical, but I bet it’s more effective than arguments on Christmas Day.
I think our role as leftists is to facilitate these experiences by promoting the art, voices, and experiences of non-white/straight/able/cis/men. But to do so we have to step out of our echo chambers and engage with our Other. And who is our Other? Bigots.
I know this sounds like being extra-nice to abusers instead of survivors. Is this fair or right? No. Is it effective? In my experience, yes. Sometimes what’s right and what’s best are different things. I know this sounds like a shitty project. But I think we can win by being better people, and by being better to shitty people -not because it’s ‘right’, but because it is effective.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we should round them all up and send them to Siberia. Who knows? Not me, I’m still working this stuff out. What do you think?