My friend, Bill Lowman, told me that he no longer believes that people can disagree about politics and remain friends. He says, “…today’s politics include beliefs that are immoral to some. Consider that [some] Republicans believe that racial divisions are okay; that we have no responsibility to help the poor; or that the US is a Christian nation. To many Democrats these ideas are immoral, and [therefore] unacceptable. On the other hand, the Democrats’ support for abortion seems like approval of murder to many Republicans, [which makes it] immoral in their belief system. Political differences are no longer just political.” He asks, “How can people be expected to maintain respect for those whom they view as immoral?”
It is a seemingly intractable dilemma, but I don’t think it’s a new one. In the 60s, more Bill’s time than mine, the student rallying cry was, “The personal is political.” Kimberle Crenshaw, a professor of law at Columbia, once wrote, “This process of recognizing as social and systemic what was formerly perceived as isolated and individual has also characterized the identity politics of African Americans, other people of color, and gays and lesbians…”
Bill is a marvelous human being, one of my favorites, but he is a white male. I expect identity politics haven’t played a big part in his life (although it can’t always have been easy living as a West Virginian in the Northeast). For women and minorities, politics have been business as usual, with a twist—Trump. Trump has invited racism and bigotry to come out of the closet. His behavior encourages others to give voice to opinions that are abhorrent to many of us, causing doors we had tried to close to swing wide open again.
I just saw the musical, The Band’s Visit, on Broadway. It’s about an Egyptian police band that comes to Israel to play a concert and ends up in the wrong town. The band has to spend the night there before they can catch a bus the next morning. The last song is called Answer Me. I loved the musical so I bought the shirt you see below. I don’t read Arabic and I don’t understand Hebrew, but I assume the shirt says Answer Me in the three languages.
Now, I have lots of shirts that advertise or commemorate something, we all do, but never have I experienced the kind of attention I got when I wore that shirt the next morning to the Guggenheim. I thought it was the Arabic writing that made everyone look twice and after I saw the post below on Facebook a few days later, I became convinced that was the case.
I discovered that the bag in the photo was created by a (now defunct) Israeli-Arab design studio. This blog post says, “…politics is not the primary reason or focus behind their designs but rather, because it is our language and part of who we are, and we think it should be part of our urban landscape…today, where we live, anyone wearing a t-shirt with Arabic words on it is making a political statement.” I didn’t think I was making a political statement when I bought the shirt, but maybe I am.
Back to Bill’s question, how do we maintain respect for people we view as immoral? I’d say it depends on how you define respect. One definition involves admiration for an individual based on their achievements. That respect is earned. The other is due regard for another’s feelings or traditions or, in the case of my shirt, language. That respect is due everyone.
I know enough about Trump to freely withhold my respect. While I will allow that, like everyone, he is entitled to his feelings, we must ensure that they don’t propel him to debase our nation any more than he already has. That means we need to be involved in politics at whatever level suits us, be it local, personal, identity, or other. If someone has beliefs that you consider immoral, you don’t have to be their friend, just be civil. Sometimes that has to be enough.
Thanks, Judy. I unfriended a ring-winger on FB last week and it hurt. I’m sure I can be civil to this person when I see her, but she may now consider me an enemy. On the other hand, I was all done enabling her trolling my friends and family on my feeds. These are trying times.
I struggle with knowing that people say things on FB that they wouldn’t say to your face, like road rage, but when you know they fundamentally disagree, and are not civil, it’s time to say goodbye. Stay strong.
Hello Judy! I love your stories, I always have. This one though, even though, I think you are trying to convey mutual respect has underachieved that goal. If indeed that was your intent
Divisiveness will be the ruin of the American people.
Even though I believe you attempted to represent both sides, I view your article as a very “left” view. How I see it is the left are the ones that continually focus on race. Every time you turn around a foul is being called out by the left. Its constant, its tiresome. Those in MAGA hats are assaulted and ridiculed continually. The country is condemning white america, and when did it become okay to be racist specifically against white males but no one else? You did the same calling out “Bill” as a white male saying, “Bill is a marvelous human being, one of my favorites, but he is a white male.” BUT HE IS A WHITE MALE!?! Well guess what? We are people too. The broad brush stoke that all white men are misogynist, racist, and hateful people is so very wrong. I agree that some do fall into this category and that is not right. But to condemn an entire group of people is not how to make things right or to pull people together. It just drives us further apart.
This country has to adopt an ALL PEOPLE MATTER policy not just for select groups. You hear it on the news everyday, “no way can the democratic party have a while male as a candidate!” or “we must have a female president!” As one who has spent his entire career in recruitment, where is the equal opportunity here? Anyone can be a candidate except for white males? Really? Um, those comments certainly sound bias and racist to me.
Equal opportunity means just that, it about the best candidate for the job regardless of any group you represent. Everyone should be blind to gender, race and religion,or anything else for that matter. it should not matter what side of the aisle you sit on or if you do not sit on either side of the isle, as is the case for me.
We cannot erase history, but we can do what is right today to make future history something to be proud of instead heading down a very ugly path of divisiveness that is unarguably destroying our wonderful country.