Op-Ed: In Response to Theo Spohngellert’s “Diversity of Opinion”

Lily Gordon, ‘17

The Huffington Post article is really thought-provoking. The author, Ms. Johnson-Huston, delves into how the Democratic Party she once idolized for its openness to thought and diversity is becoming heavily regulatory on language in unproductive ways.

However, you skate over the main point of the article: White “cocktail party” liberalism acts more as a reassurance to elitist Whites than a call to action. The point about the strictness of White-driven political correctness was that the focus for a certain class of White liberals is far too centered on snapping at politically incorrect language or using the right hashtags to protect their own consciences than it is about actually supporting POC and (in the case of Democratic politicians) translating this supposed allegiance into policy.

The singular line you allude to is valuable and frames your argument wonderfully. Yet I feel that ethically it manipulates what the author’s original claim was and loses a lot of what Johnson-Huston intended. It matters that the author is Black, that she’s from Philly, that she grew up poor and said so, and that she lives in a neighborhood where POC are in a constant uphill battle against a system that is against them from all angles—including certain White liberals. The article is about the failures of liberalism as it manifests in government (where Democratic candidates make promises to their Black constituents to get their votes, yet fail to improve their situation) and in White well-educated liberals (who use the “right” language to feel good about themselves but whose actions are lacking).

So, to Johnson-Huston’s point about language-policing: Her dismay stems from how White liberalism takes a smug magnifying glass to speech and thought without actually doing anything (all talk, no action). I find it hard to believe that Johnson-Huston would have intended you to get from her article that you should be more easygoing on your fiscally or socially conservative friends, who historically have done even less for POC. I think she would have wanted you to translate good vibes into good actions, to truly advocate and believe in your peers who are POC, to stand out on the streets in solidarity for criminal justice reform, and to take a critical eye to policy under Democratic administration that ironically ends up being unbeneficial to POC.

Her argument is that, although she would never convince a POC to stop being a Democrat, everyone should be a lot more critical about what the Democratic Party and what “Liberalism” as a group (rather than ideology) really stands for. She’s saying it’s not enough to be a Democrat or liberal: White liberals elites have to truly commit themselves to lifting up something bigger than their own egos. White liberals should make paths and listen to strong POC leadership, should realize POC are necessary as spearheads toward their own social betterment and alleviating the systematic biases of our government, and that White-oriented liberalism alone isn’t enough to build policies that can actually improve a neighborhood.

That being said, what she is arguing for is to alter the way we think about the two-party system. It isn’t enough to say, “I’m a Dem! I’m liberal! Ergo, I’m a good person and if you’re not those things, you must be bad!” She’s saying even Democrats are guilty of the systematic problems in this country. She’s saying what you do is what counts, not what party you’re registered with. She implores us to look beyond blue and red, or donkey and elephant, and really consider ideas and actions that benefit everyone.

Your thesis is that we shouldn’t shut out conservative opinion or censor thoughts. I became really close with a libertarian last school year. We shared most social values, but differed on economics (this relates to your point about different fiscal perspectives). The thing is that economic and social programs do overlap incredibly. I grew to learn a lot from a different point of view, but classism is an ugly beast in this country and policies that don’t protect the working lower class or those unable to work are not just economic, but also social malignancies.

            This is my opinion. That being said, I make sure to be well-rounded. I throw in those middle ground publications. I listen to whatever reasonable Republican I can find, because I do want to understand why they think the way that they do and if there is any merit to it. I try to tie my loyalty always to the idea and not to the party, to force myself to consider the policy over the affiliation. And to be honest, I even make sure to watch Fox News now and again to see where the other side is at.

But Fox News is not a rational publication. The problem with the Right Wing is that it isn’t a fair statement anymore to say that it is a reasonable party. It is completely falling apart. A growing number of sensible Republicans themselves have noticed this apparent demise. Obviously there are still rational Republicans, but the party itself is a joke. Paul Ryan is spineless. Ben Carson was laughable. Every Republican candidate put forth was downright terrifying (insinuating support for war crimes like waterboarding for instance), and all around demonstrated a complete ignorance of how politics or ethics work. Even Ted Cruz couldn’t stick to whatever-those-things-he-calls-morals very long, as evident from his recent pledge to vote for Trump.

Not all opinions are equal. Anyone should have free-range of speech, but not everything is true and not everything is intelligent. At the same time that there is a problem with dismissing an opinion that is non-liberal, there’s a problem with being too open-minded. Although sometimes liberal-speak can reach points of suffocation and arguable unhealthy censorship, it’s important to remember that reasonable demands for more thoughtful language come from all racial groups. Part of this movement is not just about making White elites feel better, but about realizing that the foundations of what has been deemed appropriate for the last several hundred years has been dictated by White males, and thus has space for improvement.

Obviously I want to resolve the two-party rift as much as anyone dissatisfied with the deep division in our country, but so much of the Republican platform is against POC and the working class. I really don’t want to ‘gain’ anything from someone who doesn’t believe in a livable minimum wage, universal healthcare, or sensible tax reform—except, as Theo Spohngellert ‘18 wrote, the reaffirmation of my own beliefs. I’ll listen but only to have a better sense of the storm I’m raging against.

I challenge you to reconsider what the real issue with White Liberal-speak is. I challenge you to examine whether listening to White Conservatives actually creates for a more racially inclusive atmosphere. Tomi Lahren is not about to praise a POC any time soon.

I concede, however, that diversity within reason is healthy. When I say diversity, I mean somewhere within the general domain of center-right to the hippie-dippie liberals you spoke of earlier. When I say diversity, I mean progressives, moderates, and a Republican who preaches for equal marriage rights, who believes in choice, who recognizes racism is a problem in this country, who would never support Trump, who doesn’t mistake religion for terrorism, who is generally socially attuned to the clear-cut issues, and essentially disregards the majority of the current Republican Platform. I think of a pre-Nixon, pre-Reagan political makeup. And Republicans don’t get a free pass on taking action either. It isn’t enough to be applauded as a Republican because you’re… reasonably nice-ish when you speak and haven’t said that many bad things about gay or Hispanic people. Everyone should be working towards social betterment. If they aren’t, then they are part of the same nexus of self-concern and disregard towards other groups. Bigots are still bigots, and, although diversity is healthy, bigotry isn’t.

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