Public discussions these days seem to dredge up the nastiest extrusions of our national psyche in a destructive competition. Withdrawing from the melee would only make matters worse by conceding the field to mischief-makers. So how do we gracefully stand our ground in a contentious environment?
We cannot spend all our time with the like-minded. At some point we have to leave our echo chambers and uphold our positions. There is no perfectly safe way to be true to ourselves.
Twitter is a place of fluid boundaries, so I was not surprised that one source of light on gun control is actor Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America, Boardwalk Empire, The Hunger Games). He posted a meme on January 7 quoting former Chief Justice Warren Burger: “The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies – the militia – would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”
One of Wright’s trolls replied, “Fuck you, Buckwheat, & this clueless, liberal judge legislating from the bench!” Wright calmly noted that he was quoting a Republican appointee, and added, “I associate more with Stymie,” another black Little Rascals character. With wit and poise, he kept the upper hand. It might have been time-wasting had it been a private message, but he shared the exchange with his 80,000 followers. There is a point of diminishing returns, of course, for which the “block” button is handy.
Each of us strikes a different balance between comfort from comrades and abuse from adversaries. Some of us enjoy arguing more than others. The key consideration for the reality-based is persuasion. Mere insults appeal only to those already persuaded.
Politics is another word for negotiating our differences. But swimming in turbulent waters is not the same as drowning in them. Keeping our cool amid the fray improves our chances of changing the occasional heart and mind instead of merely venting. Advancing our interests cannot just mean causing more concussions than our opponents.
A variety of perspectives greeted the news that a group of insurrectionist ranchers had taken over a wildlife refuge in Oregon to protest federal land ownership. Media outlets called them “armed protesters” in the latest demonstration of racial double standards. The Burns Paiute Tribal Council said the occupiers were desecrating sacred land. The occupiers’ failure to bring provisions inspired a variation of the Gadsden flag replacing “Don’t Tread on Me” with “Please Send Snacks.” Comic rivalry erupted when a second “patriot” group arrived at the refuge.
The arts sometimes persuade us unawares. Bold inventiveness wins the day in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit show Hamilton, whose racially diverse cast plays white historical figures. Traditional casting would have undercut the thrust of the show. When Alexander Hamilton responds to Thomas Jefferson’s Enlightenment high-mindedness with a double entendre regarding his sexual exploits at Monticello (“We know who’s really doing the planting”), Miranda and Daveed Diggs as the rival Founders represent people of color adding an eclectic, rap-infused perspective on American history.
On the other hand, Miranda supported playwright Katori Hall when she objected to a Kent State production of her play The Mountaintop featuring a white actor playing Martin Luther King Jr. Miranda said that authorial intent must prevail. The casting choice by the director of that production, however unintentionally, appeared to echo those who use “All Lives Matter” as a rebuke to “Black Lives Matter.” Racial dynamics and the legacy of inequality are better illuminated by color-mindfulness than colorblindness.
The final number in Hamilton asks, “Who tells your story?” It reminds us that there is not only one point of view. Some on the right feel threatened by our population’s diversity, and seek to erase it by imposing a single perspective.
Those of us who would rise to diversity’s challenge must risk hearing its many voices. That is how we connect.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at [email protected].
Copyright © 2016 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.