There’s nothing more American than debating politics.
Flip on the T.V., and an angry blonde is defending this supposed “golden age” of the nation, and how political correctness is keeping us from realizing our full potential. Log onto Twitter, and a New York Times journalist you’ve never heard of, but has a little check mark by his grinning, and very much white, face, is telling the world just how much he would like Donald Trump to kiss his ass.
Politics are important, no doubt, to the networking of a nation spanning over 2,000 miles of land. 2,000 miles populated by over 3 million people from every walk of life imaginable, every person and the groups they belong to playing integral roles in the development of this country. And while this diversity is certainly felt in the topics permeating our political sphere, it seems to disappear where discussion and control is concerned, leaving America largely dominated by a singular narrative.
In focusing unwarranted energy on beating an opponent, politics becomes a game, and the very individuals affected, the voters, are neglected both as subjects, and as facilitators of debate themselves.
“Politics” is an incredibly generalized term, and often brings to mind men in suits with million-dollar smiles, but in essence politics directly alters the livelihood of billions every day. Discussing politics means discussing whether or not Muslims in Rohingya should be afforded the luxury of life, or if African-Americans should be allowed a say in their consistently policed lives. But rarely are politics understood in this way. Instead, it’s who knows the most, who can out smart their opponent using little factoids they came by through their (somewhat unhealthy) obsession with Reuters and the New Yorker. In focusing unwarranted energy on beating an opponent, politics becomes a game, and the very individuals affected, the voters, are neglected both as subjects, and as facilitators of debate themselves.
Through these hobby-driven modes of discourse, the face of modern (and perhaps historical) democracy is born. Well, two faces really, sharing the same features. Like twins. But, like most sets of twins, they share the same hair, eyes, nose, and race. Republican v. Democrat, both overconfident white men with inherent superiority complexes. They’re the only players in a game we’re under the illusion is for everyone.
Politics, and the people they affect, are controlled and debated by white men—and whenever they allow, white women.
In the 1972 film Trick Baby, a group of hyper-privileged white men from both sides of the political spectrum, sit around a dinner table discussing their treatment of the American black man. The Republican is on a mini-tirade; he is concerned about Democrats elevating black men. The Democrat responds smugly, “It’s only the smart ones we move up…we neutralize him…if we raise him in white society, he feels compelled to act like us.” While the movie is a few decades old, the message, unfortunately, remains relevant. Politics, and the people they affect, are controlled and debated by white men—and whenever they allow, white women.
White-centric politics have penetrated nearly every single domain, in every generation known to America since its conception as a nation. The most obvious modern example can be found on the internet. A massive web connecting the entire world has given birth to a subculture of constant battle. And once again, the two faces of our supposed democracy find themselves forming.
The larger, more prominent and influential political social media accounts are often run by white men, and sometimes women. The liberal, our tie-dyed friend in this analogy, uses their internet platform not as a method to bolster the voices of the minorities they claim to defend, but as a way to give their own, often unsolicited, opinions. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the liberal’s chino-clad brother continues to spew inflammatory rhetoric, just borderline of being completely racist, and certainly within the realms of classism, sexism, and homophobia. On national television, the brothers, acting as figureheads of sensationalized political discourse, profit off of arguing about whether or not police brutality and school shootings are issues worth being addressed by the government; then the cameras stop rolling, and our heated debaters shake hands and go for a drink. After all, it’s just politics. The affected party – the victims of police brutality and gun violence – are rarely consulted, and if they are, it’s only so they can be paraded around as tokens.
These brothers, and the white women they approve of, parade their ideals across social media, television, and many acclaimed newspapers. The general public of America is made to accept these opinions as the sole bearers of every political angle known to the nation, regardless of what side of the binary they come from. In fact, even as both these figureheads continue to oppose one another, they recognize their undeniable similarities as individuals, and therefore find themselves increasingly understanding of each other, at least on a personal level, where they are easily able to acknowledge and respect one another, because once again; it’s just politics.
Furthermore, over the years I’ve heard repeatedly that politics shouldn’t tear friendships apart, shouldn’t keep marriages from happening. This is a statement that can only come from a place of both racial, and class privilege.
Those who don’t fit an image that has been designed and conditioned to demand respect are pushed to the side; the minority populace becomes negligible. Minorities find themselves unable to demand the same amount of respect. Their opinions (even if they happen to be the same) are ignored, or entertained very briefly. The only current non-white, active, and prominent television political commentator/satirist is Trevor Noah, out of the dozens of personalities. A single man meant to represent, not only all of Black America, but every minority that continues to go unrepresented in the domain of political satire. The examples go on, and in every scenario, the white man, both Democratic and Republican, is given the greatest opportunity to vocalize their piece in political discourse.
To both sides of the political aisle, these issues are nothing deeper than a conversation, and more often than not an emotional connection to the issues they claim to care about fails to exist.
Furthermore, over the years I’ve heard repeatedly that politics shouldn’t tear friendships apart, shouldn’t keep marriages from happening. This is a statement that can only come from a place of both racial, and class privilege. White men, especially those of financial prowess, and the female counterparts they’ve inadvertently empowered (while simultaneously maintaining an unwavering layer of misogyny) have the luxury of not personally experiencing the hardships they spend their time debating. They debate whether or not free healthcare, or expanded Medic Aid should be enacted. They debate whether or not we should help another nation in crisis, or allocate funds to get Flint, Michigan clean water. But when it’s all said and done, both sides (Democratic and Republican, Liberal and Conservative) smile, make friends, and go home to their very similar lives. To both sides of the political aisle, these issues are nothing deeper than a conversation, and more often than not an emotional connection to the issues they claim to care about fails to exist.
On a micro-social level, the same patterns present themselves, perhaps even more starkly. At the high school I graduated from, many of my fellow self-proclaimed liberals would make an incredible show of respecting every one’s opinions under the guise of being universally tolerant. However, what this really translated to was, ‘you’re racist, elitist, and maybe even a little sexist, but we’re friends so…agree to disagree?’ And it was easy for my white liberal counterparts to adopt this mentality, because they weren’t personally affected by what they preached. Sure, they didn’t hate Black people, or Muslims themselves, but if their best friend wanted to wear a MAGA hat to school then who were they to judge?
These overtones unfortunately do not extend to the minorities whose lives are being determined with every debate and offhand comment. A minority doesn’t have the luxury of actively choosing to push aside differences in opinions and become friends with their political opponents, because what their opponents believe and act on often works towards a minority’s personal degradation. I can never ‘agree to disagree’ about whether or not I should be allowed to express my religious identity, whether or not my friends and their families should be kicked out of the country. It’s not about taking myself too seriously, it’s about understanding what has to be taken seriously. And if your existence isn’t the one in question, it can be easy to forget how the words and actions of those you support can affect marginalized individuals.
…political discourse has been fostered in America under the wings of white men for centuries, and as a result, generations of anyone who doesn’t fit this particular racial category has had to continuously fight for their ability to vocalize their say in situations that often directly affect their personal well-being.
In high school, my opinions would often be devalued, or treated with much less respect that my white counterparts. I would be faced with taunting and jeering for daring to care, while a classmate of the appropriate (aforementioned) physical traits, and the same arguments would be commended on his political knowledge, and possibly even his great level of tolerance as a white man.
To conclude, political discourse has been fostered in America under the wings of white men for centuries, and as a result, generations of anyone who doesn’t fit this particular racial category has had to continuously fight for their ability to vocalize their say in situations that often directly affect their personal well-being. An absence of minorities in the political realm means the issues that directly affect us are filtered through the lens and understanding of a white body. And as long as that continues to be the status quo, we cannot move forward in a constructive way. Without the innumerable voices of this nation being heard, America continues to operate under a single perspective disguised as multiple, altered slightly to fit each side of the political coin.