Can Nuance Re-enter Conversations on Social Change?

By Rosie Alger
Opinion Editor

As a person who unabashedly leans to the political left, I am hesitant to say, but feel it is important to talk about, how much liberal voices have to answer for. The news is full of problems that need to be addressed, and people on both sides are quick to respond. Sexual assault cases fly across our newsfeeds, President Donald Trump spouts yet more undeniably racist rhetoric, and efforts to fight climate change seem to be going in the opposite direction of progress.

It is, of course, important to talk about all of these things. Loudly. This does not mean, however, that anyone is helping the situation by using elitist language and aggression to push the vast majority of the population out of the conversation.

America is a large nation. People from across the 50 states have vastly different life experiences than one another. So many times, I see liberals, like myself, who live in an East Coast elite bubble criticizing white middle America for not getting with the program. Centra Americans are “too wrapped up in their own concerns,” and thus create further problems around issues such as immigration. How could all of these individuals possibly understand the full issue when they do not live in areas where they often come face-to-face with immigrant populations?

Of course they are wrapped up in their own issues, when jobs in middle America are rapidly disappearing and many face economic turmoil. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the top 10 states with the highest unemployment rates in December of 2017 were New Mexico, Nevada, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan.

I am not excusing racist or harmful ideologies, but in order to create change, left-leaning activists need to recognize that the white middle-class Americans who fear for their family’s well-being are the people who elected Trump in the first place. They hold power in this nation, and we need to listen to them if we are going to change anyone’s mind.

I am a huge fan of social media, and I, like many, find numerous ways to add to movements on websites like Facebook. These tools are powerful, and I am not trying to shame them. They are limiting, however, because on social media platforms we are only seeing information from people we are friends with, only seeing articles that we already agree with, only engaging in conversations that confirm our preconceived notions. If we do engage in conversations with people who may disagree, these take the form of angry comment threads of little substance, because people feel emboldened to say hurtful things when protected by the internet.

Think for a moment about a nasty political conversation you’ve had with someone online. We’ve all had them. How likely do you think it was that any comment you could have posted would have changed their mind? I certainly don’t think anything I could say would. People change their minds slowly, over a period of extended personal interactions. They are much more likely to listen and care if they are already comfortable or friends with the person who is giving them new information.

That is why calling out your friend who tries to take a girl home with him when she is drunk is way more valuable to creating immediate change than posting an angry article about Aziz Ansari. Don’t get me wrong, we need to talk about people like Ansari. But we need to do it in a way that focuses on changing the culture that emboldens perpetrators, rather than viewing Ansari as a singular “evil guy.”

There is so much more I could say on this subject, and already I worry that people who share political and social views with me will be furious about this article. I cannot stress enough how much I value speaking up about issues that matter. They do matter, and we need to talk about them in order to make anything happen. I only ask that we consider when we do speak up, who are we trying to get to listen? Because if the answer is people who already agree with you and know what you are talking about, then what’s the point? If the answer is someone who might disagree and even believe some harmful things, then how are you going to get them to care? I don’t think they will care if you approach them as the villain.

If you have anything to add to this topic, or disagree with me and find yourself angry at what I’ve written, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at anytime with a letter to the editor, or just your personal thoughts.

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