One of my more dramatic days in college came during an African American studies class I took. The students were tasked with giving speeches on songs and reflecting on how they related to race.
A young white woman made the decision to speak on John Lennon’s famous track, “Woman Is the N***er of the World.” The presentation was going fine, until she started to repeatedly say the N-word, in full. Her intentions weren’t malicious — it was simply a rhetorical choice she made, perhaps to allow for a more realistic discussion of the song.
Naturally, however, the Black students began to be very upset and demand she stop saying the actual word. Hearing the backlash, this young woman burst into tears, and in a state of shock, attempted to finish the presentation as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, her anxiety made her run on a sort of autopilot, and she continued to say the N-word a couple more times.
The whole thing was a mess, and the Black teacher, who I will refer to as Professor Jones, was faced with a dilemma. He could report this girl to the administration, where she would face severe consequences, and possibly be kicked out of school. Or he could show mercy, recognize that it was a tragic error, and accept her sincere apology for screwing up. Thankfully, Professor Jones chose the second option, and that young woman became the only other white person at graduation, besides myself, to receive an African American studies degree.
What undergirded that train of events was a fundamental decency. He chose to see the humanity in someone who made a mistake, to give her the benefit of the doubt, to err on the side of being gracious and forgiving.
That is the attitude that has motivated progressive movements for generations. Activists, at their best, have always worked from the premise that people are good at heart, try to do the right thing and should not be defined by their sins.
It’s an effective approach, because when you see the light in others, when you act as though they are virtuous and of high character, they feel inspired to live up to those beliefs.
Who could possibly refuse Dr. King’s summons to brotherhood and the beloved community? Or Lincoln’s call to bind up the wounds of our neighbors?
Unfortunately, today’s activists have taken the opposite course, and instead routinely indulge the most cynical interpretation of human beings. Instead of assuming the best in our fellow man, we assume the worst, with unfortunate consequences.
Did you just tell your female colleague a dirty joke she didn’t like? You’re a creep, says the progressive.
Did you just offer an opinion on race that’s different from Black Lives Matter? You’re a racist, says the progressive.
Do you happen to be religious and not entirely supportive of the gay rights agenda? You must hate gay people, the local college student would like to inform you.
Of course, taking the most jaded view of the folks around you doesn’t make you an activist. It makes you a jerk and not very fun at parties. But don’t tell Millennials and Generation Z this — they firmly believe they are changing the world. To our under-30 set, being as judgemental as humanly possible is the secret sauce that will stop climate change, bring about racial and gender justice, and finally make the lion lay down with the lamb.
This dynamic has the exact opposite effect of the positive one I mentioned earlier; namely, when you start from the notion that people are terrible, you generate a self-fulfilling prophecy. Folks on the other side of the political aisle predictably lash out in anger and with other toxic emotions.
Viewing this sort of a response, the millenial twit then thinks to himself, “See! I tried to tell this Trump supporter he was deplorable, then he bit my head off. That’s exactly how a monster would react! I was clearly right all along.”
Cynical people create situations that provide even more evidence for their cynicism. It becomes a never-ending cycle.
Furthermore, a weird alchemy takes place. The reckless activist believes they are surrounded by evil at all corners. So they, in reaction to the slightest provocation, slander, bully and attack other members of the community. Regular people going about their day end up living in fear of being mistreated for benign remarks and past mistakes.
The do-gooder, drunk on self-righteousness, becomes the predator he thinks he’s fighting against. They are so “good,” they’re evil. And of course, if you believe the world is full of terrible human beings, then why exactly spend so much energy trying to save it? Think of how that sounds as a sales pitch:
My fellow Americans, you are surrounded by white supremacists, toxic men, out-of-touch baby boomers and bigoted Christians. But also, please pay more in taxes to give all of these people health care and jobs.
There is a contradiction there, no?
The case for social justice becomes so much greater when you see the best in people and can envision their highest potential. Poverty, inequality, wrongful imprisonment and other oppressions become that much more unforgivable if one believes folks are noble, decent and capable of great things.
Those who see the light in humanity naturally want to do everything to protect it.
Here’s hoping in the coming years, new leadership will emerge that will purge the jerks from progressivism, who have poisoned our brand in such unforgivable ways.
Of course, I don’t expect this transformation to happen any time soon. Today’s social justice warriors have successfully convinced many they are on the side of the angels, the creatures of the light if you will.
It always takes a while to wake up to the cruelties of those who present themselves as “the good guys.”
However, for the sake of the impoverished, the disabled, and every other oppressed group that needs compassionate government, it is imperative the left gets its act together.
Because the Democratic Party will never achieve meaningful power in this country until it abandons wokeness and returns to normalcy. There are too many suffering individuals counting on us. We Democrats don’t have the right to engage in such a foolish style of politics.
Enough judgment, criticism and canceling. It’s time to wrap our arms around the people and love the hell out of ’em.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.