Dear Persecuted College Conservative:
After reading your op-ed, “Check Your Liberal Privilege,” I’m left feeling that you’re missing some crucial information.
First, I want to say that I agree that there are some valid points to be made about the way liberals interact with conservatives on college campuses. But before you dismiss the anger and indignation your article has produced as yet another instance of the Left trying to take away the freedom to speak your mind, I hope you can try to understand why attitudes like the one you expressed draw such ire.
The problem with your article isn’t that you sometimes feel that your views aren’t engaged with seriously or with respect in a collegiate environment (and I have no doubt that this is often the case for conservative students).
The problem is that you seem to think that sometimes feeling uncomfortable voicing your political views is the same as being a member of a group that is forced to deal with legacies of violence, intimidation, and hatred.
Let’s make something very clear: the discomfort you feel when voicing your political beliefs (liberal or conservative) is not the same as being a member of a historically oppressed group.
In fairness, I can understand why you might feel that the issues you care about often aren’t taken seriously in an academic environment.
“the discomfort you feel when voicing your political beliefs (liberal or conservative) is not the same as being a member of a historically oppressed group.”
Now, imagine that feeling, but immeasurably magnified and experienced on a daily basis. Imagine that your college campus is the one place where you might be able to expect your issues to be taken seriously, and where you might feel that your voice is finally heard.
This may be hard to realize, but the world in which we live largely does take your issues seriously. As you’ve said yourself, you are “a straight, white, cisgender male.” (Also, since you attend Fordham University [FYI, also my alma mater], one of the most expensive universities in the world, it’s probably safe to assume that your family is probably at least moderately wealthy.) As I hope you can understand, the world already takes your identity seriously.
It’s hard to step outside of your own self, but as “a straight, white, cisgender male,” your identity and issues are often presumed to be the default, while the issues of anyone who falls outside of those categories are seen as “identity politics” or as somehow being add-ons to the “real America.”
In fairness, I can understand why you might feel like liberals are simply trying to shout you down, or, as you say, that “Conservatives have been silenced.”
I actually don’t think you’re exactly wrong. Often, “liberals” are shouting. I do think, however, that you misunderstand the reason for this shouting.
When you’re a member of a group that’s historically silenced, sometimes you have to shout in order to be heard. What may to you seem like shouting with the intent to silence is, in fact, shouting with the desperation to finally be heard.
“Equating your unease in freely expressing your political beliefs to the actual fear that historically oppressed groups face makes it difficult to take your argument seriously.”
Please consider that many of your views and issues have been given the spotlight for centuries. Meanwhile, the views and issues of many other groups have not only been ignored, but actively and violently silenced for just as many centuries. (Also, try to remember that the lifting of one set of issues and the quashing of another isn’t a coincidence.)
But even if we ignore untold years of historical context, your argument still misses some crucial considerations. In your article, you argue that, “Conservatives have been silenced. Pop culture makes a mockery of conservatism.”
Sure, Saturday Night Live and other shows often make conservatism the butt of their jokes. But would it honestly surprise you that many people have felt completely ignored by pop culture for their entire lives?
Most popular songs, movies, and TV shows revolve around heterosexual romances. People of color are vastly underrepresented throughout the entertainment industry (ever wonder why it continues to make news when there’s more than one person of color on screen?).
Most Americans would struggle to name a single movie or TV show that focuses on Muslim—or Hindu, Buddhist, etc.—characters.
Writers’ rooms remain dominated by white men.
Racially-charged jokes about Asians are still considered funny and harmless by a large swath of the country.
The list could go on and on, but I don’t want to lecture.
My main point isn’t that you’re entirely wrong. I agree with you that many liberals (especially the white, male, cisgender, straight, wealthy, etc. ones) need to rethink the way they interact with conservatives. In fact, I think the behavior of more privileged liberals can often actually contribute to the misunderstandings that your article repeatedly makes.
But equating your unease in freely expressing your political beliefs to the actual fear that historically-oppressed groups face makes it difficult to take your argument seriously. You say, for example, that:
“But this fear, unlike other fears, is ignored. If a Muslim mother asks her daughter not to wear her hijab in public for fear of discrimination, everyone’s heart breaks. But when my conservative mother asks me not to speak my mind in class for fear of discrimination, nobody knows. Recent physical attacks on Trump supporters legitimize this fear.”
You will never have to wonder if it is safe to hold your same-sex partner’s hand in public.
You will never have to fear that someone will spit on you for wearing a religious garment.
You will never have to pretend not to hear the catcall.
You will never have to face the shaming of a stranger who judges you for using food stamps to feed your family.
You will never have to hold your tongue while people hurl slurs toward you.
You will never have to worry if your black son will return home safely.
You will never have to fear that members of your family will be deported.
You will never have to wonder if you will be assaulted for using the “wrong” bathroom.
None of this is to say that your complaints of your political beliefs not being taken seriously aren’t real. It’s just to say that it isn’t the same as facing historically-driven, systematic oppression.
Intentional or not, the way you phrased your argument makes it sound like you’re sick and tired of Muslims, LGBTQ folks, women, people of color, etc. etc. having their issues taken so seriously while yours are ignored.
I hope that you can step back and understand that this simply is neither currently nor historically true. Even if we can’t agree on that, however, I sincerely hope that next time you choose to voice your feelings, you don’t completely discount the feelings of others in the process.
After all, wasn’t that exactly the point you were trying to make?
This post originally appeared on Medium. You can follow Canton on Twitter at @CantonWiner.