When I was five years old, my teacher asked me what my favorite color was. After giving it some careful thought, I responded, "pink and purple." She smiled at me and said, "Those are both beautiful colors, but which is your favorite?" For a five year old, this question was mind blowing. How could I choose just one? Purple is so royal, but pink is so soft. I sighed and finally responded, "I guess it's pink."
This was not the first time I would be forced to make unnecessary choices. What's your favorite movie? Who is your best friend? Do you want to be a writer or a lawyer when you grow up? The older I get, the more difficult the choices become. Are you a Democrat or a Republican? Are you a Christian or do you love gay people? Do you care about political refugees or national safety? Do you believe #Blacklivesmatter or #AllLivesMatter?
Now, I do not mean to suggest that making choices is never necessary. I know from experience that some of you read these articles looking for ways to discredit them in the comments. I can see them now. "What an idiot. Too bad she fails to realize that learning to make decisions is part of becoming an adult. Grow up." Well, I do realize this. I make difficult choices all the time, as all of us do. But I expend so much energy making necessary choices that I refuse to be bullied into making unnecessary ones.
No one in kindergarten stopped talking to me because I said my favorite color is pink. No one "de-friended" me on Facebook. No one made hurtful assumptions about my character. No one decided my value as a human being was based on my favorite color choice. But I cannot say the same about my decisions regarding more difficult unnecessary choices. I cannot tell you how many times a day I read things like, "If you change your profile picture to the Paris flag you obviously don't care about black people, so I will delete you." Or, "If you believe #BlackLivesMatter you obviously think black people are superior to other races." I will not pretend that I have never gotten caught up in this way of thinking, but instead, I have come to realize that a person's character is not accurately revealed by the unnecessary choices they are forced to make.
I will use #BlackLivesMatter as an example. It is no secret that I believe black lives matter. I have publicly defended the need for the movement on many occasions, and explained that what it really means is black lives matter, too. However, the face of the #BlackLivesMatter organization (you know, the ones you always hear on the news) is not always representative of what I believe. In my opinion, their political agenda is dangerously narrow and their lack of realistic policy recommendations is immobilizing. But as soon as I express these sentiments, and regardless of my support for the movement as a whole, many of you will start to judge me. People who were once my allies will begin to change how they see me. White-washed. Race-traitor. Uncle Tom. Brainwashed.
I will use another example. I have also publicly expressed that in spite of my support for the freedom of speech, I find the Confederate flag to be offensive. In my opinion, it is a passive aggressive reminder of white superiority. But as soon as I expressed this, conservative friends who were once my biggest supporters began to change how they see me. Race-baitor. Sinful liberal. Color obsessed. Brainwashed. Do you see where I am going with this? Why can't I respect your right to fly the confederate flag while being open and honest about what it means to me? Or be a #BlackLivesMatter supporter who believes that all lives matter?
Sadly, constructive discussion points in political movements are often misrepresented as a lack of support and solidarity for people within the movement, and instead interpreted as positive affirmation for people far outside the movement. In other words, it is impossible to be a Republican and publicly disagree with a position the Republican Party takes, because by virtue of our hyper-polarized bipartisan political system, you are now an Obama-loving liberal. The same goes for almost every other political organization or interest group.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I refuse to be used as a political tool. I will not allow the organizations I join, the politicians I support, or the labels society places on me to define how I think and what I believe. I do not believe caring about an issue, cause, or group of people is a zero-sum game. I can advocate for the equal treatment of black people, mourn for innocent Paris victims, show compassion for refugees, and care about national safety all at once. I am tired of being made to feel that if I care about one of these issues, I am betraying an entire group of people.
If you believe that every issue is black and white (or pink and purple, or liberal vs. conservative, for that matter), then you, my friend, are colorblind. You are not a solution; you are part of the problem. Your insistence on viewing complicated issues through a limiting lens is destructive and unnecessarily polarizing. Sometimes things are complicated. Sometimes there are no easy answers. It is not until we recognize the gray areas that we will be able to effectively deal with the complexities of the human existence.