If the past is a different country, we are all a long way from home. All of our vacations, concerts and conventions have been cancelled. Millions are out of work. Hundreds of thousands are dead. The United States has been in constant civil unrest since George Floyd was murdered by police on May 25th. For comparison, the 1968 riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination only lasted 4 days.
What’s really infuriating is all the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, chances people in power got to make things right. So many peaceful protests, so much patience. Now all that goodwill has run out, and rightly so. The protesters who burned down that Minneapolis precinct enacted more change in a single week than most organizers can manage in decades. It’s got people worried that things are moving too fast, but we already know the consequences of moving too slowly. We’re living in them right now.
What’s more, I just feel betrayed when friends, teachers, and older relatives sound off on social media about “the rioters” and “the looters”. Like all those lives ruined by the police are acceptable casualties of a just society. Like they don’t matter. Especially sickening is this open letter published Harper’s magazine signed by intellectual magnates such as Malcolm Gladwell and Margaret Atwood. The letter defends the idea of having a “good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences”.
It’s one of those lovely liberal screeds that sounds perfectly reasonable if you remove it from the context of this universe. People don’t have equal access to free speech. There is a difference between an article in Harper’s magazine and a twitter account. The editor they mentioned that was “fired for running controversial pieces” ran an op-ed about how the US government should use military force against civilian protesters. One of the letter’s signatories, J.K. Rowling, has wrote several articles against the very existence of transgendered people, using the same logic that gets them regularly fired, de-homed, and murdered.
It is a chilling love letter to objectivity and the “marketplace of ideas”. People are now dying in the streets because of this so-called civility. People like Diaz Summer, who was killed on the same stretch of road where I used to drive my family on vacation. There have been 66 incidents of protesters being run over since George Floyd was murdered on May 25th. Do you think those drivers are swayed by “exposure, argument, and persuasion”? There is no debating with people like that. Certainly not the police who share memes like “all lives splatter”. Debate is something that takes place between parties who respect each other as equals, not between wannabe murderers and their potential victims. This is a letter is a call to treat real people’s pain like it’s an abstract thought experiment. It’s repulsive.
This is not to say that debating is useless, or that violence is inevitable. We can accept that there will be conflict in this day and age. We can accept that we have limited time and energy, and we don’t have to spend it on people who are going to be willfully ignorant. We focus so much on our relatives who share conservative memes and articles because of something called a Negativity bias. It is a real psychological phenomenon that causes us to focus on unpleasant things like your favourite children’s author going full TERF. I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this, for every high-school classmate who loudly proclaims they won’t take a COVID vaccine, you have at least 10 friends who are sharing protest news, bail fund donations, and links to social justice petitions. Message them, empower them, like, comment, and subscribe to what they’re sharing. We cannot depend on our leaders, we cannot depend on our elders, and we absolutely cannot depend on so-called liberal intellectuals who can’t stomach a mean comment on twitter. What can depend on, dear readers, is each other.