Let’s Not Agree to Disagree: Back Your Argument Up When You Talk About Stripping My Rights

by: Johnny Gall

I have a bit of a problem. I am entirely incapable of getting myself out of bad, heated political discussions. It’s a feeling akin to this xkcd in which a character can’t come to bed because something is wrong on the internet. I can stop talking to someone, but then they’ll continue to be racist [1], and what’s worse, they’ll continue to be racist and not know about it. I have a duty to make sure that bigoted people are well aware of the fact that they’re bigoted so that they can stop it.

Of course—probably because they don’t want to stop it—they will usually continue to debate the political meaning of whatever racist-as-shit thing they said. Which means that we are caught in a loop. I won’t stop talking until they admit to being close-minded, and they won’t stop talking until they manage to convince me that whatever awful thing they’ve said is actually totally true. Neither of these things will ever happen.

I don’t enjoy this at all. As a matter of fact, I hate it. When I don’t have the shelter of the internet, I tend to be a pretty non-confrontational person. But I feel a duty to inform people of their own bullshit.

In my experience, there are two ways out of this. The first is that we continue the back-and-forth, intensifying in anger, until eventually one of us (usually me) gets pissed off enough to storm out of the argument; or rather, one of us leaves because we would have left anyway at that time. We can only hope neither of us (especially them) feels the need to begin an email discourse continuing to debate the issue. [2]

The other escape is even worse. In this scenario, we both recognize that the conversation is becoming heated, and the opposing party suggests that we “agree to disagree.” I hate this phrase so much you don’t even know. I hate it even more the way my new co-worker phrases the same idea, after she’s said something totally ableist: “Well, that’s why you’re Johnny G. [3] and I’m blah blah blah.”

Listen, in certain debates, agreeing to disagree can be a great thing. I recognize that I’m a little bit more radical than the general populace. I can see why we might decide to respect each other’s differences over economic policy or welfare programs or tax rates. You’re being an entitled classicist, but we can respect each other’s differences.

However, there are certain issues regarding which you cannot get away with just saying, “I guess we just have different opinions.” You do not get to have an opinion on my civil rights. You do not get to have an opinion on women’s rights. You do not get to have an opinion on the equality of people of different races, nationalities or classes. In any issue regarding freedom from oppression and discrimination of those who are in any different from you, you do not get to have an opinion without having a damn good reason for it.

I’m not saying you’re not allowed to think as you like, nor would I ever say it. What I’m saying is that if your position on any issue is one that would deprive an entire class of people from basic rights and equality, you are in no way allowed to just cop out and say, “Well, I guess that’s just the way I see things.” You owe it to the people you are oppressing to back your shit up.

Also, you have to have a solid argument. If you oppose marriage equality “to protect children,” you have to explain to me how exactly two dudes or two chicks wanting to make a life together is hurting your child. And no, “thinking that that’s okay,” is not an endangerment of your dear sweet kids. It’s teaching them respect.

Furthermore, if you think economically disadvantaged women should have to have horribly invasive procedures in order to terminate a pregnancy which will only further set them back economically, you better have a damn good reason why that tiny cluster of cells is worth overlooking the hardships of the woman who created it. Saying you “value life” will not cut it, especially if you support military imperialism and capital punishment.

If by any means you think that your privilege gives you a right to impose certain inequalities on other people, the burden of proof is on you, and I will by no means agree to letting you believe in oppression and discrimination just because that’s what you believe, who you are or the way you were raised. Your upbringing is no excuse for bigotry.

So, I suppose I’m doomed forever to be fully embroiled in senseless debates that never go anywhere, because I just cannot allow someone to live at peace with their fucked up world view. It’s not in me to accept that unless you can explain it to every depressed queer teenager, every pregnant mother who barely scrapes by as it is, every undocumented person living in fear and every single person who is regularly discriminated against on the basis of race. Until you come up with a damn good reason to strip us of our rights, your right to an opinion does not exist.

Johnny Gall is so, so very close to completing his B.A. from NYU in English and Creative Writing. He has hopes of moving on to seminary, and then to ordained ministry and works with several groups which advocate queer equality in the Methodist church. He is a feminist, anarchist, person of faith, part-time librarian and an all-around good guy.


[1] You can also enter heterosexist, misogynist, ableist, and kind of close-mindedness you like here.

[2] You know who you are.

[3] For the record, I HATE being called Johnny G. Someone at work decided this would become a thing, and unfortunately it somehow has and I hate it. First, because my surname is one syllable. You’re not shortening it. It’s impossible to shorten it. And second, because of former member of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe Johnny Gill, who announced the beginning of every song by saying his own name: “Johnny G.” Try getting “Poison” stuck in your head every time someone says your name. It’s awful. Nobody ever call me that.

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2 responses to “Let’s Not Agree to Disagree: Back Your Argument Up When You Talk About Stripping My Rights

  1. I just fell a tiny bit in love with you. This is the most passionate thing I’ve ever seen you write, and I’m digging the fire.

    Thank you, btw.

  2. Pingback: Occupy Your Bedroom: Tips on How to Pick Up People at Occupy Protests « In Our Words·

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