In the wake of the Orlando mass shooting at a gay nightclub, there was a lot of the usual ideological trench-digging. There were a few bright spots, however, with my favorite being this piece from The Guardian (it’s worth a full read):
The truth is it is, most likely, about lots of things. And the bolder the claim that it is about any one thing, the more vulnerable it will be to contradiction and qualification. While the act of killing so many so quickly is crude, the underlying factors are complex.
“We want to get on the moral high ground when it comes to policing homophobia in other religions,” ESPN commentator Jemele Hill, a former Orlando resident, said in an interview. “We’re not the ones to be engaging in this, as if we have always been supportive of these issues. History says just the opposite.”
I really liked the way she put that, and started scrolling through Ms. Hill’s Twitter feed, appreciating the aplomb with which she handled the inevitable emotional backlash. That’s when I came across this tweet from her:
Now, in the context of the discussion she was attempting to have, I stand by her tweet. The context included:
- We don’t have the moral high ground to be lecturing Muslims about problems with homophobia and intolerance, and
- Our recent actions attempting (and sometimes succeeding) in marginalizing LGBTQ citizens — including my own State’s attempt to stop marriage equality, and more recently to exclude trans people from using the bathroom of their gender identity — has contributed to an environment that probably fueled this attack.
The tweet she was responding to, in context, was an attempt to derail the important conversation that was being had. Much like the annoying #NotAllMen movement tried to distract from the important conversation that was #YesAllWomen.
No, it’s not all men…or Muslims, or Christian Right
I think part of the problem we are currently experiencing, specifically the polarizing conversations and demonization of the “other side,” is partly because we do deserve cookies sometimes, and we don’t get them enough.
Let’s consider some historical perspective.
Once a group has political (or military) power, it is not the norm for that group to willingly give power to a different group. This is self-evident for anyone who has taken one or more history classes. And yet:
About 250 years ago, a bunch of (mostly older) white men got together and made a whole new country (it was profoundly more complex than that, but will suit for our discussion) based on a truly radical idea: that everyone deserves power. In fact, that political power belongs to everyone. Whoa.
To be sure, it was far, far from perfect. I mean, it was still just white dudes that had the rights. Humans, all of us, are flawed. Let’s not idolize them or refrain from criticizing their mistakes. But could we get those white dudes a cookie? They did something valuable and important, and while it wasn’t the whole puzzle it was a VIP (very important piece) to getting the puzzle finished down the road.
Four score and seven years later, the nation went to war over slavery (again, the causes of the War of the Rebellion were much more complex, but we should all be able to agree that the North was willing to provoke a war as they attempted to limit the growth of slavery). That conflict led to the Constitutionally-recognized rights of all men, regardless of race.
Women would have to wait a further 55 years for the 19th Amendment to get caught up in that regard. And, of course, a hundred years after the end of the Civil War, Black Americans were still fighting for basic rights as part of the Civil Rights Movement.
And we’re still not done, to be sure. #BlackLivesMatter and #EqualPay, among others.
But can we acknowledge the work that did get done to get the ball rolling? That caused progress? Can we get a cookie?
Twenty years later, and marriage equality is the law of the land, implemented peacefully in all fifty States (yes, Kim Davis, but look how rare and short-lived that was). TWENTY YEARS! For context, it was 15 years between when the American Revolution started and the Constitution was finally ratified by the last State (thanks for chipping in, Rhode Island).
Here’s the thing: in 2016, the percentage of Americans who support marriage equality stands at 61%. That’s a swing in favor of marriage equality of 34% over 20 years, or roughly 100,000,000 people. 100,000,000 Americans who might have been labeled as “homophobic assholes” in 1996, but were part of the growing tide of support in 2016. Are they perfect? Certainly not. But maybe they deserve a cookie.
Cookies don’t mean perfection
Why don’t we hand out more cookies? I mean, we don’t. In fact, we tell people how to act and to speak if they want to be a true ally. It’s not enough, sometimes, to desire and try to be supportive and open-minded. Ally Shaming is a thing.
That’s like being handed a cookie made with vinegar and raisins. No one likes raisins in their cookies, y’all.
To be clear, I never advocate that we should stop educating people about how to better use words and actions (to avoid hurtful or offensive language). I never advocate that we should declare ourselves “DONE!” and stop making progress on social issues. I never advocate that someone should use past progress or examples of solidarity to excuse bad behavior or to derail a conversation about work that still needs to be done.
OK? Cookies aren’t about that. They aren’t about perfection or being done or any of that.
Cookies means acknowledging the effort of progress
I understand the attitude that yells “Why do you think you need kudos for being a basically decent human being?”
From a practical standpoint, we should consider the effect that acknowledging small wins and praising positive behavior has on long-term progress. What’s that? You just want people to behave like rational, self-aware adults without the need for external motivations? Yeah, good luck with that.
Second, what you are calling “basic human decency” is, by a far margin, abnormal in the annals of human history. It is, even today across the globe, sadly not the case in most places. It is a rare, and delicate, flower, this ideal of treating every human being with respect and dignity regardless of the differences between them and us. As such, it should not be treated with massive amounts of pesticide (in the form of demonizing or shaming) whenever the weeds of intolerance creep in. Instead, we should all work together to carefully remove only the offending growth, leaving the beautiful parts intact.
In practice, this means correcting people on their behavior when they make mistakes. It also means acknowledging the growth that people (collectively and as individuals) have made towards becoming more tolerant and accepting. It means seeing the work, the effort, the struggle that ordinary people make in an attempt to throw off the shackles of millennia of human disposition.
In short, it means recognizing that, maybe, the greatest thing that we humans share is this struggle to become a better human. That, in some way at some point in our lives, we have all been intolerant, offensive, hate-fueled. And that, in recognizing that where we have become “a better person” by virtue of tolerance, acceptance, and inclusivity, we also recognize that not everyone has had the privileges we received to get to that point: supportive friends, an open-minded community, an education that prompted us to rethink our positions.
Love, Grace, & Cookies
We like to talk about love. All you need is love. Love thy neighbor. #LoveWins.
You cannot have love without grace. Grace is love in action.
Look, giving people cookies doesn’t have to mean heaping praise on someone because they’re dating a POC. Or because (dear God, I know people have said this) they refrained from sexually assaulting a woman.
It means finding the time, making the effort, to give people who are trying a bit of grace. To engage in real, human dialog with people we have fundamental disagreements with because we are both human, and flawed. That someone who hasn’t reached the same conclusions as you (yet, hopefully) isn’t necessarily a horrible person.
But if you also want to hand out real cookies, that’s OK too. As long as they don’t have raisins.
“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson