Response to Maddy Jasper on political intolerance

Last week Maddy Jasper published an opinion piece titled “Macalester’s social tolerance translates to political intolerance.” In it, she expresses her frustration with Macalester’s close-mindedness towards her right-wing affiliations and beliefs. “The majority of Macalester community members, students and professors alike are very accepting of those who share the same liberal and progressive opinions,” she says, “but if someone steps forward opposing their views, they are made to look ignorant and discriminatory… As a middle-class, white, Christian female I don’t usually feel like a minority, but in the context of Macalester I believe my views and opinions are frequently ignored and consistently challenged.”

While I don’t believe that this school is too “liberal” or “radical” (nor do I think that any private institution whose goal at the end of the day is to make money could ever be accurately described as such), her opinion that we as an academic body invalidate her beliefs is worth a deeper read. This is because, contrary to Jasper’s newfound “minority” status, it isn’t uncommon. I’ve come across this argument–that Leftism is close-minded to the opinions of the Right—often. It’s a conversation I’ve had with my family, with friends, in classes and while precepting. Mac Confessions, it would appear, has become an outlet for some students to vent similar frustrations.

I don’t mean to validate this sentiment by speaking to its presence. I fundamentally disagree with Jasper’s argument because her language implies, whether she meant it to or not, that the pushback she receives for her beliefs is comparable to larger, systemic forms of oppression. That this could contradict the school’s presumed dedication to social tolerance, or that it makes those of us who identify with the antagonists in her piece close-minded, is a total fallacy.

Since I can only effectively speak to my own experiences, I’ll use a personal anecdote here. I identify openly as a queer, gay, cisgendered, white male, and I recognize that the latter half of that identification provides me with a lot of privilege and mobility. But last year a Mac Confession’s post which stated, “Gay people make me sick” was flagged as a violation by Facebook. When someone rebuttled almost verbatim with “Straight people make me sick,” comments came pouring in that it was unfair that the latter post had not been taken down as well, and that this was reverse oppression or heterophobia.

This was one of the few times I’ve ever felt that my identification was under attack by my peers (I’m pretty lucky in this regard. Just because I rarely feel oppressed at Macalester does not mean that it’s as uncommon for everyone). While ideally the former and the latter Mac Confessions posts would have equal connotations, the comments ignore the simple fact that historically straight people have committed violence against queer bodies, and that state and social policies have largely been written for those in the norm. I don’t expect everyone to be versed in queer theory (though how cool would that be?), but I do (or did) expect that people at Macalester would at least be able to register that there’s a reason some states are still trying to make homosex illegal. There should be a fundamental difference between treating someone as your equal and erasing any difference between one another, but I find that line increasingly and dishearteningly blurred by people I walk by every day.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with heterosexuality, whiteness, Christianity, being born with the sex to which you identify, etc, but it’s important to recognize that these are the norms off of which everyone else is compared. It’s the reason I spent the better part of my life trying to validate that my sexuality did not make me “any less of a man,” and hating myself for not conforming to the binary. On a much larger scale than the four years we spend at this private institution, those more “normal” have the most mobility and access. If recognizing that some of us have the cards stacked in our favor challenges our beliefs and our worldviews, then good.

A friend of mine once said. “If we replaced the term ‘political correctness’ with ‘empathy’ people would be less likely to push back on it.” That’s what us “politically correct warriors” are really getting at: not trying to repress anyone’s freedom of speech, religion or expression, but pushing people to step into someone else’s shoes, recognizing that their thoughts, experiences and oppressions are as valid as our own and that what we say can hurt them. And Jasper might be right, many of us have no interest in stepping into her shoes, but that’s only because those white, “middle-class,” straight, Christian, “conservative” penny-loafers (or another really bland shoe) are the ones we’re all forced into at birth, regardless of whether or not they fit. Refusing to put them back on does not make us close-minded; it’s what’s freed us to pursue better options.