Be kind—Ellen’s simplistic, almost childlike solution to all the world’s problems. The problem with that is what it really accomplishes is minimizing serious issues that require serious attention. Take the current fight for LGBTQ equality. For some Americans this isn’t just a matter of agreeing to disagree on a difference of opinion. This is a matter of personal freedom, safety, and the ability to earn a living, and the ‘be kind’ mantra makes those fighting to correct this problem seem like crybabies.
I get that all poor Ellen wanted to do that day was watch a pro-football game in luxury box seats surrounded by other elite, filthy rich people, but the fact is, whether she likes it or not, she’s an LGBTQ icon. She doesn’t get to enjoy the publicity of cozying up with her former-president friend, George W. Bush, without having to issue a statement justifying her refusal to call her friend out on his rampant anti-LGBT bullshit during his presidency. I mean didn’t sitting next to him with her wife make her think, This fucker actually tried to alter the fucking U.S. Constitution so Portia and I could never be married? Apparently, when you’re a multi-millionaire insulated by celebrity and privilege that doesn’t occur to you. (Click link for article)
What her recent photo op has done for me is force me to confront my own perspective on the meaning of friendship and the mistake I’ve been making with some of my own friends over the last three years. As kids you assume—hell, you shout it from the highest mountain—that true friendship means your friends will walk through fire with you, no matter what.
However, I’ve come to realize that as an adult, I’d been holding on to a childlike, romantic fantasy about what I should be able to expect from friends. And I have to admit it’s been a jagged nacho to swallow.
I’m reminded of a time in early 2016 when a friend had expressed to me how sad it made her to learn that I had to hide who I was in high school in the 80s and that she wished I told her I was a lesbian, so she could’ve stood by me. Moments later, she proceeded to debate me about why Donald Trump would make an excellent president. A rather mixed message I’d say, one that I’ve never quite figured out how to interpret beyond the expression, “put your money [vote] where your mouth is.”
I’ve been able to bargain away the apathy of my friends who indirectly support the prejudices and inequity touted by the Republican party by assuring myself that if those Alt-right/evangelical kooks ever do get their way and gays are suddenly likened to Jews during Hitler’s reign in Europe, those friends would be there for me, risking their own safety to hide me in their attic. I’d like to think that, but if they’re not willing to stand up for me when it would cost them than nothing more than a vote that technically doesn’t even count living in Connecticut… (now, Jean. That’s just crazy talk.)
Politics aside, I know that if I needed money or a place to stay or a table to have a holiday meal at, my friends would be there for me without question. I love when we drink, gossip, and laugh, and that we all share a long history, but sometimes that nostalgia comes at an emotional cost for me.
Maybe it’s true that the older people get, the more conservative they become. Not everyone has the courage to be like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, the white civil rights student activists who died alongside their black friend, James Chaney, in Mississippi in 1964, murdered by white supremacists the same year President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. (Click link for Freedom Summer Murders article)
I try to imagine myself in a Handmaid’s Tale scenario and wonder if I’d be brave enough to fight to the death for my rights. I honestly don’t know, but there’s something romantic as hell in Patrick Henry’s quote, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
I can say without an iota of doubt that if a political party was targeting a specific group of Americans, especially one to whom my friends belonged, I would absolutely renounce that party and stand by them, walking the walk, until that party changed their destructive beliefs. That’s the only way it will be stopped and the social tide of ignorance, bigotry, and oppression be turned.
But that’s a perspective I’ve gained belonging to a targeted group, and one perhaps others not in my shoes can’t grasp deeply enough to be motivated into action.
I can’t help wondering if those who espouse Ellen’s ‘Be kind’ slogan would also expect people of color to remain friends with someone who suddenly, casually announced they’ve become a white nationalist. Is it okay then to say “fuck being kind and fuck you for not having my back?”
I get why they say friends shouldn’t discuss politics. It slaughters that big pink elephant of delusion in the room we humans so desperately need to function in life. But as mature adults in a complicated world, we can’t fully put politics aside. Like it or not, they are an indicator of our personal values, and values are vitally important when it comes to who you confide in and spend precious time with.
And yes, Ellen. I will absolutely be kind to anyone, until I learn that person is an active participant in the systematic oppression of LGBTQ Americans. Then I say, “Fuck you. You don’t deserve my kindness.”
Frankly, I think it’s irresponsible of Ellen, a role model to many young people, to suggest that they owe their oppressors, bullies, or even friends unconditional kindness. Sounds kind of Uncle Tomish to me. Instead, why not encourage young people to politely call out those people for the damage their actions or words bring upon others?
The impassivity and indifference that arise from the “agree to disagree” cop-out enables a dangerous paradox. The level of it I’ve seen in the last few years from wise and compassionate people clearly elucidates why social justice movements usually take 75 to 100 years to realize change. When you’re not part of the targeted group, it’s so much easier to sip your cocktail and pretend the problem isn’t as urgent as the whiny liberals make it out to be.
Kindness, like respect, must be a two-way street. I refuse to stay quiet for the sake of anyone’s feelings while my own government tramples over me and those who claim to love me enable it. My days of martyrdom to make others comfortable are over. And if someone ever sits me next to an anti-LGBTQ policy or lawmaker, bet your ass, I’ll kindly ask them to explain their position. Like someone with Ellen’s level of power and influence should’ve done.
As for the folks who think opening your mouth against people who tolerate injustice and discrimination against LGBTQs is unkind and unreasonable, perhaps you might consider redirecting your frustration toward the groups who are the cause of it. Then we’ll be back on the same page again, agreeing to disagree about stupid, inconsequential shit, the way friendship was meant to be.