Earlier this week Ellen DeGeneres came under fire after being seen laughing with George Bush at a football game. In response she took time on her show to defend herself by saying “I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I feel like we’ve forgotten that’s okay…just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say be kind I don’t mean only the people that think the same way you do.”
There were a many flaws in Ellen’s monologue. The first being that she dismissed people sharing their thoughts on Twitter. Whether she intended to or not her mockingly saying that angry people turn to Twitter to voice their thoughts is suggesting that those thoughts don’t matter.
Twitter among other social media platforms is a very important way for people to communicate their beliefs, make demands, etc. It is the fastest way to get your message out there and when used correctly can be an effective tool. Sure it is not the end all be all. Contrary to popular belief most of us are well aware of this. Action should be put behind words, we get that, but suggesting that speaking out is trivial reinforces the belief that people with less power (who don’t have platforms like Ellen) should be dismissed and silenced.
The harmful message this sends is that social and and political beliefs are just frivolous talking points. It tells the people who genuinely care about certain issues that they are extremists for standing firmly in their beliefs. It says if they are unwilling to be-friend people who they disagree with they are “mean” and. in fact are the real problem. It says that they don’t want peace. All things that aren’t true and an example of gaslighting.
White people whether poor, rich, Democrat, Republican, famous, or not practice this same harmful behavior. I’m also going to include wealthy people of color who put their economic class before anything else. These demographics all share a very elementary view of the world. They simplify everything so that they never have to actually care about anything. They take comfort in their privilege and don’t see the need to actually take impactful measures to make the things they publicly agree with come into fruition. They do small things to align with their words but contradict themselves by befriending people who disagree with them.
These are the people who avoid tough conversations at the Thanksgiving table so as not to offend their family. They laugh off their friend’s hate speech to not damper the mood of a social gathering. Saying one thing and doing another is hypocritical. It’s okay for them to be on the fence because ultimately they’re protected be it by their race or economic status. The rest of us don’t have that privilege. Yes it is a privilege to decide to befriend people who disagree with you.
We’ve established that taking action is important but two things can be true at once. Conversation is just as important. All ideas begin with a thought. Those thoughts become words. The people who disagree with you aren’t just talking they’re voting, donating, funding those thoughts. They’re giving those thoughts a platform to reach more people. It contributes to a bigger picture.
The people who disagreed with Ellen are not saying to go out and physically/verbally harm people who share different views with you. We interact with people we disagree with everyday. I’ve yet to punch out people who casually slide a micro aggressions into a simple exchange. I, and I know this is going to sound crazy, verbally communicate with them on why what they said was wrong. However that does not mean we are friends. Again words mean things.
I consider a friend to be someone who I share mutual affection with, someone who I trust, someone who I can rely on. None of my friends are racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, bigoted in any way. None of my friends look down on immigrants. None of my friends think we should bomb innocent civilians. None of my friends disrespect and harm Muslim people. None of my friends see people in poverty as a burden to society. None of my friends would throw me under the bus to protect themselves if it came down to it. We can agree to disagree about music, food, if sunrises are better than sunsets, anything of the sort but politics will never be on that list. Being cordial for the sake of getting through the day doesn’t mean we are going to get drinks after work. Am I painting a picture for you Ellen and friends?
I’ll close out with a few quotes that sum up how I feel.
“Nobody in history has gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people oppressing them.” —Assata Shakur
“You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” — James Baldwin