Privilege is a weird thing. Most of us have a certain level of privilege, and some of us even recognise it and try to use it to effect change. Some of us deny it exists at all, labouring under the self-imposed misapprehension that everything we’ve achieved has occurred as a direct result of our own unfiltered brilliance, and not because we live in a society in which more or less everything is heavily skewed in favour of straight, rich, white dudes. Others, of course, are so blinded by their own privilege that they see fit to stand up on national television and lecture those who are considerably less privileged about how they ought to respond to people who are, by any reasonable interpretation, objectively fucking awful.
“When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
This was a statement made by US comedian and chat show host, Ellen DeGeneres, earlier this week, which, on the face of it, you might think seems quite laudable. Who could reasonably object to a world where people were kinder to one another, right? This video was widely shared on social media, with lots of other quite privileged people responding with comments like, “Well said, Ellen! What a great message!”
It’s only when you realise that Ms DeGeneres made this somewhat smug, self-satisfied statement to justify her friendship with a guy who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and who predicated his entire political career on denying rights to LGBTQ people, that you begin to see how fundamentally repugnant it is.
In terms of moral cowardice, this argument ranks alongside, “I know that Bundy guy was a little bit murdery, but he did make a lovely lamb casserole, and I just think you have to look for the good in people. We can’t only be kind to those who don’t think it’s acceptable to slaughter dozens of people in cold blood.”
There are, give or take, 7.7 billion people on Earth. Accordingly, there are 7.7 billion differing sets of opinions. It goes without saying that, if we were only ever friends with people whose opinions were aligned completely with our own, we’d exist in the same tragic state of isolation that Toby Young experienced on the night of his stag do.
I have a friend who thinks Star Wars is superior to Star Trek. I have a friend who fancies Chris Pratt more than Chris Hemsworth. I have another friend who thinks putting peanut butter directly onto unbuttered, barely toasted bread (like, it hasn’t even changed colour) is acceptable behaviour. They’re all disgusting people who should be shot at fucking dawn and I love them dearly.
I don’t, I’m proud to say, have a single friend who has overseen the destruction of a Middle Eastern country for their own political ends, or who has sought to deny people like me the right to marry, the right to access goods and services, the right to be housed, or the right to not be fired from my job because of who I’m attracted to. I don’t have friends like that because people like that are fucking abhorrent.
I’m just a little bit really fucking tired of hearing how it’s somehow ‘childish’ or ‘shallow’ to refuse to befriend a person with different political opinions, as though it’s some minor, inconsequential thing like a disgusting peanut butter/toast habit or the mistaken belief that C3PO is in any way more impressive than Commander Data. The fact is, our politics are a fundamental part of who we are. They define us. They are us.
For example, I could never form any kind of meaningful relationship, platonic or otherwise, with a Conservative voter. It’s not just that I disagree with them, it’s that I think they’re intrinsically unpleasant.
People are dying on the streets. Foodbank use is at an all-time high. Welfare spending has been slashed again and again. Mental health funding has been cut to the bone. People seeking to make this country their home are subjected to an environment that the government proudly describes as ‘hostile’. Queer asylum seekers are deported to countries in which they may be imprisoned, tortured or killed for being who they are and told to ‘act less gay’. On top of all that, we’re on the verge of the biggest self-imposed catastrophe ever to befall us, and the Tories are 100% committed to delivering something that will disproportionately affect the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country.
If you voted for any of that, you’re an appalling cunt, and there is no place in my life for you.
Similarly, I don’t care how well-received your sitcom was in the 1990s if you now spend every day of your life mocking, misgendering and directing hate at vulnerable and marginalised people. If I tolerated that kind of behaviour, I’d be as much of an arsehole as you are.
It’s so easy (and a bit fucking selfish) to say, “We should respect everyone’s beliefs,” if their beliefs will never impact you in any meaningful way. But if you’re a rich, white lesbian working in the arts, you don’t get to pontificate to black trans women on low incomes about who they should be nice to. They might just consider that the fact that they’re dying and being killed on an almost industrial scale matters quite a bit, and that offering kindness to those who would eradicate them completely is, in itself, an act of violence.
Views matter. Opinions matter. They are the essence of who we are. Of course it’s up to the individual to decide how much a particular belief matters to them and whether it’s a deal-breaker in any prospective relationship, but let’s not pretend that being nice to everyone makes you a good person. It doesn’t. All it makes you is complicit.