Again and again, we’ve been told of the dangers of not listening to those who hold views with which we disagree, of the hazards of not confronting opinions that make us uncomfortable and of the perils of suppressing the Other Side. And so we’ve been advised to “talk to some Trump supporters.” We’ve been told, “the only way to change peoples’ minds is to learn where they’re coming from.” And, for the most part, we’ve been given pretty good advice. That is, if the “we” we’re talking about are white, straight, cisgender men, like me. That is, if the “we” we’re talking about aren’t the people for whom “disagreeing” with a Trump supporter is not a matter of ideological dispute but a question of protecting one’s basic rights as a citizen of this country and a human being.
Two days after Donald Trump was elected, I attended a conference at the Law School on “Bridging the Intellectual Divide.” By some estimates, over 1000 Yale University students representing all fourteen schools showed up. My discussion group was titled “Talking to Trump Supporters.” I thought the conversation would address how people from marginalized identity groups might endure the process of confronting views that questioned their rights as citizens and their very humanity. Instead, our nearly all-white group spent the hour espousing the importance of going out of “our comfort zone” to talk to Trump supporters without considering the risks of such a proposition for students whose lives promised to be upended by Trump’s bigoted policy proposals.
This white blindness to the reality of a Trump presidency manifests itself in the dangerously vague claim: We need to listen to the Other Side. The trouble with this apparent truism is its lack of specificity. The phrase ought to be: “liberal, white, cisgender men need to listen to the Other Side.” In fact, people from marginalized backgrounds have not simply been listening but experiencing the views of the Other Side since even before the United States of America was born.
People of color in this nation have been experiencing the ideas of the Other Side since Black folks were picking cotton and considered three-fifths of a person; since Yale stole the Quinnipiac peoples’ land to build this university; since Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 and forced the relocation and incarceration of 115,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps; since Black people made up 13% of the population but almost 50% of those incarcerated.
Queer people in this nation have been experiencing the ideas of the Other Side since it was illegal to love someone if that person shared your gender; since it took President Reagan nearly 6 years to say the word “AIDS;” since the countless murders of trans folk have gone unnoticed.
Women in this nation have been experiencing the ideas of the Other Side since they were denied suffrage for over a century; since they have been routinely paid less than men for the same work; since a man who has bragged and been accused of sexually assaulting at least ten different women has ascended to the nation’s highest office.
Muslim people in this nation have been experiencing the ideas of the Other Side since multiple state constitutions banned Muslim Americans from holding political office; since 78 incidents of mosques being vandalized were reported in 2015 alone; since last Saturday, when the President signed the hateful executive order detaining innocent people.
I worried about what it would mean to write this piece as a white, straight, cisgender dude; I worried that I might take space away from students whose experiences are more conducive to theorizing about race, sexuality and gender. But then I remembered the words of Audre Lorde, who wrote in “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches”: “Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. …There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in … devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.”
It should not be the job of the oppressed to teach the oppressor about their oppression. Rather, it is the responsibility of those who systematically benefit from a system constructed for them to not only recognize their privilege but also to work to deconstruct it.
And so for people like me — white, straight, cisgender men — we need to be a lot clearer about what we’re talking about when we talk about listening to the Other Side. We need to do what’s necessary: We need to try to better understand the struggles of the millions of Americans who voted for Trump. But we need to do so while appreciating that it is chiefly because of our privilege as white, straight, cisgender men that we can do this safely.
Robert Newhouse is a sophomore in Calhoun College. Contact him at email@example.com .