Sensibilities: Progressives should hold fast on inclusion

Steve Nelson

Steve Nelson


For the Valley News

Published: 12-01-2023 6:18 PM

Recent New York Times columns by David Brooks and Pamela Paul identified what they believe is a chasm between “liberalism” and “progressivism.” Their theses are echoed throughout the media, often in allusion to stultifying political correctness on college campuses. Typically, the analyses include the phrase “identity politics,” accusing political progressives of living in silos, reducing life to racial, ethnic, gender or sexual identities.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is co-culprit, offending the tender sensibilities of faculty members or employees who feel they are forced to endure another exercise or hear about their white privilege — or that they must put up with any number of affinity groups.

This, these critics wail, is cleaving our great nation down the middle, eroding the “United” in “United States” and alienating the traditional “liberal” base, whose members are more reasonable. Many folks fret that “identity politics” will be our ruin, irritating the Democratic electorate and contributing to the possible and unthinkable return of Trump.

The theme is echoed in comments from the Times’s otherwise “liberal” readership. A few excerpts:

“The problem is the incredibly toxic DEI mindset that is pushed onto students from a very young age. Not all students, mind you, but those of us who live in blue cities and blue states know exactly what I mean.”

“Our kids' Seattle elementary school is festooned with BLM, pro-Trans and all manner of other far-left messaging.”

“... nobody alive today owned slaves or had anything to do with slavery. Slavery was ended legally after the Civil War. Slavery was the opposite of equity. It's gone.”

“We cannot continue to blame slavery for all that is wrong with our country and create more victims every generation.”

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“... the problem is much farther down in the system as well. The teaching of how bad people are, the focus on unequality (sic), and the lack of optimism is a direct cause of the mental health crisis in young people.”

Methinks they protesteth too much.

The backlash to racial, gender and sexuality progress is to be expected from the political “right,” whose members never met a genuine grievance they couldn’t dismiss or belittle. In that political realm, Blacks are given all the advantages, white men are under assault, and homosexuality is a grave offense to their God.

This attitude from so many supposed liberals is disappointing, disproportionate and destructive. But whatever minor excesses might be promulgated by the more vocal progressive activists are dwarfed by the chorus of impatience with social justice.

Intellectual clarity suggests a different story.

I ask, for example, what harm is done by BLM posters? I have long thought it would be more helpful to add a “Too,” which more accurately describes a movement which is a reaction to the inarguable truth that by any measure White Lives Have Always Mattered More (WLHAMM). So let’s go with BLMT. And the only reason to object to a pro-trans expression is if one is anti-trans, or would prefer that trans folk just stay in a closet and out of the bathroom.

And the focus on “unequality” is driving a mental health crisis? This, despite the overwhelming evidence that inequity and bigotry are the statistical drivers of a horrifying rate of depression and suicide among LGBTQ+ youth.

Blaming slavery is creating more victims? Perhaps contemporary iterations of racism, the direct progeny of slavery, are creating more victims.

Voices like those of David Brooks and Pamela Paul bemoan divisiveness and call for unity and cheerful pluralism to cure our national malaise.

Perhaps our “identity politics” arise from the majority perpetuating the bigotry and cruelty that lead those in the minority to find comfort and common cause among kindred spirits. Perhaps affinity groups arise from a need for temporary relief from school cultures rife with overt and implicit biases. Perhaps a BLM poster in a classroom is intended as a silent statement of alliance with students of color, not as an affront to a privileged parent who claims to be colorblind.

We political progressives understand those who seek haven in silos. It is not they who reduce life to racial, ethnic, gender or sexual identity. It is the society that discriminates and demeans based on racial, gender, ethnic or sexual characteristics.

The expectation among those preaching “togetherness” is that differences be muted so that we can all get along if we subscribe to the dominant white, heteronormative cultural norms.

So it is and always was.

Steve Nelson is a retired educator and former Sharon resident. He lives in Colorado.