Keep it HOT and DON’T Move On
With the recent Democratic win in the US election, all sorts of people have been calling for a “lowering of the temperature,” “coming together,” and “forgiving and forgetting.” “Let’s heal,” they say and “move forward.” “Now,” they say, “is not the time for politics.”
Notoriously- and righteously- missing from this group of what Pankaj Mishra would call “Bland Fanatics,” are People of Color and progressives who understand both the dangers and hypocrisy inherent in this position. It’s indeed a wonder that we need to have this conversation, but alas we do.
Though we’ve had thirty years of immersion in the literature of privilege, clearly the need to belabor continues. It is said of the Devil that his greatest trick is convincing humanity that he doesn’t exist. Privilege is no different- its best trick is convincing its owners of its non-existence. With few exceptions, the “take the temperature down” crowd are people who depend on the stability of the current system- as racist and inequal as it is, for their privilege (and wealth and happiness.)
Such a statement can appear outlandish to those who clamor for harmony, civility, and politesse. These are but simple and basic virtues, are they not? Such anodyne expressions of common sentiment seem to be benign and utterly sensible. In fact, they are not. There is no greater incivility than displaying civility to the fundamentally uncivil. To display civility and tolerance to those who believe that some are inferior because of the color of their skin- and to those who act on those beliefs, is hardly virtuous. Of course, such sentiments are easily expressed by those who are not on the receiving end of racial venom. The take-the-temperature-down crowd would do well to read MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail or to recall the title of his book, “Why We Can’t Wait.” Taking the temperature down, a different set of words for the concept of “gradualism” is subjecting those who suffer to the continuous meat-grinder of the status-quo.
The pleas, asking “Blue” Americans to reach out, to forgive, to heal, to reduce the temperature, are curious- from a practical perspective. The thermostat isn’t controlled by either Democrats or real progressive Americans. How would this work? When a Trump follower issues a racist statement, should the response be “I understand your hatred of me, but…..” When hundreds of thousands of people are dying from a viral pandemic, should we say “These peoples’ lives are not worth minor irritations or your annoyance?” What the hell does “turn the temperature” down really mean other than to capitulate before the agenda set by those who hate.
Inscribed in this view is the notion that “we should never fall to their level.” Fair enough point but we owe it to ourselves to dig a bit deeper. Using common American phraseology, does this mean that we should never bring a gun to a gun fight? Should we continue to bring feathers when they bring howitzers? Did the allies sink to Hitler’s level when they declared war on Germany? Is self-defense stooping or falling to their level?
For some, the appeal to reduce the temperature has to do with adherence to the law. Just because Trump and his cronies both flouted the law and sought to change it to enable their nefarious agenda, these people argue, that doesn’t mean we ought to. Once again, the argument is at best naïve and at worse destructively conservative. Should the Democrats seek to stack the court or simply “respect” the stacking that Trump did? Should the West German Chancellor after Hitler have respected the Nuremberg Laws or violate them? Here, one is reminded of the incandescent moment when Gandhi refused to pay even a trifling fine and courted jail, suggesting that acceding to unjust laws was a form of violence.
The issue of privilege looms large. How is it fair to ask me to “forgive and forget” when someone thinks lowly of me or enacts violence on me simply because I’m brown-skinned? How is it fair to ask me to turn the temperature down when I see the palpable effects Trumpian rhetoric and behavior had on my children’s mental welfare? How does one look in the eye of a parent whose child was caged at the border and ask her to turn the other cheek? What about the recent bailout of racist murderer Kyle Rittenhouse? Forgive? Forget? Move on?
Of course, there is more. The Biden victory does not stop time; new realities are being made daily and the machinations do not stop. Florida is considering a draconian set of measures to quell peoples’ right to protest including extending the “stand your ground” principles to any citizens who observe private property being destroyed. The arctic is being opened for plunder. Hundreds of thousands of people are contracting Covid, and thousands are dying, every day. And the world is heating- 417 PPM and counting. To imply, somehow, that the time for “politics” or “passions” is over is to continue to subject people to the jackboot of the present and to a bleak and nasty future.
There is no better way to display the concept of privilege than to suggest that the only people who indulge in such caviled pseudo-philosophy are those comforted in the cocoon of privilege. Ask a worker in the Tyson chicken plant where the managers were taking bets on which of them would get Covid about taking the temperature down or the parent of a young Black-man shot by the police during a peaceful protest about “forgetting and moving on” and you might get a different answer.
After 9/11, many Americans proclaimed the sentiment that this was not time for politics, but instead to come together. Strangely, they were exactly wrong. Under the imperial presidency of George W. Bush and his overzealous advisers, we used the attacks as a pretext to wage two wars- endless, draining wars- and to enact anti-democratic legislation at home. As Democrats and Republicans alike spoke in the dulcet tones of love and harmony, the Right made mean hay. We slept, they stayed awake. And here we are again.
The first time was an abdication for sure; this time it would be an absolute disaster.