I used to love play-dough. To this day, I retain many fond memories of squishy little animal picnics, extended inhalation sessions, and, when all else failed, rubbing little pieces into my hair and the surrounding carpet.
Though most people outgrow their passion for play-dough, many today seem bent on applying the same principles to common words.
Take diversity for instance. Here’s a happy little, grape-scented expression which most dictionaries define simply as, “a range of different things.” In the context of a society, these things might include the respective interests, hobbies, and beliefs of one’s fellow citizens. We like, at least in the west, to say we celebrate such an ambition and the complexity and interest which it adds to our communities.
But, at times, we discover our repressed childhood play-dough making instincts begin to rise to the surface. Desperately, we look around for the appropriate manipulatives but, finding none, are forced to turn our energies to innocuous words like diversity. Frantically we get to work and, pretty soon, diversity begins to look a whole lot like homogeneity.
Last Saturday, Peterborough saw its first annual, “March Against White-Supremacists” parade, which shall henceforth be known as “that day some guy with an inflammatory t-shirt woke up with a inexplicable desire to be at the bottom of a police dog-pile.”Amidst the prospect of much fanfare, drumming, and the waving of flags, the leader of said demonstration wisely decided to stay in and watch old Friends reruns.
But let’s be honest for a moment. In our city, are there many of us who actually live in constant fear of the rise of white-supremacy? Erin Ryan, writing for The Daily Beast, notes:
“No mainstream film or television in 2017 makes Nazis seem like tortured bad boys just waiting for the right woman to teach them how to love. History books aren’t generous to Nazis. . .“Nazi” or “white supremacist” is not a good look.”
In other words, showing up to the park on a sunny Saturday afternoon wearing a bandido mask with hundreds of other people doesn’t exactly make you a revolutionary. You may as well join a rally against the be-heading of kittens or the propagation of asbestos lined bouncy castles.
For the record, let me be quite clear when I say that I am absolutely against the discrimination of human beings based on ethno-linguistic grounds. If Saturday’s rally was simply a clear-minded stand against Neo-Nazism then, without question, I would be the first to lend a hearty skyward fist.
However, having reflected on several articles and a host of accompanying photos, I am increasingly convinced that it wasn’t.
At least not entirely.
My first clue came in the form of a solemn bearded man, holding aloft a placard which read “Racism, sexism and homophobia not permitted.” The second came when the ever love-brimming “Peterborough Against Facism” posse began to harangue two suit-wearing bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But wait a second – I thought it was only the white supremacists who weren’t permitted?
“Well, they aren’t -” so the rhetoric goes, “- but as long as everyone’s here, we may as well rage against all those other things we consider equally diabolical – here’s lookin’ at you, pro-life, heterosexual, middle-aged white males!”
We saw the consequences of this logic play out this past week in parliament as the supposed pro-life Rachael Harder was put forward as potential committee chair by the Tories. In the wake of the resulting mass liberal exodus, the message was clear: maintaining a pro-life stance within modern politics is akin to lacing up your cleats and stomping on the face of every woman that ever lived.
It turns out that, for all it’s apparent celebration, diversity is only acceptable within an pre-approved narrative – that is, we only approve of your diversity if the vocal majority is comfortable with it.
I’m aware that many readers may perceive these thoughts as curmudgeonly, mean-spirited, or due to some foreign body lodged in my craw. But, believe it or not, I generally consider myself a pro-human, pro-flourishing, and, dare I say it, pro-diverse – at least as it was defined in its prepubescence.
I am writing because I can’t help but feel that behind the mirage of amiability, lie the seeds of an alternate tyranny. I am all for the protest which seeks to expose and extinguish dehumanization – but, amidst all the smoke and mirrors, I want to make sure that the people everyone thinks is the enemy, is actually an enemy.
The key word here is distinguish.
You know at thanksgiving, when Aunt Beverly roasts her famous “turkey a la gobi desert,” that everybody is just waiting patiently for the heavy gravy so their portion can be re-hydrated. It’s not just the turkey that gets soaked of course – it’s the surrounding potatoes, peas, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Amidst the distinguishing sides on the plate, the presiding flavor is, decidedly, gravy.
Admittedly it is a crude analogy, but I believe the lesson stands: pouring “hate-gravy” on everyone who disagrees with us is a strategy as convenient as it is dishonest and hypocritical.
Remember, when the island for respectful dialogue and mutual respect is washed away, we are not left in a vacuum. In it’s place, an ugly little island emerges we call polarization. On this island there are no longer neighbors, co-workers, or communities, only friends and enemies. Those, “with-us”, and those “against-us.” In this context, it isn’t long before democracy itself falls apart.
And that’s no squishy animal picnic.