To my conservative friends,
There has been a development in American progressivism in which people would rather make ad hominem attacks and ignore views that seem antithetical to who they are as people than productively engage with others. This is a rude and unproductive way to engage with people of different viewpoints.
However, liberal backlash to your sociocultural views isn’t oppression. Let’s remember that the “oppression” is taking place in highfalutin', analytical environments: Facebook comment chains, listservs, lecture halls. After the discussion is over, people who historically benefit from the debated institutions live their lives, while the other side still faces institutional barriers. To ground this conjecture, consider the infamous Wilsonwire [listserv] debate on the Anscombe Society’s conversation with Ryan Anderson ’04 on traditional marriage. It raised the hackles of LGBTQ+ students and their allies, and some verbally attacked Anderson’s conservative views. But that was just a verbal attack on the Internet, right? Outside of the listserv, people who support traditional marriage, for the most part, go on their merry way, while LGBTQ+ people are the most likely target of hate crimes. This asymmetry of “oppression” compels me to say that people are criticizing your views, but your identity is not up for debate. And that’s the difference between bad form in a debate and oppression.
It is true that a lot of times, it may seem like there’s a mainstream liberal machine forcing conservatism into a corner. But if conservatism is, by definition, the support of institutions in place and caution in creating artificial societal change, conservatism isn’t a minority view. It has the force of the institution.
To my fellow liberals,
There’s great progress when it comes to mainstreaming acceptance. Sometimes, we take it a little too far in ignoring voices that aren’t exactly like our own. In the pursuit of empowerment, well-intentioned liberals sometimes look down on allies or people with more conservative views, yet expect them to enthusiastically rally for progressivism because "it’s the right thing to do." You can’t expect people to want to support you if you push away their efforts to understand and empathize with you. Yes, no one will understand what living with your unique set of disadvantages (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality, ableness, socioeconomic status, etc.) feels like, but that isn’t justification for invalidating their attempts to understand. You can’t force someone to support you by coming off as condescending.
I know it’s crushing to continually receive signals that an inherent part of your being is not welcomed by your society. But the right response is to engage, not dismiss or ignore, if possible. No one deserves an audience, especially if they’re expressing hateful, harmful views. But no sensible person derives their views from a place of wanting to harm society, as guest contributor Isaac Martinez mentioned. Conservatives, just like us, are people of fundamentally good intentions, whose actions may negatively impact us. This should not need to be spelled out explicitly, but we also live in a divisive, polarized era. Progressivism is often put into an awkward place where social change is necessary, but not always well accepted. Disengaging with conservatives will not engender acceptance; instead, it will render progressive policies ineffective.
Alis Yoo is a sophomore in History from Palisades Park, N.J. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.