When should I engage in politics with other people?


#1

Hello everyone. I was in my father’s car with my father driving and my mother in the backseat of the car. We had just finished watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi in a movie theater and NPR was on the radio. They were talking to one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter hashtag (I don’t remember her name, unfortunately) and this woman said that “All white people are racist” and my father got upset upon hearing this. I tried to explain why I thought this was a valid statement, but I got angry and wasn’t able to say more than one sentence about the topic. We got out of the car to eat at Red Robin, but I felt very anxious and uncomfortable. I think it is important to bring these topics up, but I get really anxious and really depressed when I try and bring these things up with my parents. What can I do to talk about political things in a more effective and healthy way? I should add that I am on the high functioning side of the Autism Spectrum.

Addendum: I should have mentioned that I am Puerto Rican, and that my parents are Puerto Rican as well. Whoops!


#2

This is a very familiar story for me. I’ll say that I mainly aged out of feeling anger (but not out of anxiety) so if you’re still young, you may well grow to find it easier to talk calmly although I can’t say it ever radically changes how things go in my experience (especially while having to manage a panic attack). Most people do not want to hear that which they don’t already agree with, especially when it comes to things with multiple interpretations (racism as endemic, the constant force of White supremacy, vs as specific acts which many people want to distance themselves from and do not like to be associated with).

Fundamentally, lots of allistic (and neurotypical) people seem to have a very centrist view of ethics and the world. “Everything is a shade of gray”, “I don’t get your black and white way of thinking”, etc. Without attaching a value judgement to this, it provides a very different way of understanding the world and the importance of positions. It can make communication hard or even result in some you talk with becoming intent on reading everything you say in the least charitable light. We can confound others simply by existing. One note is to always try to ensure your safety and disengage if you don’t feel safe.

Another thing to consider is to think over what you wish to happen in the conversation, if there are goals you can think of before engaging and how you think you might achieve those goals via political discussion. For me (and it sounds like the same for the above example) I often find I’m engaging because I have a viewpoint, it differs from that expressed, and I wish to add my position to the conversation. I think I am adding additional information, nuance that is missing that can help explain the disconnect I see. But, I have become aware, this is often not taken this way and sometimes only reinforces resistance (“why are you now questioning me”). I need to step back, think about if I expect to be able to persuade and how that would look rather than just giving my perspective. That my point of view is often not typical and can sometimes be hard to grasp for others (who do not see connections the same way I do).

I agree it’s important to have these conversations but if all we do is raise voices, are we actually helping or just being performative? Would it be better to quietly mutter dissent to ensure it doesn’t go unanswered but then step back, think about a path from there to where you are. Think about what a series of conversations would look like that slowly moved that way rather than expecting to be able to move an opinion in a single engagement. When it is people we know and talk to often (people we care about), we should consider places where we already share passion and how those conversations can be moved towards areas of contention.


#3

I wouldn’t presume to speak for anyone else and I’m relatively neurotypical (anxiety and mild depresso aside) but I would say that you shouldn’t feel obligated to discuss politics with people if it makes you feel uncomfortable. If you trust the person enough to engage in good faith but want to keep some relative distance for your own comfort then maybe send them some articles to read or put them on to some speakers or figures that helped you understand these issues?


#4

Very relatable for me too. I think the points above are very important; when you do decide to engage with people you care for, it’s helpful to think of the best way to reach them.

It’s unfortunately often impossible to convey all you want by intuitively jumping in the conversation, at least for me, it always leads to confusion and anxiety. (Well, group discussion aside, sometimes it’s helpful to voice dissent when there are many people around.)
So without having a definitive solution, I’d say it’s very helpful to step back, to get a clear vision of the person’s core beliefs and to see where you differ or share common ground.

It’s often easier to approach the person from this point onwards, when you know what to address, and what could if not convince them, but at least make them reconsider certain beliefs.
Unfortunately, this means doing a great deal of emotional work, which is often poorly paid in return… But I feel like there’s no way to go around that if you want to get your ideas across.

So, yeah, I don’t think there’s a perfect solution here… You should never feel obliged to engage, and it’s often impossible to induce meaningful change by yourself. But if you consider the other person worth engaging with, it can be rewarding to reach out in the long run.

But feel no pressure over it, really, it’s perfectly fine not to engage when it is not worth it!


#5

I think the obvious parallel to look at is the state of discourse on twitter. The need to immediately have a bit take out about whatever is in the news is probably poisonous to how we communicate. Curving feature is probably even more important when you’re around people you’re going to see on the regular (with the obvious caveat that you’re well allowed to cut people out of your life if they’re harmful.)


#6

I had to stop engaging in political discussions with my family for exactly this reason. My family (fortunately) is pretty leftist (my mother a staunch member of the dutch socialist party), but prejudices and oppressive behavior re:minorities (that I am both a part and not a part of) are omnipresent. I had to stop because all I would hear in response is that I was too intense about trying to get my point across, not realizing that people don’t see the world the way I do. I’d mostly go “how can you not see that this point of view is misguided, I am giving you all these facts and you still disagree with me” which was incredibly frustrating until a therapist pointed me at the grey way of thinking that allistic folks often have, as well as looking at emotions rather than facts.

I currently do not have the means or the spoons to change my way of discussing things, though I do try but it’s making me incredibly anxious. I have a lot of discourse going on in my head already, keeping me up at night and sometimes causing my depression to flare up. I still do try to have my say, trying to make people see things differently, but I no longer engage in heated political discussions for self-protection.


#7

I want to mention something about the particular type of encounter OP describes that I’ve found difficult myself. I assume OP is white and in conversations I’ve had about how anything white people (like myself) do that isn’t antiracist, is essentially being racist, there is a difficult cognitive jump because of the way many of us have been taught to think of racism and white-supremacy. We tend to think of someone who contributes to racism being a self-described racist, a white person who takes pride in being a dick to black and brown people. If your dad hears someone say “All white people are racist”, he may feel that to agree with that as a white person would be similar to deciding to be racist himself. I have to be careful about who I’m talking to and in what context when I say something like “I did something racist”; that assertion can be seen as a threat if there isn’t already an understanding in the room that I am actively trying to not be racist. Same goes for misogyny. I remember a bible-study once where the male teacher admitted that he has misogynistic tendencies by saying “I’m a misogynist!” when he was trying to point out that even he is flawed. The reaction of the young women in the room was visible, it was like they were all tensing up because they might be threatened even when the context was fairly clear.
I find that in these conversations it can be helpful to start talking about specific policies, behaviors, institutions that are considered the status-quo and maintain the inequality of wealth and/or freedom on racial lines as being “racist” or a continuation of “white-supremacy”. I don’t find it incredibly difficult to point out that government tax-incentives for those who own homes or have large quantities of capital disproportionately benefits whites because of historic opportunities to accumulate wealth on racial lines. Your dad might be receptive to concepts like “white-privilege” like these examples. If he does own a home you can point out that he has a financial interest in maintaining the speculative value of that home even if it is at the expense of a population that has been systemically robbed with legitimizations based on their color for centuries.
I think the reason I tend to get angry is because I have a hard time figuring out how to explain how white-supremacy works on a systems-level to people who have become acclimated to explaining everything in the lense of their accountability as an individual within society. It often feels like someone needs a minor in philosophy to begin to understand the scope on which white-supremacy operates. I know this might come off as elitist, but a lot of people I have this argument with are mostly dependant on three flawed concepts to explain any broad social tendency, Just-World Hypothesis, Market-Fundamentalism and Great-Man Theory.
Some folks are actively disinterested in hearing views that challenge their comfort though and they go into a defensive mode where all they want to do is reaffirm that they earned everything they have and have no responsibility to address racial inequality. When they are like that I try to focus on being calm and listening for sincere concerns, but I rarely hear any.
It’s hard. When I get frustrated I try to use it as a motivation to watch another documentary or read some antiracist/feminist theory in hopes that I will eventually be able to explain it better just by enjoying the brilliance of the philosophy the folks in those fields are accomplishing.


#8

There’s basically only one thing that I learned in counseling as a child that has helped me throughout my whole life, and that’s taking deep breaths while counting to 10 when I get frustrated or anxious. It’s logical to get angry about something like this if you feel strongly about it, but taking a little bit to center yourself works wonders.

It sounds like this didn’t devolve into a shouting match, but as someone who has a brother on the autism spectrum while being allistic myself, if it had, I know from experience that your father has the responsibility to meet you half-way and try to empathize with your thought processes instead of making you do all the work on that front. Obviously, I don’t know the extent of your relationship with your father, but if that’s been an issue then it’s something to address. Of course, you may very well know this already, but it’s good for other allistic like myself to understand so I’m writing this out anyway.

As far as this issue specifically, this is a fraught one for multiple reasons. When someone says “all white people are racist” there is a ton of context there that most white people haven’t ever had to think about. There’s also the issue of the fact that the term “racist” is undergoing a definition shift where people who are clued into social justice activism understand “racist” as meaning participating in/perpetuating white supremacy, where everyone else (read: most white people) understand it as what is still the dictionary definition of hatred of another person based on their race. What I find useful is explaining that what they’re saying when they say this is that racism is so baked into society that you have to actively try to not be racist if you’re white. Racism is the default setting in America.

I hope any of this helps!


#9

Thank you for the reply. I should definitely make sure that I am not being performative about my actions. I don’t think that I am, but I need to check myself on that on the regular.


#10

Thanks for the reply. The different therapists that I have been to have given me similar advice with regards to when and when not to engage. It is hard for me not to engage with my parents, but I should engage with them less because I often feel a lot of anxiety around them in a standard context.


#11

Thanks for the reply. I think my father thinks of racism in terms of individuals hating other individuals for the color of their skin. When I bring up anything from a collective or systemic point of view he seems to get confused or overwhelmed.


#12

I have no particular advice about how and when to engage in politics, but an idea about how to approach conversations of race. Personally, I agree with the idea that “all white people are racist” is a dumb statement, because stating that this or that group is racist tends to create the negative inference that somewhere else someone has found the Cure for Racism, which is a fantasy.

What is notable about white people and racism is that white people possess more financial and social capital, and therefore have more obligation to use the power that capital grants in a responsible manner. A racist with money and connections has more capability to exercise that racism than a racist person with little of either, it makes no difference how racist each person is. Of course, like racism itself, power is something that proves hard to quantify, and discussions about power can quickly become frustrating abstract arguments. But at least you can reduce the defensiveness somewhat by acknowledging that racism is pretty much observable among every group of people.


#13

Since you specifically mention your parents, I should probably say that talking to family about politics isn’t the same as talking politics with friends and coworkers. Other people might be uncomfortable with your ideas, but your parents feel personally responsible for you, and that adds an extra layer of panic to whatever they feel about what you say, so things get heated even faster.

Having said that, I suggest that, like with any other sort of discussion, you need to know your audience. I have left-wing coworkers with whom I feel very comfortable seriously discussing left-wing politics, and I have right-wing coworkers with whom I would never attempt such a discussion (and generally try to keep away from anyway). Remember that both agitation and propaganda are important, and it’s OK to only talk about specific political issues with people when you see an opening, and to only talk in-depth stuff only with people who are closer to your opinions. I know it feels bad to not speak up, but you gotta pick your battles and know when a discussion is unlikely to lead anywhere.

Coming back to your parents. I don’t know much about your circumstances, but getting your parents to think of you as a fellow adult and not just their kid is a long and sometimes painful process. There could be a lot of unpleasantness before things get any better, but it’ll get there eventually. My only advice would be to try and keep a level head and not get angry - remember, your parents are just worried about you, they don’t hate you or think you’re stupid - but then, I know all too well that’s easier said than done.


#14

You don’t have to argue, but in most cases, you’ve gotta at least say something. Plant the seed. Try not to let bad sentiments pass unchallenged.


#15

This video has been extremely helpful with my political arguments lately:

For those who don’t watch, it basically says that you are more likely to convince your opponent if you ask questions instead of making statements. By using the Socratic Method, this forces them to find the answer on their own.

Personally, I don’t even bother talking politics. The only times I engage with people are when I am talking about one of two things:

  1. Fact checking, and
  2. Rhetorical strategies.

Most of the time I talk with someone about politics, especially online, they are getting their information from bad sources. I question the sources and, instead of arguing the political point, just get them to realize that their sources are bad. Or, if they are using “straw man” arguments or making broad generalizations, I point that out. Basically, I just go about my business as if I want the people around me to be making informed statements from credible sources. Maybe they’ll stop referencing those sources and, eventually, shift closer to the left.

There’s a decent documentary called The Brainwashing of My Dad. Part of it covers the dealings of Roger Ailes and the right-wing propaganda machine that started back in the '70s. I said it’s a “decent” documentary because there’s a lot about the filmmaker’s on-screen persona that annoys me. But eventually she showed how her dad went from a foaming-at-the-mouth, “Obama’s a Kenyan terrorist” conservative to a relatively moderate, if not almost progressive, person. How did he do it? His wife broke the remote control and he stopped watching FOX.

I personally believe that people will become better informed if they realize how misinformed and biased their sources are. And I also personally believe that what modern conservatives call “the liberal media”, is far more neutral and credible than they realize. It also helps to discuss how journalism works, because I don’t think most people recognize the importance of reputation and credibility when it comes to actual news organizations.

Anyway, to TL;DR my post, instead of arguing about politics, I choose to argue about information gathering and presentation. After all, if they don’t respect facts or statistics, then why argue with them? That tends to get me out of 90% of actual “political” arguments.


#17

I wish I could delete this post.


#18

Why do you wish you could delete this post?


#19

That developer did not get fired because she was “bullied”, she got fired because she was being racist and Charlie Cleveland at Unknown Worlds did not want to have a person on staff who was saying racist things online. Here is a link with a statement from Charlie about the situation: https://kotaku.com/subnautica-dev-fired-over-hateful-statements-1822746373


#20

It hasn’t flagged up that I was replying to the post above mine. I can’t be bothered with the “both sides” stuff when there’s a borderline fascist in the White House and an abject liberal capitulation to it. Also dismissing those on the left (or in general I guess) with ableist remarks about “crazy tribes” unable to see logic and reason is really tedious and boring to read.


#21

Oh, okay. Apologies then!