In this divided era, I’ve noticed two general camps among my fellow Americans. These groups aren’t simply “conservatives” and “progressives”—these categories actually transcend political affiliation, counting members of both the Left and the Right in their ranks. The difference I’ve observed is related to how people are processing this era of uncertainty, turbulence, anger, and violence.
First, some people feel intensely aggrieved about marginalization, a group I’m calling the Martyrs. These folks may feel persecuted by the “mainstream media” and don’t feel adequately protected in an era of social change. They may fear the dissolution of the traditional family, the persecution of men at the hands of the #MeToo Movement, or the declining influence of white Christians.
Alternatively, Martyrs may feel outraged by pervasive racism, sexism, and homophobia, seeing everything through the lens of various oppressed groups. Demographic characteristics and identity are always at the top of mind for these folks, regardless their political affiliation.
The second group comprises those who want to move beyond divisions based on race, gender, sexuality, and culture. I’m calling them the Denialists. In this group, folks may claim to not see race, gender, or sexuality. They may contend that “Generation Wuss” has hijacked the narrative and the persecution Olympics are futile. They may be disgusted by the constant self-victimization of individuals based on immutable attributes and bemoan the chipping away of First Amendment rights by the PC enforcers.
On the other hand, people in this camp may have grown weary of the constant categorization, division, and outrage. They may want to turn down the heat of the social justice rhetoric and authoritarian tendencies on both sides of the political aisle. And ideally, in “denying” differences between individuals, they may be seeking unity and mutual respect among various groups.
It’s wild how Americans with radically different political positions may end up in the same camp.
The Martyrs see difference and persecution everywhere. Their political beliefs guide the categories they consider to be most oppressed. On the Left, these groups may include BLM activists, feminists, and queer progressives. On the Right, these groups may include MAGA enthusiasts, gun-loving crusaders, and anti-choice religious zealots.
The Denialists, by contrast, do not see difference and persecution everywhere. They may be blind to historical inequalities and bigoted, or they simply may have grown frustrated with the constant maelstrom of demographic dissection and identity politics. They may consider themselves beyond the separation between individuals in a philosophical sense. These folks range from wealthy business owners who find politics bad for business to libertarians to pagan spiritualists who see the unity of all people and things.
I find myself wavering between these two camps. I recognize that the Martyr position is exhausting, divisive, and unsustainable. I’ve also observed that the most rabid supporters of various causes often don’t even belong to the oppressed group in question. For example, why did predominantly white Portland, Oregon become ground zero for the BLM Movement? Or why are so many anti-choice legislators men who will never be forced into pregnancy?
The Denialist position, on the other hand, is ripe for abuse. By choosing to deemphasize the differences among people, folks might forget to consider personal, social, and institutional biases. There is a history of injustice against women, People of Color, those with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ folks baked into every aspect of our lives. That does not go away when we don’t talk about it.
Can these deep-rooted problems be best addressed by Martyrs screaming about them or by Denialists ignoring them? The answer, for me at least, lies in the middle of these present extremes.