A Facebook post involving a politically relevant article. Many comments. Discourse ensues, with patronizing comments masked to appear as a form of dialogue. Each party claims they’ve been deemed irrelevant and dismissed by the other.
“You’re a liberal,” they snicker.
And, “You are a racist,” is the retort back.
These terms are used so freely tossed around, used to make grandiose claims about others. Rather than hear one another out we have reduced ourselves to inaccurate name-calling, employing words which we rarely understand the meaning of.
Recently, someone suggested my views aligned with Socialist ones. This would have been understandable if I had actually espoused matters related to Socialism. But my comments were not at all related to those views. I was commenting on the transgender community and how mocking them is inconsiderate, just as mocking anyone would be. Apparently, this qualified to be echoing Marxist theories- as one mildly liberal notion somehow implied the more radical of liberal views. I’ve studied Marx’s works and, though I don’t have a dissertation written on the matter, I’ve done enough preliminary readings that “qualify” me to affirm that my comments had nothing to do with Socialist ideology.
If I had continued to speak to this individual, I could easily see the conversation turning into a back and forth of “who can quote Marx and others verbatim.” I have no interest in showing off which political theory 101 courses I have taken. I know—not mentioning any theorists might make it appear as though I have not studied the material. It’s a common misconception, despite this being the focus of my studies. But I also know that there is more to this field of study and that those who engage in such conversations generally attempt to outdo one another rather than seeking a more developed direction in conversation.
And these Marxist theories have real life applications for me, perhaps more radical than this individual cares to recognize. Growing up in a home with two parents who had both emigrated from the Soviet Union before its collapse, I was raised with stories of shortages of basic foods and life supplies, not being able to make normal purchases, lacking accessibility to cars and phones until your name is selected from the registry. My grandparents would come to our home for Shabbat meals, pulling me to the side to ask me how school was going and to remind me how many opportunities I now have because of my parents’ move.
The Russian-American community during election season is a case-study in and of itself, one which many journalists have attempted to explain through extensive exposes. For these immigrants, political affiliation generally leans right. Their tone is reactionary to the Left and what they are unhappy with, quick to outline their grievances to any and all who are interested in listening. They voted in droves for Trump, loving his “rough rhetoric” and willingness to speak with Putin. Even those who do not support the Russian president went along, seeing their vote as “anti-Hillary” rather than “pro-Trump.” To this sector, the alternative to Republicans and Tea Party goers are apologetic, politically correct, naive politicians who are crooked in their politics and naive with foreign issues. The college students are all the same; they go along with this liberal propaganda, obediently following along. For Russians, the college students are the most disappointing; the hope is that they will graduate from their institutions which have been suppressing the truth and subjecting them to a highly crafted perspective of the world. Once the students are thrown into the real world they are expected to make their own conclusions, which will either shift right and thereby correct, or left and remain brainwashed.
Sure, there are Russian-Americans who supported, and perhaps still support, the Bernie campaign. But why are we not taking time to consider the person behind the computer screen? We are not confronting anything or anyone when we shoot off snarky comments. There is nothing accomplished by that other than further disappointment in what we assume is dialogue.
For me, the immigrant story, specifically from Ukraine, and the oppression and limitations put on Jews and other minorities, drives a further need to keep things more “open.” The thought of a government cracking down on who enters the country, based solely on religion, echoes the sentiments that led to the emergence of the types of regimes my parents fled from. It is not the naive that are against registering immigrants or citizens of certain backgrounds. It is the individual who recognizes when this echoes the past, the past of recent times. Not one of centuries ago, not even lifetimes ago.
A sudden wave of familiarity—not one that I had directly lived through, but one I had experienced vicariously through my grandparents’ stories and the history books I would pull from the shelves to better understand what my mother meant when she said she was kicked out of schools for being a “Zionist conspirator.” I did not know firsthand, but I still understood, as best as I could with my upbringing and background.
It is this strange mix of experiences and personal stories, the lives of those that came before me. It is this narrative that I have formed for myself, and others have too. So why is it that we assume others’ stories? We throw these labels around without knowing their definition, without measuring our words and understanding the weight they carry. It is not the overly sensitive and politically correct that are offended and demand censorship. It is all humans who should be given their moment to speak and be heard. If we have platforms which give voices to all, why don’t we utilize them? Pair them with some decent reading comprehension and a mild dose of respect, sans the patronizing attitude.