“Maybe in future political chats can happen somewhere that isn’t in a group channel”

In October 2018, on the day Theresa May pulled the meaningful vote in parliament, I was upset. As one might do, I expressed my upset in a group Discord among friends. This is a friendly group that understands diversity and privilege, supports one another, and are genuinely wonderful people. Mid-discussion, someone posted a cat picture to try to get us to “lighten up”, I took offence and said it was a bit “sorry you’re losing your home, here’s a cat picture”. This was not the right thing for me to say to someone who was trying to help. I didn’t want to offend that person, but I was further upset what I saw as trivialising the issue. Then the line at the top of the post was said and a new channel on the Discord, #politics, was born. The channel description, “put your brexit here”.

Another example of this came up elsewhere this month and inspired me to do a post about it.

Someone was asking that people put their pronouns in their profiles to help trans people on the site. Absolutely good and reasonable request, asked politely and not forcefully. Most people responded very positively and updated their profiles, not because they needed to for their own identities but because they wanted to be allies and they wanted to help. I learned this as well, by the way, if you put your pronouns on your online profiles even if you’re CIS it normalises it. It means that when trans people do it because they kind of have to, it’s not weird. A few people were uncomfortable, but it’s an uncomfortable thing to do because it’s weird. The goal is to make it less weird. Still, nobody was insistent.

But then, further down the thread comes this:

“Do we REALLY need to politicize EVERYTHING?”

That markedly changed the tone of the thread and similar dissenting voices wormed their way out of the woodwork. It never got completely ugly but it wasn’t pleasant and it wasn’t as supportive. It became more combative.

So in both examples, what happened here?

Put simply, if you can go into a discussion and say something is “politics” then what you’re saying is:

  • I am privileged enough to not be affected by this issue.
  • Thinking about how other people are affected by this issue makes me uncomfortable.
  • I do not wish to be uncomfortable so please stop talking.

Or maybe even:

  • This discussion is not important to me, therefore it is not important. It is not why I am in this community therefore it should not be in this community.

It doesn’t affect you (or, at least, you think it doesn’t). Cool. Good for you. But these are real issues. My previous post on this blog is all about my emotions and my fears around Brexit and the stability of my entire life. This discussion on the forum was about peoples’ selves, their identities, their entire lives and making them just a little easier with a small gesture.

And politics impacts everything. Every homeless person is homeless because the political system has failed them. Everyone who can’t find work can’t find it because the political system has failed them. Your parent died because they didn’t get necessary health care? Politics. Elderly relative can’t leave the home because the bus service was cancelled? Politics. Can’t buy a house? Politics. Hell, your wages are lower than they should be and stuff costs more than it used to? It’s all politics.

When you say something is “politics” you’re dismissing it. You’re delegitimising someone’s emotions. You’re saying it’s not a problem or it’s a matter of opinion and you’re saying very loudly that you don’t care. Even if you don’t care, you don’t say that to someone. Political situations cause genuine grief for people. Serious, proper, “someone important to me has died”-style grief. How do you respond when you know someone who’s grieving?

You have no reason to listen to random dudes on the Internet like me but if you’re willing, I beg you to please do one of two simple things if you see a discussion and you think it’s “politics”.

  1. Walk away. If it doesn’t concern you then you don’t need to be involved.
  2. Take an empathetic approach. Console the person, try to understand their issues and how you can help. Be willing to listen and even have your opinions change.

I practised the latter and I put my pronouns on my profile. It’s something I’d never before considered and it’s something that didn’t affect me, and it took me a couple of days to come around but I was willing to listen and engage to help people. I haven’t updated social media yet but I will.

Remember when you say something is “politics” you are coming from an incredible position of privilege. You are lucky. Support people less fortunate, don’t be dismissive of their concerns, and the Internet will be a happier place for everybody.

Oh and since this is my second post, apparently I blog now. Here are the rules:

  1. No, I will not enable comments. Talk to me on Twitter or Reddit or something.
  2. I’ll post what I want when I want. I want to be nice and considerate though so I am happy to receive feedback calling me out if I’m unreasonable.
  3. I don’t have share icons. If you think this is interesting, share the URL from your browser or copy-paste it and add your thoughts. No need to credit me or whatever.
  4. Pronouns: He/Him