November 20, 2014

DAVIS | The “Divisiveness” of Progress

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By ADAM DAVIS

Anyone who reads the Sun’s online edition regularly should be familiar with the multitude of ultra-conservative and often vitriolic comments that typically accompany the paper’s more controversial articles. But those readers who limit themselves to reading the newspaper’s print version were treated to a sample of these comments on Monday, when the Sun’s “Web Comment of the Day” featured one of the tamer comments from this category, in response to Throwdown Thursday: Fear, Hope and Change.

The comment lacks the shock value of so many of the other Sun comments, which often border on unintentional self-satire. In fact, the comment’s assertion is a rather common one in conservative circles: “The problem with the vision of the Democratic Party is that it is one of division. It pits races, genders, classes, geographies and other demographic groups against each other.” It’s easy to get caught up in the seemingly thoughtful language of such an assertion, but beneath this common rhetoric are strong undercurrents of racism, sexism, classism and redbaiting.

First off, the comment’s reference to racial divisions suggests the depressingly common view of racism as a thing of the past. Worse yet, it displays the type of white victimhood mentality which views all attempts to discuss racial discrimination in present day society as a horrific form of reverse racism. The same type of naïve attitude is evident toward divisions based on gender. To the author of the comment, sexism is over, and probably has been since us men were kind enough to grant women the right to vote in 1920. And of course, who could forget division based on “classes?” Beneath this view of Democratic rhetoric as divisive along class lines, there lies both the classist view of poor and working class Americans as lazy people who just need to put in a little more effort in order to join their bosses’ bosses at the country club, and a veiled reference to Marxist ideas of class struggle which attempts to portray the corporate-backed Democrats as disciples of Lenin. To someone who holds these views, any focus on the problems of particular groups will always seem unnecessary, divisive, and threatening.

But should we avoid conversations about important issues of social and economic justice simply because they might be seen as divisive? The truth is that there are groups in America who are, in one way or another, disadvantaged. Whether it’s black Americans who are disproportionately convicted of drug offenses despite similar rates of drug use to whites, women who still face a wage gap compared to their male counterparts in the workplace or poor Americans who lack many of the opportunities for advancement in society available to wealthier Americans, policymakers sometimes have to examine and address the challenges that face individual groups. No amount of flag-waving and rhetoric about how we’re “all American” will fix systemic inequality. The sooner people like the author of this comment realize this, the sooner we can stop seeing conversations about inequality as divisive and start seeing them as leading to a more equitable society for all Americans.

Adam Davis is a freshman in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at adavis@cornellsun.com.

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