Cry me a river about your bumper sticker

In a piece at Salon, writer (and ZOMG secret liberal) Lizz Schumer describes coming face-to-face with her family’s conservative worldview:

We agreed to disagree that afternoon, and the bumper sticker lives in my desk drawer to this day because I know what’s important to me. I don’t hold my political opinions like a sword, ready to skewer anyone who feels differently. …

Politics turns families inside out. It hurts me to know that those I love more than anything disagree on such fundamental issues as marriage equality, health care, immigration, some environmental issues and tax reform. It hurts even more to know that the pervasiveness of politics this time of year is likely to draw us further apart than ever. I am more than the sum of my beliefs. I have to think that they are, too.

… I will share my opinion when asked, but I won’t fight it to the death of our friendships. I value those more than any spot on a ballot.

Cry me a river. I’m sure it really does hurt Ms. Schumer that she and her family disagree about so many issues, and this is a well-written piece describing her (s0-far) “coming out” experience. But to someone who doesn’t have the choice of simply not discussing the difficult things, or agreeing to disagree over differing opinions and political stances, it reads like a boo-hooing of crocodile tears from someone who hasn’t actually had to face much.

Those are harsh words, and they’re not any harsher only because I know that I, too, am a less-than-stellar ally to people who are worse off than I am. But think about it:  Ms. Schumer has the luxury – and yes, it is a luxury – of “agreeing to disagree” about opinions because for her they are merely opinions. They’re not who she is, what she lives every day of her life.

She doesn’t face getting thrown out on the street because she’s QUILTBAG. Roughly 40% of homeless youth are QUILTBAG, and most of them are homeless because they were rejected by their families. Not their opinions, not their political stances, they, themselves, the children, were rejected by their parents, their families. Now they have nowhere to live, nowhere to go.

But putting a bumper sticker on her car is too controversial for her, too likely to create discord and maybe some uncomfortable conversations. Kudos to Ms. Schumer for signing a petition and the other work she’s done, but the way this piece ends is nothing but an insult to the people who can’t simply separate their work and family life, who don’t have the option of deciding for themselves what is and is not more valuable than “a spot on a ballot.”

I’m not saying she needs to come out as a flaming liberal, dye her hair into a rainbow and affix the bumper sticker to her forehead. I’m not even saying she should put the sticker on her car. But she shouldn’t write about her own struggles and then end on a sanctimonious note that manages to combine whiny self-defense with implicit accusations that those of us who do, in fact, face discord within our own families should be blaming ourselves for not valuing what’s most important and silencing ourselves or hiding our identities.

I don’t face this as a QUILTBAG person, but I do face it on the basis of my religion. Star Foster, among many others, has mentioned how her family relationships have been damaged by being Pagan. I myself am thinking deeply about this because depending on what steps happen next in my effort to get recognized as clergy, I may be “outed” to the conservative members of my family. Do I tell them, and get it over with, knowing that they’ll harass me, belittle me, and probably sever all communication with me? Or do I wait and hope that they don’t Google my name and that there are no slow news days this fall where reporters revert to the “Look, a Witch!” form of filler?

So, look, Ms. Schumer, I’ll listen to your “coming out” story, and I’ll sympathize over the problems of family discord and the difficult decisions about how much, when, and where to stand up for one’s values. I won’t criticize you for your decisions in those areas; I’ll even share some of the hard decisions I’ve had to make and talk about when I’ve decided to stay quiet. But don’t give me this crap about how noble your silence is, how it’s in the service of higher values.

This is the kind of conciliatory bullshit from would-be allies that ends up as just more victim-blaming for people in tough situations. You’ve just succeeded in not only staying quiet but providing added momentum to silence those whom you claim to support.

Go ahead, cry me a river about your bumper sticker. But don’t tell me you’re staying silent because it’s the right thing to do.

About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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11 Responses to Cry me a river about your bumper sticker

  1. What’s always interesting to me is how this need to accommodate is generally so one-sided. The conservative members of her family apparently don’t have to keep their views secret to preserve family accord. Why is that?

    • Literata says:

      Good question. I would bet the short answer is bullying, although it might also be described as local concentration of opinion. I’m sure there are also places where conservatives are hesitant to air their views because of a preponderance of liberals, but the threatening tone of the responses she described was perfectly in keeping with the conservative tendency to resort to bullying in the face of disagreement.

    • Makarios says:

      That strategy of mentally reversing a situation is an excellent way of changing the frame.

  2. Well, as a moderate-conservative member of the family (and closet Hippie!!!), if I see anyone trying to harass, belittle, or sever all communication with you, I’ll be one of the first in line to remind them that Jesus’ own words tell us that the most important commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors… above all things… and certainly above church doctrine. You’re “out” to this branch of the family, kids and all, and we all love you just the same.

    Hope that wasn’t too personal and I’m deeply sorry if it is. I just thought that putting it out in the open (should anyone search your name and read it), was making more of a statement then a private, behind the scenes, email. :hugs:

  3. mmy0 says:

    As I read this it reminded me of something that (if I remember correctly) Fred Clark wrote about–the “wanna-be” martyr complex. There are people who translate any slight discomfort in lives as a flaming tragedy and compare their slight discomfort with real persecution. It not only devalues the real danger that real martyrs go through it allows the “wanna-be” not to examine (or feel usefully guilty) about their real lashings of privilege.

    • Literata says:

      Yes. As “wanna-be” martyrs go, this is a fairly mild example, but it’s the sanctimonious tone that gets me. If it weren’t for that ending, I’d have read the piece and appreciated it and even thought it was rather like some of what I go through in terms of being out or not.

  4. I went off to visit my conservative parentals this summer with my Elizabeth Warren bumper sticker on my Toyota. I got more flack (from husband’s union uncle) about the Toyota than about the bumper sticker.

    I have to admit, though that I don’t usually have the spoons to debate with them unless it is on an issue husband is willing to back me up on, though, because it tends to be 6 or 8 on 1, which tends to leave me shaking for days.

    • Literata says:

      That’s kind of cool, actually. (Not the flak, but the specificity.) Oh, I understand about spoons and picking and choosing one’s battles, too. Hugs if you want them.

  5. Nick Kiddle says:

    There are people who take exception to everything about me. I’m fortunate enough to not be directly dependant on them, and fortunate again that their disapproval takes the form of gentle chuckling at my foolishness rather than aggression or ostracism. But there are certain subjects I have to not bring up because hearing that my relationship is so improper that I should consider myself lucky to be allowed to live with my love does not do much for my mental health. And I’ve suffered from the well-meaning bystanders who apparently prize unity more than my well-being, given that they hold us both equally responsible for the discord and expect us both to drop the subject. What I’d give for a relatively privileged person to just say one word in support at a time like that *sigh*

    • Literata says:

      Hugs if you want them, Nick.

      What struck me as worst about this is that it’s not just not using the bumper sticker, it’s actively providing “ammo,” if you will, to the other side. Bumper stickers are a relatively minor form of speech; in my experience, seeing one that supports one’s minority position can feel like a little friendly wave, but it doesn’t help in problematic conversations. On the other hand, the ending of this article can be used by conservative families to browbeat more outspoken liberals: “Why can’t you be like that nice girl who valued her family above all?” Or, since I doubt many conservative families are reading Salon, it will more likely contribute to internalized blaming by other liberals.

      And thank you for the reminder that bystanders can – and perhaps should – make a difference in situations like that.

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