Hierarchy of Opinions

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Hierarchy of Opinions

Lulit Abdissa

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This past week, senators, representatives and mayors alike have been announcing their candidacy for the 2020 presidential election. As this revered American process plays out, discussions and debates have and will continue to emerge at kitchen tables, barbeques and classrooms across the nation.

These conversations are essential to a thriving democracy, where citizens can ostensibly hear different points of view and form their own opinions. However, this often isn’t the case. A hierarchy of opinion tends to play a role in these conversations, which obstructs an individual’s free thought — the perceived superior’s ability to consider other stances, and the perceived inferior’s ability to change his or her own.

This is how it usually plays out: The class will begin by discussing the diverse stances of the major candidates. Then, the conversation will narrow down to students’ individual opinions. Maybe a guy in the class questions the morality of late-stage abortions, or a wealthy student questions the effectiveness of the welfare state. And perhaps those listening may start to reconsider their stance on these topics. But some will decide that the students who led the conversations did not have the right to speak on those issues because they were male, or rich. Their opinion, therefore, is rendered invalid.

Part of the reason for this phenomenon is identity politics, or the tendency of individuals to prescribe certain political ideologies to others based on factors such as race, religion and social background. It’s the idea that causes people to tell themselves that there’s no way a transgender female could support gun rights or a Sudanese hijabi can believe that abortion should be illegal.

Intersectionality, or the ideas of privilege, or lack thereof, among certain groups, is a large part of this. With intersectionality and identity politics, political debate is obstructed by concern over where people fall on a scale of oppression. The value of your opinion depends on how many marginalized groups you belong to.

This theory promotes the biggest paradox: that the validity of your opinion is based on how you identify or appear as opposed to how you think. The content of one’s character is no longer relevant. Rather, a group’s opinions are often exalted, placed on a pedestal and taken more seriously based on their ties to a certain issue rather than the merits of their argument itself.

Just because a given person isn’t directly affected by an issue doesn’t mean his or her ideas should be dismissed as bigoted. People shouldn’t be exempt from conversations because of parts of their identity they cannot control. Any individual can hold vast knowledge on an issue and develop an informed opinion.

On many issues, attacking the perceived reason behind someone’s stance is used as a cop-out for people who frankly don’t know what they’re talking about. Not every white person that questions the fairness of affirmative action is racist. In the same vein, a white male in Mississippi who supports Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be judged by his community for contradicting the perceived beliefs of his Christian identity group.

“When you come after motives, that’s just cruel because if you’re going to attack someone for their perceived motive, then the discussion is already halted,” says senior Juliet Petrisor, a member of Pali’s conservative club.

Only when all of us — regardless of our identity, orientation or race — agree that we want the best for America can we have true, equal political discourse. “It’s frustrating when people say, ‘Oh, you’re saying that ‘cause you don’t care,’ no, I’m saying that because I do care,” explained a Pali student who wishes to remain anonymous.

I fully understand that certain groups are persecuted in this country and their experience cannot be understood by the likes of everyday, middle-class Americans. However, only through intellectual dialogue that considers both sides of an issue without straying towards identity politics can progress be made.

Michelle Gao of The Harvard Crimson said it best: “In the case of race, non-white people decided that their non-whiteness enabled them to speak with authority on topics of race. White people could only participate when they admitted that they were less worthy of speaking.” As an African-American female, you have my full permission to speak your mind.

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