In late-October 1994, I had a wonderful steak dinner with my friend and former high school classmate Laurell in DC. It was during my first ABD (all-but-dissertation) visit to the area to conduct some official initial research on my multiculturalism-in-Black-Washington, DC-doctoral thesis. It was also a couple of weeks before the midterm elections, the cycle that would sweep in Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House and the rest of his cronies as part of the Contract With (really, on) America, the gift that has kept on giving for the past twenty-three years.
As part of our three-and-a-half hour dinner and dessert, we talked about the Clintons, their failed attempt at universal healthcare, the Contract With America, and the ongoing politics of racial resentment. Laurell said, not for the first or last time, that she was “apolitical,” that she didn’t “adhere” to “either party’s platform.” This was because she was “fiscally conservative” and “socially liberal.”
Even in ’94, I could’ve picked apart Laurell’s hair-splitting with a hot hair comb. But here’s the part that got me then and really irks me now. Being apolitical is a political stance and perspective. Being apolitical is like being agnostic. You may not believe in someone or something exactly the way most people in the crowd do. You may have some serious doubts. But you are still a human being. And since you are human, and have beliefs, you also have a political point of view. Otherwise, your apolitical stance is the equivalent of selling bullshit to others and lying to yourself.
A few weeks ago, I watched BBC World News and saw a young White actress on the telly promoting her new summer film, declaring it “apolitical” as it delved into serious issues around feminism and potentially other -isms. Here’s a news flash, folks. Every movie, piece of art, song, poem, every article, book, or TV show, contains a hidden agenda, a specific set of beliefs, an ideology. By definition, every piece of entertainment or art has a political message, no matter how gentle or subtle. Even if a movie like, say, Rough Night is just about women “laughing at themselves” and “having a good time,” the idea that White women have the right to both feminism and femininity is embedded in these otherwise rather banal phrases. And that’s a political statement, whether people are willing to see it or not.
But the realm of politics goes well beyond the world of entertainment and leisure. Politics is everywhere, in everything, and with everyone, all the time. Calling yourself “apolitical” doesn’t change this truth. If you eat steak and potatoes, you obviously aren’t a vegan, and that reflects your personal politics around food. When you buy clothes, wear perfume or cologne, take a vacation overseas, call a young person in your neighborhood an “all-American boy” or “all-American girl,” you are unwittingly expressing your politics. Even in declaring yourself a Christian, atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, or Jew, this isn’t just an admission of your love for God, Yahweh, Allah, or a lack of belief in a higher power at all. It is a worldview with political implications, one that colors how you see the world, humanity, and governance. We are all political animals, no matter how little some of us pay attention to the machinations of the Democrats and Republicans.
This is also why the common refrain among racist sports junkies about not combining sports and politics is also total bullshit. Of course the political implications of sport are intertwined with the actual sport in question! How else can you explain the blackballing of former 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his Black Lives Matter kneel-downs during the National Anthem at NFL games in 2016? It’s certainly not based on Kaep’s performance or merely about a kneel-down. The politics of American racism, of faux-hyper-patriotism, of money and fandom, were and remain in play here. That some continue to doubt this is yet another example of the penchant of millions to crave willful ignorance of anything that would make them think beyond their own perceived superiority and simplistic views of an always political world.
So no, you can’t away from politics in this world. One would have to take a time machine back to before the Agricultural Revolution to find humans in a world without politics. But even then, there would be domestic politics, gender politics, tribal politics, and food/water politics. Not to mention, religion and the politics thereof. But, keep believing that you’re apolitical, and see how that works out as your worldview comes crashing down.