Politics in America / Semantics

“When underlying conditions are already suffused with politics, doing nothing can itself constitute a political act”

Change, of course, is inherently destabilizing. It upsets an existing state of affairs that might be unbearable to some but suits others just fine. Which is why accusations of “politicizing” might seem like so much mudslinging but often reflect deeper assumptions and arguments about what is objective, what is natural — what is the truth, in other words, free from the distortions of political interference. For those who benefit from the way things are, a raised consciousness is a threat. What else is the “all lives matter” rallying cry but an attempt to neutralize Black Lives Matter and portray it as both exclusionary and gratuitous? Such a strategy isn’t just the work of cynical operatives; no doubt there are plenty of white people who sincerely believe that affirming the value of “all lives” states something simple and neutral and matter-of-fact, while Black Lives Matter activists are needlessly politicizing the issue. But such innocence presumes that we have been living in a kind of American Eden, a place where your treatment by political and legal authorities has absolutely nothing to do with the color of your skin, while even a passing knowledge of American history — of actual government policies — suggests that innocence thrives only because of a myth.

When underlying conditions are already suffused with politics, doing nothing can itself constitute a political act. Which is perhaps why some Democrats, many of them traditionally enamored of unifying rhetoric and technocratic fixes, have started to reclaim the idea of openly “politicizing” certain issues, especially gun violence.

Jennifer Szalai, “Cheap Trick”, The New York Times Magazine (22 October 2017), 14-15.