Why I Refuse to Shut Up in the Face of Diversity
A libertarian detractor once called me a “one-woman riot” because he said I would be campaigning for Bernie Sanders alone, since Hillary Clinton was “definitely” going to win the Democratic primary. He was not the only one to incorrectly assume that I was alone in my philosophies, but I like “one-woman riot” much better than I like “Nazi” or “internalized misogynist,” which were monikers given me by rabid Hillary Clinton supporters during the primary.
For a long time, though, I feared he was correct. All the newspapers were saying that Clinton was polling well, and since they were the news, they had to be telling the truth. Except they weren’t.
I have always been a very outspoken person, and I have usually been snubbed or sanctioned for it. And for a long period of my life, that sanctioning was successful. My reasoning was the typical logical fallacy of believing that if so many other people believed the official lines from the authorities, they couldn’t be wrong. Even when I caught “authorities” actually being wrong, whether through honest mistake or deliberate intent, I swept it aside or made an excuse for it, because the news is credible, right?
Little did I know back then that I was falling into a category observed and tested by psychologist Solomon Asch, which showed that even when people know they are right, they will often still make blatantly wrong choices because people around them made the same choice. A variation of the test also proved that the unanimity of the group is what prompted that wrong choice, but that if there was even one other dissenting voice giving the right answer, the test subject was more likely to give the right answer also.
Motivations for giving the wrong answer were varied. Some people thought maybe their perceptions were wrong since everyone else was giving the same answer. Another simply didn’t want to disrupt the proceedings by dissenting. A few (in this case correctly) assumed that the other participants knew something they did not. The takeaway was that when everyone else is saying one thing and you are saying another, it’s easy to fall into the trap of questioning yourself, even when you know you are right and everyone else is wrong.
I know this only too well. I have spent a lot of my life second-guessing myself in this way, especially since I have always been a misfit. I was the little fat girl with the glasses who played Dungeons & Dragons and eschewed Sweet Valley High for Madeleine L’Engle. I had an Intellivision when all the other kids had Ataris. Usually people like me fade to the background or hang around with the other kids like themselves, but I have also always been very inclined to share my opinion, and a lot of times I am argumentative for the sake of exploring a counterpoint. Between the two, I faced a lot of backlash from peers, and as a result, for a long time I conformed so people would leave me alone, even as a couple of decades wore on and I saw with dismay some of the changes going on around me.
The economic collapse of 2007 and the intervening time brought me face to face with several situations where I conformed in the face of blatant wrongness, allowed others to tell me what was right, and even formed a deep distrust of my own perceptions. I knew what I really thought, but what I really thought was obviously wrong and could not be trusted, even though “right” was so immoral I couldn’t fathom how anyone could think it was right. I knew what I thought, and why I thought it, but was constantly being told I thought something else for other reasons, and eventually I believed it because (as I said many times) “everyone else can’t be wrong, so it must be me.” Worse yet, the same detractors also convinced me that anyone who agreed with me was just telling me what I wanted to hear in order to shut me up or because they were too afraid of my overbearing personality to be honest with me.
Finally, I sought the advice of more informed people, and learned that all along, I was right. While this was liberating to a degree, it was hard to shake because such logical arguments had been made against me. Parts of me still questioned myself, but at least I had learned to question the narrative. Also, significantly, I returned to school and am now a Phi Theta Kappa member, which has opened the kind of academic doors for me that show me that my comprehension of things is pretty spot on, even if people don’t agree with my interpretation of them.
Being name-called during Democratic primaries was also a real awakening into how often I’d questioned my own judgment at the behest of other people. I supported Bernie Sanders, which meant, to DNC true believers, that I stood against many areas of social change that I do not, in fact, stand against. I was repeatedly told that I did, but in a secret, shameful, subconscious way. Many times I was told that I was a secret racist and sexist for failing to support Clinton, that my failing to vote for her and choosing to write in Bernie Sanders enabled Trump’s eventual win, that I was a “Bernie Bro” and a Trump supporter who refused to admit to my white supremacy and internalized misogyny. While I may have allowed others to convince me that what I thought was wrong and that I should question it and myself, I know myself well enough to know what I think, what I believe, and what I stand for.