People who say that a difference in politics doesn’t matter when it comes to friendship are a) lying and b) massively privileged. ‘Politics’ is not just something we talk about in hushed tones over the dinner table or laugh about when watching Mock the Week. It has an impact on everything in our lives, from the price of tinnies in Tesco to whether our landlords are allowed to charge us ridiculous costs. And y’know, whether people from minority groups are allowed to exist without the constant fear of persecution and discrimination. I’m queer, trans, fat, mentally ill, and a survivor. I don’t really have the privilege to decide if I ‘let’ politics impact upon my life and relationships: my existence is political in and of itself, so all of my relationships are too.
Glossing over political disagreements or claiming that politics isn’t worth losing a friend over implies that human rights are frivolous, trivial issues. Conservative politicians in the US criminalising abortions and cutting reproductive healthcare isn’t inconsequential. The UK Home Office sending an openly gay asylum seeking rugby player back to Kenya, despite acknowledging that it is actively dangerous to be openly LGBTQ+ there, isn’t minor. For that matter, the imperialist colonisation of countries like Kenya (where rich white people forced their homophobic and racist politics onto the native residents, thus creating situations in these countries now where minorities are persecuted due to outdated imperialist laws) isn’t minor either. Trans Women of Colour facing discrimination, violence and murder every day, simply for existing, isn’t insignificant.
Politics are inherently linked with human rights and our politics are a reflection of our personalities, opinions and core beliefs. For example, there may be some seemingly ‘very nice’ people who hold conservative views, but would never dream of criminalising abortions or removing legal protections for transgender people. However, the unavoidable truth is that by aligning yourself with those views and supporting these parties through voting and membership, you endorse ALL the views that particular branch of politics supports, regardless of whether you personally agree with all of them or not. You just can’t pick and choose which Human Rights you support.
This isn’t just about party politics. I have met people who are on the same wing of the political spectrum as me yet they don’t support the legal recognition of non-binary people or are actively fatphobic; I cannot be friends with them either, as those personal politics still show that they see people like me as lesser, and that they don’t care about our liberation. I am a firm believer in the words of Audre Lorde: ‘I am not free while any [person] is unfree, even when [their] shackles are very different from my own.’ You cannot just ignore the oppression of others because you don’t face the same active discrimination.
It is not ‘just’ politics or ‘just’ a vote. Your politics have an impact on other people’s lives and who you vote for makes a real difference between whether it will be easy for me to exist as who I am, or whether it won’t. Politics should ‘get in the way’ of friendship. Politics should matter! If you have the ability to say that you don’t want a difference in politics to affect friendships, then you need to sit down with yourself, unpack your privilege and acknowledge why I personally can’t just ‘put politics aside’.
By all means I think it’s important that we don’t exist in complete bubbles, unaware of any other political opinion, as that is dangerous for minorities too and allows for a breeding ground of hatefulness and violence in bigots. I believe that people with privilege need to do the work and educate themselves on issues they don’t experience and actively work on deconstructing the systems of power they benefit from, but I don’t think that work should have to be prompted by an oppressed person, and I don’t think that oppressed people should have to surround themselves with people who politically (and thus fundamentally) disagree with their very existence in the name of bipartisanship or open-mindedness. Our friends are our chosen family and I choose to surround myself with people who understand my life experiences and support my existence, and that’s okay, actually.
[Chris Timmins – he/him – @_plantbot]