to the conservative reader
by Jesse Webb | firstname.lastname@example.org
Hovering over a flier I had posted on a white board in the new Honors College building were two words etched in blue Expo marker that left me dumbfounded.
The flier read:
“Join us for Populi Conversations as we discuss prejudice and fear of the ‘other.’”
The two words:
First came a brief wave of anger--hey, that’s my flier! Quickly eclipsing that anger came frustration--what does that even mean! Populi has never been a political magazine, much less a partisan one. I wondered how this simple, innocent flier had evoked such passion in a student that they felt obligated to label it as part of some manipulative, Leftist agenda. I lamented the cynicism of this vague graffiti. But I also genuinely worried that in our efforts to create an open, civil forum for cultural conversation, we had instead developed an echo chamber for those ideas most likely to be accepted in a public space. This frustration has yet to abate.
Earlier in the Spring we’d hosted a different, but by no means dissimilar, conversation—this one about H.B. 1523. I asked one of my friends to come along to voice his support of the religious freedom act; as a southern conservative and a loyal Republican, he could have contributed a voice that might have explained why and how the controversial bill got passed into law. His response: “No way man, they’ll crucify me.”
Despite my immediate objections, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was right. After all, of the fifteen or so students who showed up for the conversation, not one spoke out in support of the law. How would they have reacted to a contrarian argument?
The conversation we hosted on H.B. 1523 was engaging and comprehensive; we talked about each facet of the law and discussed why they may have been included and what effect they may have on Mississippi in the coming years. The conversation was civil; everybody voiced their mind. Unfortunately though, it was also one sided; no one vocalized support for the proposed legal protection of religious freedoms.
My fear that my friend was right—that a conservative opinion would be unwelcome in one of Populi’s conversations—was certainly stoked by the blue words on the Honors College white board. For whatever reason, our magazine is perceived by a student as liberal. While that bothers me, it’s a battle I know can’t be fought. Our mission at Populi is to publish a diverse multitude of voices, and if people view our magazine as a liberal forum because of that, then so be it. That’s their choice.
The issue that most disheartens me concerns the particular content of the flier. The conversation that Populi hosted was supposed to be about the prejudices we naturally accrue throughout our lives; it was supposed to be about awareness of others and the ways that “our” actions might affect “theirs;” it was supposed to be about coming together through mutual understanding. So the idea that simply discussing prejudice amounts to liberal propaganda in the eyes of an anonymous student is deeply disturbing to me.
I know the words were no grand statement. The deed was probably done with a tongue placed firmly in cheek. Nevertheless, the incident points to a large problem in our nation’s political culture, and aptly, the very one we were trying to address: fear of the other. The graffiti suggested that an honest discussion about prejudice is no place for a conservative. But this line of thinking betrays our democracy; it plagues honest and intelligent discourse with guardedness and spite.
For the politician, reluctance to reach across the aisle can at least be explained by the demands of reelection—demands that effect not only them, but their families and their constituents as well. But as civilians, it is imperative that we not shy from disagreement. Rather, we must embrace contention. We must speak eloquently and intelligently in support of our beliefs while conceding that our own experiences will never be congruent with the populous’.
Populi Magazine, as our name implies, is written by and for the people of Oxford. If you believe our content is, in fact, left-leaning, I encourage you to change that. Contribute the contrary. Let our small magazine embrace your inexhaustible voice. Lend our readers your shoes so that we may all practice empathy together.
September 12, 2016
Jesse Webb is a senior from Atlanta, Georgia and serves as Editor in Chief for Populi Magazine. He is pursuing a Marketing degree with an English minor and loves reading poetry and listening to bluegrass and folk when he's not writing and recording music of his own.