Our problematic faves
Ajay Sivanathan and Subeta Vimalarajah think there’s no shame in having less than politically perfect friends
Much like a love of Amy Schumer, Taylor Swift or Nick Kyrgios, many of us have problematic faves hidden away. As you might turn your Spotify to “private” when you listen to their music, or claim never to have watched that frankly microaggression ridden Netflix series, some of you may also have problematic friends you hide away from the judgmental stares of call-out-culture loving student politicians.
Some of us were not born into perfectly left-wing families. Our parents weren’t the ones to introduce us to the power of direct action and they wouldn’t dream of gleefully paying our bail should we be arrested for protesting. For some of us, the first problematic faves we encountered were actually our own parents.
Traversing the divide between the debt you feel you owe your parents and their entirely different political views to you is not hugely different from reconciling changing politics at university with old friends and their differing political views. There is, however, an implicit expectation one should rid oneself of all friends with inconsistent politics to embrace a radical-or-die lifestyle.
It’s one thing when people apply this logic to themselves; it’s another when they impose the obligation on others. Many a time we have felt embarrassed or kept quiet about friends working in profit-driven sectors who wear business casual clothes to university, and to pre-emptively appease the pure leftists among us, we’ve even changed our notifications to hide message previews.
The expectation that your friendships remain politically pure reflects a growing individualism in the broad left. It’s an attitude that engenders insecurity and encourages division, backed by a steadfast belief, “If I don’t know any problematic people, they’re not my problem.”
When your long-time friend acts in a way you know they shouldn’t, it’s honestly hard to deal with. In actuality, the process of constantly calling someone in – instead of shouting them down in a public Facebook post – is a far more politically and personally difficult, but potentially rewarding act. Engaging in ongoing dialogue – sometimes over years – is a way both parties can come to terms with their perspectives.
It’s an opportunity to learn and debate with people who are staunch supporters of a school of thought now far removed from your own, but who respect you enough to listen and not troll you. Often keeping friends who are proponents of the “average” person’s thoughts is also a useful means of keeping political struggle in perspective.
Problematic faves, like all good friends, listen and engage honestly about their thoughts, providing conversations that, like friendships, are mutually rewarding. They unlock the motivations that actually underlie their beliefs, and often they’re more complex than “they’re racist”. Unlocking that complexity is the key to building a political movement that’s aimed at changing the views of the “problematic”, instead of just cutting them away.
These relationships also require talking about politics not with the language of political economy and gender studies units, but just with words that can persuade the average casual bigot. Often, people are skeptical of the methods those with ‘good politics’ use because their ideas simply aren’t conveyed in a relatable and understandable way. Instead of using a pre-existing relationship you have with the person to discuss these issues, the assumption is if they don’t get it, they’re not worth trying. They should educate themselves after all.
The result is a broad left that enforces safe spaces even amongst it’s own friendship circles. Of course, no one should be obligated to interact with someone they don’t want to, but the ease with which people hurl political criticism at others reflects a callous disregard for the various circumstances by which people find themselves in the left and the fact problematic views are socialised by conservative media and government propaganda.
Beyond a question of personal autonomy, when considered politically, the expectation one should cut ties is entirely futile. And so, we will defend our problematic faves, and we won’t succumb to the bitter glares of die-hard leftists any longer.