Advanced Essay - Why I Left Progressivism

Why I Left Progressivism (Proud to be an Ex-Progressive)

I used to be a progressive, but I am proud to say that I have left—er, no pun intended. What is progressivism? When I use this term I am talking about the idea of a “progressive stack,” which is the notion that some people are oppressed, some people are the oppressors, and in order to solve this imbalance, the oppressors must “stand down” in the face of the oppressed. I am talking about the belief that in order to move forward, “imbalances” between oppressor and oppressed peoples must be resolved by the oppressors—that those who are “privileged” must correct the “inequalities.” Now, initially I found myself drawn to progressivism through the misguided idea that I was oppressed because of my sexuality; I identify as bisexual. Because of this, by the time I was in 9th grade, I was more-or-less a full-on progressive. But as the school year moved forward, I began to notice fallacies in progressive thinking, and I identified areas of my own thought that I began to believe were wrong.

So what inspired me to change? There were several motivational factors that caused me to leave behind progressivism. They were not necessarily specific events that I can remember off of the top of my head. Nothing emphatically turned me away. Instead there was a series of discussions, questions, and thoughts that slowly wielded influence..

That said, I do recall one specific idea that especially nagged away at me and probably played a big part in pushing me little by little away from progressivism. It was the idea of privilege. At first, I didn’t see anything too crazy about it. I remember reading, for example, those little comic strips that progressives made, many of them originating on Tumblr, that claimed the existence of pernicious “white privilege” and “straight privilege,” etc. But then as I looked at what writings like those were really saying, I realized just how overblown the idea of white and straight privilege is, to the point that it obscures the way many white and straight people live. There are many who struggle economically. Sure, for example, you could look at Philadelphia neighborhoods and compare Fairmount to Strawberry Mansion and argue that this is an example of some sort of “white urban housing privilege” or bring up “all these privileged white people living in the suburbs,” but at some point along the line you would have to acknowledge all the white people who grow up and live in battered trailer parks and rundown sections of small towns, or the fact that Asians and Asian-Americans (especially and specifically those living in urban areas) have just as much privilege economically and socially as whites. Seriously, compare the crime rates of any predominantly Asian neighborhood (with the obvious exception of Native American Reservations) or white neighborhood, and you will see what I mean.

I also remember one specific discussion that challenged my opinion on progressivism. It was a Friday in October in Ms. Jonas’ African-American history class, and we were talking about, well, privilege. I cannot say that I remember how the discussion was going because, to be honest, I was sitting there anticipating the wrap-up, imagining Ms. Jonas uttering a word or phrase in Spanish so that we could be dismissed. (No matter how interesting the talk, it could never be captivating enough to overwhelm that “last period on a Friday” feeling.) As I sat there, the question of privilege was brought up in the context of race. I remember hearing some students make a point about how “all white people shouldn’t be blamed”, a point that, by the way, I believed was correct and still do agree with. In response, one girl (who will remain anonymous for her own privacy’s sake) raised her hand and said, “Nobody is blaming all white people; however they still do benefit from institutional privilege.” While this was not an insane argument or response at all, by any stretch, it did get me thinking about some things. What was “institutional privilege” exactly? How did the institutions decide? Did this mean white privilege was strongly entrenched in society and wielding power—like an institution? How come did this make sense when I saw so many fragile white people? Were they benefitting from white privilege? Many more questions came to my head, and the habit of questioning continued.

Another experience that got me to rethink progressivism was coming across the idea of “internalized biases.” Now when I say “internalized biases,” I am talking about the idea that people simply have some sort of ingrained notion of who or what is “better” or “worse” and that it can be hard to detect in yourself and hard to change.  Anyway, I remember a day during my 9th-grade year while I was lounging about at home, probably in late October or early November, screwing around on YouTube and catching a video entitled something like “Internalized Biases.” (There was probably more to the title, but that is all I can remember.) Halfway through, I thought to myself “Wait. What are they saying? People can be born with biases because of their ethnicity or religion or something like that? Hmm, how can people just be born with biases? Why are they just assuming that some groups of people just naturally carry biases and if so, that those biases are done deals? It’s not like biased beliefs have a genetic basis. Aren’t the people in this video just making a bit of a biased assumption themselves?” I mean, I did understand and do understand the idea of learned implicit biases. However, what the people in the video were saying was just too extreme--that you are born biased because of your gender, ethnicity, etc. I continued to think, and looking at my apparent “oppressor”--heterosexuals, I realized that this did not seem right. Assuming that a group of people all think the same thing--and a negative, damning thing at that--because of their race, religion, sexuality, or whatever, is bigotry, no matter who does it, majority or minority.

In conclusion, I am no longer a progressive, and proud to say so, too. I have realized the fallacies in the progressive belief system, such as the practice of blocking people into categories based on race and gender, for example, are too easy, often represent a kind of bias themselves, and erase the individuality and humanity of others. I feel like I have been enlightened. I now have more of a live-and-let-live view and want to keep an open mind about the beliefs of individual human beings of all backgrounds. I also believe there is room in our culture for people of all backgrounds to work against any disadvantages they face. I am now a believer in personal responsibility. Finally, unlike progressives, I am a bit of a traditionalist in some ways. I support the preservation of traditional values, like the traditional family, involvement in religion of some type, and the preservation of unborn life—and, as for progressivism, I will never be returning.