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I knew it was a bad idea to ask my hairdresser why he wouldn’t let his son wear a princess dress. But I never thought it was going to lead to a full-fledged screaming match in the salon, one that included a shocking declaration that anyone who respected members of the BGLTQ community had no morals or ethics. I never thought it would mean that this man cutting my hair — a friend — could look at me with such contempt. And I certainly hadn’t anticipated the overwhelming culpability for this ruined relationship as I stood, alone, on the noisy street corner outside, unfinished hair dripping down my back.
“I can’t do someone’s hair who has different values than I do.”
Was intolerance a value? Discrimination a tenet of his business? I think my hairdresser meant he could never have a client with differing political beliefs. All I heard was “you’re not welcome here.”
Who knew being socially conservative was a prerequisite to highlights and a trim?
I imagine in other places (I’m from Florida) the opposite is true. That is, there’s no way a far-right QAnon reader could openly express their views here on campus and hope to be met with anything but disdain. Rightly so, in my opinion.
Yet the fact remains: Different locations are biased towards different ideologies. This is a reality we may forget in the liberal bubble that is Harvard Square, but shouldn’t we be concerned about the repercussions for those in the political minority, wherever they may be?
I’ve witnessed classmates endure very real consequences after voicing an unpopular opinion in casual conversation — the least of which might be public humiliation. When this happens to people whose beliefs we deem “worthy” of condemnation at a party or in class, we don’t bat an eye.
What we fail to acknowledge is that these daily caustic interactions, beyond unpleasant, are actually harmful when conducted in the wrong manner. They sow animosity in an already contentious dialogue. And when we allow ostracization to happen — even to people with whom we vehemently disagree — we also harm ourselves because, somewhere else, we could be them.
Instead, we should be intentional about political conversations, going into them with the acknowledgement that there are a multitude of lived experiences and backgrounds informing our classmates' beliefs. Understanding where someone is coming from, though we might disagree, is the first step towards meaningful dialogue. Otherwise, our intolerance acts as simply the enemy of necessary, productive discourse as it did for me and my hairdresser.
Of course, I firmly disagreed with what my hairdresser said in the salon that day. His overt homophobia was something I found unacceptable and, frankly, repulsive. His intolerance for anyone who disagreed with him was all the more concerning. I would have loved nothing more than for him to consider our exchange, realize he was wrong, and reform his entire belief system; but I honestly think I might’ve had a better shot at convincing him unicorns were real. If I truly hoped to alter his perspective, I should have started by waiting for a moment where a longer, more thoughtful dialogue could occur.
Party affiliation today means more than it ever has. When we discuss politics on campus and with our friends, we’re discussing matters of principle that for many of our peers have a very real impact. Hoping to change someone’s stance on an issue that, for them, is an integral component of their identity is impractical — at least when conducted in the form of a passing conversation in the breakfast line at Annenberg, or a public and personal condemnation in class.
Yes, we might be eager to engage in a relevant debate with a friend. And yes, not talking about politics is a privilege only few can afford. We need to be having these conversations, and we need to be having them with urgency. But in my experience, where and how we center these discussions matters. (My choice of a chaotic salon as the stage for my grand intercession, for example, left me ousted and alone. Like, literally. I was stranded on the curb.)
So in a time when it’s so hard to separate politics from the daily, maybe that's exactly what we need. Turning every interaction into an opportunity to change the beliefs of those we disagree with only leaves us surrounded by those with whom we agree. And in our unrelenting battle to convince others, we are left further entrenched in our own beliefs — the epitome of polarization.
In the wrong settings, political conversations become unproductive, even harmful. We should engage in discussion with classmates about issues we care about, but we need to be careful about where and how we do it. If we don’t, we run the risk of our arguments falling on deaf ears.
Let’s save our opinions for situations where they will have an impact beyond isolating others. Explore, talk, and (more importantly) listen to others. But don’t feel compelled to have these conversations everywhere.
We can’t save the world by screaming at our hairdressers.
Nina I. Paneque ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.
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