We of the left do blacklist, I guess

My unpopular opinion of the day, I guess—I am against blacklists and boycotts. I think it’s a terrible thing to try to take away a person’s livelihood. I am very reluctant to do that for any reason. I certainly would never contact a person’s employer over anything the person did outside the job. I don’t even (usually) participate in organized boycotts. There’s a story that when they wanted to bring Jerome Robbins in to work on Funny Thing, they were terrified that Zero Mostel would walk out. But he said: we of the left do not blacklist. I don’t know if that ever happened. I suspect it did not. The other story is that he said I can work with him if I don’t have to eat dinner with him. Whatever he actually said, I have always found it an important principle: we of the left do not blacklist.

I never watched the show, and I never particularly liked Roseanne Barr, and I am not particularly upset by ABC cancelling her show, which of course is their prerogative. I don’t blame people for being upset by her vile comments, and I don’t expect people to compartmentalize the show away from the persona, particularly when the show is built around the persona. I’m not going to defend her, and I’m not going to criticize ABC. But it still makes me uncomfortable.

This came up the other day in a conversation about the attorney fellow who was spewing vile and racist crap in a restaurant, and the conversation touched on that person who flipped off Our Only President’s motorcade from a bicycle, and some other instances. And I feel strongly ambivalent, if you know what I mean—I think it’s very problematic and dangerous to have as a societal norm that people’s livelihood depends on being within some political mainstream of speech outside the workplace. And also, I feel that it’s very problematic and dangerous to not have as a societal norm that there is a tremendous social cost to making horrible verbal attacks on people.

I can imagine a situation where I found out that one of my employees was engaging in not-quite-criminal private action that was making my patrons (vendors/customers/etc) feel unsafe or angry or otherwise not willing to continue their business relationship with my workplace. I could not blame (f’r’ex) a Jewish patron for not coming to the counter on Monday to be served by a fellow who had been wearing a swastika over the weekend. But I also couldn’t really blame (f’r’ex) someone for refusing to watch a football game because he was outraged about the players protesting during the national anthem. What do you do about those customers and those employees, and does it depend on whether you share the feeling of being threatened, or the outrage, or the offense?

But also—there’s a lot of fairly dangerous rhetoric commonly used about more ordinary political differences. If I really believed that NRA members were terrorists, how would I appropriately interact with my co-workers who have NRA bumper stickers on their cars? If a customer really believes that, oh, that BLM supporters were advocating the murder of police, how is he supposed to hand me money? The views of those groups are not actually outside the mainstream, I think, but certainly many people have claimed that they are. How far outside the mainstream is Roseanne Barr, really, and how far outside the mainstream does someone need to be to be ostracized? I don’t know.

I personally could not act in or watch an Israel Horovitz play this year. I have written to an theater that chose to produce one asking them to reconsider. I think that the choice to put on one of his plays (this year, at any rate) is a signal that the organizations supports men who commit assault and abuse over the women who suffer it. I am glad they did change their mind and will not produce the play. But I wrote that letter knowing it was a terrible thing to take away a person’s livelihood, and that I was participating in it because it was a terrible thing that was less terrible than the alternative. So, I don’t feel any triumph over Rosanne being cancelled. I wish the issue hadn’t come up; I wish she weren’t inclined to say such racist things. It’s likely that ABC did the less terrible thing under the circumstances—the right thing, then, if you want to call it that—but a terrible thing nonetheless.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

1 thought on “We of the left do blacklist, I guess

  1. Michael

    I recall campaigns in my high school and college years against Domino’s and for South African divestiture, both of which were campaigns of the left. The Domino’s campaign in particular was due to what the owner was doing with the profits, not about how crappy the pizza was. Perhaps we shouldn’t blacklist, but I personally don’t recall thinking that we didn’t.


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