Civility and the High Road

Maybe it’s the way I’m feeling today, but I’m tired. I’m tired of fighting for my life, my health, and my right to exist as a full and wholly actualized human being with the expectation that I be “civil” or “lady like” to those who oppress me. Those who name me less than.

I long ago gave up many of the trappings of what polite society expects of women. I speak my mind, I defend my point of view, I admit when I don’t know something, I admit when I am wrong, and I am absolutely open to changing my mind. I also openly defend myself against physical and verbal attacks, something that is unseemly for a woman, even in 2020.

What tires me though, is the continual expectation that based on my skin color, my gender, my sex, or any other number of factors that I am somehow expected to be civil or “take the high road” when being assaulted, oppressed, or actively harmed. Michelle Obama is a wonderful woman, but I disagree vehemently with the phrase, “When they go low, we go high.”

I also acknowledge that as a cis het white woman I have a lot of privilege. However, there are still systems of oppression in place in this country that harm all of us. (Except probably Trump and his ilk, but I digress.) Being told to my face by men that I am less than a whole person by virtue of my sex was not something I felt the need to respond civilly to. Being told that my health and safety are less important that others by virtue of my class, well, likewise.

With all respect to the High Road, the oxygen has gotten pretty thin up there. Continually taking the High Road means not meeting our oppressors where they are. You cannot confront someone who would or is harming you if you cannot see them. You cannot disable systems of oppression if you’re not actively engaged with them and dismantling them. To paraphrase, civility helps the oppressor, never the victim.

We, as social justice activists, organizers, liberals, as humans need to stop bringing knives to gun fights. We need to not be afraid to get a little dirty. If we’re not identifying the systems, working from within them, and speaking a language that our oppressors understand, how will we effect change?

Am I advocating for violence? No. Am I advocating for public shame, enormous protests, a general strike, work stoppages, and other things from this list? Absolutely.


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