Kenneth Osakwe: Has liberalism become a tool to hide hate and bigotry?

It was at last year’s discussion at The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) Human Rights event that I first noticed how people used the idea or the belief that they are liberal, open minded and straight as a standard to either make homophobic comments or massage their egos.

Usually, it begins like this: “Hi, my name is (insert name). I’m straight and liberal…” and then go on to make statements that are either downright inane or that reeks of pomposity and self-aggrandizement.

Truth be told, being a liberal isn’t a bad thing – in fact, to be fair, it is an admirable quality that requires one to transcend little human failings and embrace ideas that are progressive and accommodating. But, still, the idea of a liberal minded person has become a sort of inoculation – perhaps “cool kid factor” is more apt here – for people to feel among without understanding or believing in the scope of something.

Because being liberal portends to a worldview that spells sophistication, academic and brilliant, people cling to it, guardedly, jealously. Supporting certain rights that are in standing with the global left gives one an automatic entrance into the cool kid world: that enclave reserved for the right thinking.

Do you want to sound cool or feel among? or become a symbol of something cool and progressive? Then identify as a liberal. Declare it wherever you go. Pound your chest and sound the alarm, let everyone know how open minded and progressive you are.

You see, I identify with liberal ideologies and if I was to pick a more apt label for myself, I will mark “liberal.” But, still, I have a problem with the liberal movement.  (In a way, it feels funny writing about ideological systems in a country like Nigeria where the difference between left and right is nonexistent, like snowflakes). liberalism has in recent years assumed the form and shape of a puritanical movement that is reminiscent of a group of secondary school bullies who, despite their obvious shortcomings, think of their way as the best and only way, crowning themselves with the halo of saints.

Sometimes, I imagine the liberal movement as a democratic form of authoritarianism, allowing no dissent, punishment swift and sharp. We fail to see that the idea of progressiveness has become an umbrella of sorts to hide hate and bigotry. That it has become an unfair tool for spreading hate, even though it proclaims itself to a higher standard.

It is in the same way that I sometimes doubt the intention of heterosexuals who, for convenience sake or to also feel among, tout their support for LGBT rights while at the same time – albeit, low-key – make downright inane jokes and commentaries about sexual activities between persons of the same sex.

It is not that I doubt all heterosexuals and progressives who support LGBT rights and people. It is for the simple reason that it feels convenient, that by adopting the label and prefixing your comments with “I’m straight and liberal minded” you are distancing yourself from gay people while at the same time proclaiming support for them wherever they are in their little corners.

Of course, I understand the need to draw a mark, to mention your label at the beginning so you can easily wade off homophobic attacks on your person and focus attention on your belief/ideology or so you can show receipts of your progressive nature.

There is also the very, quite irritating, situation where supposedly progressive minds are only progressive because being progressive is the cool thing, the latest in-thing. It is sad, really. But then understandable in an age and time where we crucify people for making honest – perhaps, misguided – statements and comments about their thoughts on minority issues (women’s rights, race, LGBT, etc.), throw unfair negative labels on them and call them whatever feels right for the offence just for saying their truth, and deep concerns.

It becomes imperative that to fit in, to be acceptable, you don’t have to be honest about your opinion. Instead, claim the title of a progressive, proclaim it beliefs while still being the opposite of what you say you are.

Kenneth Osakwe (a pen name) is a marketing communications executive based in Lagos, Nigeria.


The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this Op-Ed by the Writer are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Rustin Times.

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