Over the past few days, social media has been filled with re-posts of Ellen DeGeneres calling for universal kindness in response to criticism over her evening at the Dallas Cowboys game with former President George W. Bush.
From most people I know, this video has been captioned with “Inspiring stance from Ellen,” or “This is the RIGHT take.” One person even suggested that “This Photo of Ellen & George W. Bush Will Give You Faith in America Again.” I have an alternative take: f*ck this Ellen video.
Ellen’s overall stance in her rebuttal to criticism is this: be kind to everyone — even people with different beliefs than you.
This sentiment is not something unique to Ellen, but is shared by many people, including liberals and self-prescribed social justice advocates. The statement may sound charitable, empathetic and just, but it is, instead, problematic — largely based on a misrepresentation of beliefs and kindness.
Ellen starts her argument by stating, “I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs I have. We’re all different and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.”
We are indeed all unique, and no two people share the exact same set of beliefs. Accordingly, Ellen is correct that we cannot be unkind to people who are different — no one would ever get along with anyone. But being kind and creating relationships that transcend belief systems is only valid if “beliefs” are defined as follows: opinions that do not deeply affect people’s lives.
Ellen provides an example that illustrates this type of “belief.” She says she should be kind to people already playing Christmas music, even though she thinks it’s far too early. I agree — it is a ridiculous time to break out “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but I should still be kind to someone who believes in Christmas music in October. It is, as Ellen says, okay (and even fruitful) to have these differences. That difference in “beliefs” hurts no one.
However, this is not how all beliefs work: not all debates revolve around trivial disagreements. Some beliefs directly or indirectly harm people, especially those within marginalized communities. If someone tells me, for example, that they believe trans people should be fired solely based on their gender identity — which the Trump Administration asked the Supreme Court to rule accordingly the day after the Ellen video was released — they do not deserve my kindness.
This person's differing beliefs have tangible consequences for me and folx like me — I would literally be able to be fired (or kept from even getting hired in the first place) from any job, at any time, just for being me. If everyone is simply kind to someone with this bigoted stance, and even attempts to form a friendship with them, it tells this person that their beliefs are okay — that their beliefs are nothing more than a harmless difference in opinion, like when to start playing Christmas tunes. People’s differing beliefs keep marginalized folx oppressed, and kindness only reinforces the idea that those types of beliefs are acceptable.
Ellen also mischaracterizes the difference between kindness and niceness. Niceness is politeness. Niceness is saying hello to people when you pass by them, or at least not telling them to “f*ck off.”
And yet, Ellen is not saying, “be nice — be polite — to everyone, regardless of their beliefs.” Being nice to people isn’t forming friendships. It is certainly not going to a football game and laughing with that person only to defend them on national television, stating their decision to start a war that led to 250,000 civilian deaths is just a difference of beliefs.
So no, Ellen is not talking about niceness.
She is saying that we should be kind to one another. We should look past political lines and differing beliefs, and instead form companionships. But this stance is flawed because what Ellen is doing is deeply unkind. Kindness refers to enriching people’s lives, even those whose identity (something separate from belief systems) may be different than your own. Opposing same-sex marriage is unkind because it limits queer people’s opportunities based on who they are. Microaggressions and racism are unkind because they limit people's quality of life based on their identity. And when Ellen forms relationships and pardons those people with bigoted beliefs, she provides legitimacy to hate speech and marginalizing laws, stating they are not wrong, they are just different.
Ultimately, agreeing with this video is incredibly privileged. To state that everyone’s beliefs deserve a response of kindness, you are admitting that those beliefs do not have profoundly negative consequences for you. You would likely not be kind to someone who fired you because they don’t agree with who you love or how you identify, so why would you be kind to someone who’s beliefs have that effect on trans folx and other disenfranchised populations?
To not challenge opposing beliefs and to merely accept them as different is to maintain the status quo — a status quo that has seen 18 black trans women murdered this year for being who they are.
Kindness that excuses oppression is not kindness — it is cowardly, and it privileges your discomfort in challenging white supremacy over the oppression marginalized groups face every day.
Ethan is a graduate student in the Secondary Education Master’s Program. What are your thoughts on Ellen’s recent response about kindness? Do you believe her remarks are valid in all situations? Send all your comments and thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.