A unique conversation about diversity, bigotry, and our common humanity, by the New York Times bestselling author, Oprah “Chutzpah” award-winner, and founder of the Moral Courage Project
In these United States, discord has hit emergency levels. Civility isn't the reason to repair our caustic chasms. Diversity is.
Don't Label Me shows that America's founding genius is diversity of thought. Which is why social justice activists won't win by labeling those who disagree with them. At a time when minorities are fast becoming the majority, a truly new America requires a new way to tribe out.
Enter Irshad Manji and her dog, Lily. Raised to believe that dogs are evil, Manji overcame her fear of the "other" to adopt Lily. She got more than she bargained for. Defying her labels as an old, blind dog, Lily engages Manji in a taboo-busting conversation about identity, power, and politics. They're feisty. They're funny. And in working through their challenges to one another, they reveal how to open the hearts of opponents for the sake of enduring progress. Readers who crave concrete tips will be delighted.
Studded with insights from epigenetics and epistemology, layered with the lessons of Bruce Lee, Ben Franklin, and Audre Lorde, punctuated with stories about Manji's own experiences as a refugee from Africa, a Muslim immigrant to the U.S., and a professor of moral courage, Don't Label Me makes diversity great again.
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Lily in the Field: Old, Blind, and Badass
Lily, my love, would you please suspend your sniff-fest? Just for a minute. Mama has something to say.
Ever since you trundled into my life with your charcoal fur, your lamb chop legs, and your swashbuckling tail, I've become a more humane human. You've made me less inquisitional. More inquisitive. You're the reason I walk away from my laptop and lose myself in a belly rub. Your belly, I mean.
You give me permission to breathe, to interrupt the thrum of anxiety. Around you, I feel no urge to tweet, tap, post, blog, swipe, scroll, or slack. In fact, whenever I'm hunched over my phone, you notice and get bored with me. Message received.
Your gifts to me couldn't have been foretold. How did I luck out? Most people want the entertainment value of a puppy, not a sightless senior like you. Rare is the acknowledgment of puppy privilege. Abundant is the assumption that to be blind, or old, is to be a hassle.
Passersby stare at you in your stroller. Some chuckle at the spectacle of a dog in a baby carriage. A few zero in on your cloudy eyes. Then they get all sad-faced and tell me I'm a saint for adopting you. A saint! They don't know me.
More important, they don't know you. They've never watched you out on the grass, noting the direction of the wind, heading into it nose- first, accepting your power to march right through and blow your own way. You won't be bullied by your vulnerability. You'll hit walls and fences and tree trunks and table legs. Then you'll bounce back, pivot, and carry on. Resilience, thy name is Lilybean.
It's not as if you're immune to hurt. Seems to me you were hurting the first time I scooped you up into my arms. The nipples protruding from your tummy, and your untreated glaucoma, confirmed that you'd been somebody's property — repeatedly raped for a dog breeder who slapped a price tag on your uterus. You had no reason to trust. You could've hung onto past hurt. Yet here you are, giving a second chance to the promise of family.
Maybe it's wrong to compare your behavior to a human's. It might be true that unlike human animals, dogs have no long-term memory and that's why they don't bear grudges or devolve into cynicism. Scientists haven't reached any hard and fast conclusions about this, but I know what I've witnessed: Your memory's perfect when we hop into the car and you doggedly snoop for goodies because the last time we drove, I fed you half a strip of jerky. Now you think I can be convinced that the back-seat treat is our tradition. You've got moxie, Ms. Lil. And magnificent recall.
All to say, "blind" doesn't remotely define you. Neither does "old." Yes, you're both of these. You're also much more than these. Your defiance of simplistic labels has me thinking about the lessons for human beings.CHAPTER 2
Our Division Problem
Math teachers tell us that to solve a division problem, we must find the common denominator. From its birth, this nation's common denominator has been diversity. "I'm not a fan of that word," a neighbor recently snipped. "It divides people." Well, that's one slant on diversity.
The word itself comes from the Latin "to turn aside," or, as some take it, to splinter and separate. But nature would disagree with that interpretation. Every afternoon, Lil, you meander in the park. Here, diversity is the lubricant of a humming engine. Do you breathe in just one aroma?
How about two?
That's some head-tilt you've got going, Lilybean. You're catching on to my crazy talk, aren't you?
It's bananas to isolate and enumerate the smells enveloping you. None of them, on its own, captures the magic of the intermingling whole. You're gaga about the park exactly for its kaleidoscope of scents that jostle with each other and sometimes get up your nose.
See where I'm going with this? Diversity itself doesn't divide; it's what we do with diversity that splits societies apart or stitches them together. The paradox is, to do diversity honestly, we can't be labeling all of diversity's critics as bigots.
You disagree, Lil? You're entitled to your opinion but you haven't let me explain mine.
Welcome to the real world, you say? Well, this isn't exactly the real world, is it? You're a conversing canine, for God's sake.
Okay, okay, you're right, enough of my defensiveness. Getting my back up won't help you hear me. But if I'm going to work on me, then I need assurance of a fair hearing from you. Deal?
(Note to self: Never expect the mother-daughter relationship to be a picnic in the park.)
As I was about to explain, Lil, there's more than one way to look at a situation. Some people oppose diversity because they are bigots. Others, though, are skeptical of diversity because of how we, its champions, practice it. We're fixated on labeling. And labeling drains diversity of its unifying potential.
Since the founding of the U.S. republic, Americans have extolled the ideal of unity in diversity. E pluribus unum — out of many, one — became a gallant motto for the union of the original thirteen colonies. No argument, Lil, the colonists were themselves colonizers. Of native people. Of black people. Of women and of poor white men. I acknowledge that such labels didn't drop from the clear blue sky. These groups bore the brunt of keeping the United States united.
So I'll keep it real, too: E pluribus unum has always been an uphill battle. Americans fought a gruesome civil war over the obscenity of slavery, whose promoters reduced human beings to labels. A century earlier, drawing unity from diversity proved to be onerous business of a different sort. It demanded that ardent revolutionaries check their egos.
Just before voting on the Constitution, the framers listened to a letter from Benjamin Franklin. He, in turn, had somebody read it out loud. Addressing each signatory as if speaking to him in person, Franklin confessed in the letter:
I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present, but Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it: For having lived long, I have experienced many Instances of being oblig'd by better Information or fuller Consideration, to change Opinions even on important Subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.
Take a moment to digest this, Lily. A world-class rebel states publicly that he doesn't know it all. That he's missing something obvious to others. That he might be wrong. Was Franklin written off as a wimp? Nope. His fellow framers knew the value of humility in making the impossible happen. For America's revolutionaries, breaking free from a British despot would be the relatively simple part. Much harder would be replacing despotism with something democratic and doable.
The framers' solution? To enshrine and institutionalize diversity of viewpoint. Their logic? In a republic of vastly different regions, cultures, peoples, and perspectives, there's nation-building power in airing disagreements. Diversity of opinion as a common denominator — sheer genius, Lil. In Why Societies Need Dissent, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein describes this funky formula as "the framers' greatest innovation."
Americans, I'm thrilled to tell you, still aspire to that vision. In June 2018, the Harris Poll released findings about what unites and divides the country. Among the factors that unite: "being open to alternative viewpoints." But the deflating reality is, people generally mean that other people should be open to their viewpoints.
Today, living the revolutionary ideal seems a nonstarter, and for various reasons. Hands down, the most controversial reason is the changing make-up of America. It's a landmine of fraught labels, frail identities, and engulfing emotions.
Can we talk about it?
In this country, brown, black, and multiracial babies outnumber white babies. Beyond our major cities, small towns have started to mix it up. Take Storm Lake, Iowa. The editor of its community newspaper estimates that "88 percent of children in our elementary schools are children of color. We speak about 21 languages." Sarah Smarsh, a journalist from Kansas, says that in the past ten years alone, and thanks to the rise of industrial agribusiness, her farming community has become home to workers from Mexico, Central America, and the Middle East. That's a bundle of change in a flash of time.
Thank God America has a history of muddling through.
Problem is, Americans can't depend on the past to predict that the future will be tickety-boo. Sure, some prejudice has subsided as successive waves of migrants have integrated. On one specific score, though, these are unprecedented days for the nation. That's because a generation from now, white people as a whole will be a minority like everyone else. African American, Asian, Hispanic, and multiracial minorities, taken together, will be the majority.
Think about the implications, Lil. People of color won't need to fit into a white-approved mainstream. If anything, it's white folks who will have to integrate. As stalwarts of diversity, our challenge will be to include them meaningfully — and not just because it's the right thing to do from a moral standpoint. I'm speaking practically as well.
Let me introduce you to the work of Jennifer Richeson, a cutting-edge psychologist. Her experiments shed light on what takes place in many hearts and minds as folks become aware that we're all going to be minorities soon. The more Americans learn about this inevitability, Richeson says, the more attitudes swerve toward conservatism. But not only among white Americans. "When you expose Asian Americans, black Americans to similar [information] about the growth in the Hispanic population, they also show a shift to more support for conservative policy positions," Richeson reveals. Which should put a glint in the eye of Republicans from sea to shining sea.
Said starkly, Lil, "old white guys" are dying off but a fresh, diverse crop of Americans could easily perpetuate, even accelerate, the politics associated with old white guys. It's basic group psychology, Richeson emphasizes. Once you're told that your group's losing status compared to another group, you're more likely to feel defensive. Defensiveness triggers division. And division obscures the shared ground on which further progress can be built.
What an incentive to use these next twenty years mindfully — to learn from past mistakes about how, finally, to get diversity right. So far, though, diversity's enthusiasts are committing the same stale mistakes. We're attaching labels to individuals as if those labels capture the sum of who they are. Moreover, we're labeling ourselves to the point of extinguishing our own humanity.
Taking pride in our particulars at the expense of our commonalities has become a hallmark of "progressive" America. Progressive? This was the very mind-set of the colonists! For all of their gentlemanly manners, the most monied colonists sliced and stamped Americans to suit their narrow agendas. These days, that mind-set passes for enlightened diversity. I'm floored, Lil, and worried.
There's the head-tilt. Ready when you are.
Am I equally worried about the current backlash against women and minorities? You bet I am. That's why we have to end our frantic labeling. It fuels the bona fide bigots.
Allow me to elaborate. More and more of us in the diversity crowd label people as ignorant and insidious if they hold opinions that diverge from our script. We rally for diversity of appearance but we flake on diversity of viewpoint. We wield enormous power in American culture, yet we excuse our excesses by claiming to be powerless and therefore incapable of oppressing those who think differently than we do.
No doubt, the expressed enemies of diversity threaten a much worse form of oppression. If we left America to hard-core white nationalists, their women would exist to reproduce and replenish the ranks of the blue-eyed and ruddy-cheeked. The rest of us would be free to take a flying leap into our ancestors' "shit holes" of origin. Some freedom.
But here's the kicker: Hate gets turbo-charged when those of us who bang the drum for inclusion drum out reasonable folks — merely because their opinions don't match ours. Labeling our rivals further and further into enemy territory is an unforced error whose repercussions we'll come to regret. How ham-handed can we be?
No, Lil, no. It's just a phrase. There's no ham in my hand. None. You and your nose can heel.CHAPTER 3
Rivals Versus Enemies
Do I have your attention again, Lilybean?
Every rival doesn't need to be an enemy. In 2015, The Wall Street Journal and NBC News polled people who identified as Democrats and Republicans. In each party, more Americans wanted an openly gay president than an evangelical Christian one.
And no, Donald Trump hasn't changed everything. Almost a year after his election, Pew Research surveyed Republicans and Democrats on an array of diversity-related issues. Check this out: Most people from both parties endorsed affirmative action in college admissions.
What's more, over half of the Republicans polled said that homosexuality should be accepted. Republicans are also en route to accepting same-sex marriage "at similar rates to Democrats," writes The Economist.
For me, Lily, the stunner of stunners had to do with immigration: 92 percent of the Republicans consulted (and 97 percent of Democrats) said that the rising number of people from various ethnicities and nationalities makes America a better country. In 2018, Gallup confirmed that support for legal immigration had reached its highest level ever. Additional polls revealed that most people who'd frowned on immigrants a decade ago embrace them today.
This is a tectonic cultural shift, Lil. Don't let anybody tell you that we in the diversity crowd have been rendered powerless by Trump. The real question is —
Yes, sweet bean, you may interject.
Is it possible that the polls' respondents lied about their support for minorities because they're too ashamed to admit otherwise?
Possible. Researchers have shown that some people will hide their distaste for a diverse America in order to look like they're part of the popular consensus. But this suggests that the popular consensus favors diversity. So any liars in these polls would be outliers. Now I have a question for you. If some people are withholding their true convictions, is it because they're actually ashamed? Or is it because they're being shamed?
There's a quantum difference between the two. You can feel ashamed because you realize that you hold immoral beliefs. This kind of shame, generated by your conscience, is healthy. By contrast, you can be shamed into shutting up about your beliefs. In that case, you're probably not going to reconsider them. When the time's right — when you sense that you have backup from people who feel as browbeaten as you — you'll retaliate against your shamers.
Near as I can tell, much of today's polarized politics stems from the shaming that the diversity movement's been doing — not only to authentic racists, but to anyone who's got an honest disagreement with us. I take it as a warning of worse to come. Shaming's a surefire way to alienate the growing legion of Americans who are politically homeless and poised to sway elections. Chief among them: moderate Republicans.
Slow down, please.
Let me reiterate your questions to be sure I understand you. If Republicans had a scintilla of moderation, then why did most of them back a presidential candidate who ridicules differences?
A candidate who launched his campaign by needlessly labeling the people of Mexico?
Who later parodied a man with cerebral palsy?
Who egged on the Ku Klux Klan?
Who trivialized women?
Let me address, Lil, why I think so many moderates and independents voted for this spoof of a man. It's —
You forgot to add something, little bean? Fine. Finish up.
Alright, to recap: You've just told me it's evasive to say that moderate Republicans voted more against Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. Because the question then becomes: Why do large numbers of Republicans still defend Trump? Hillary is a has-been. But supposedly decent Republicans continue to let the president shame, blame, and game swaths of people to puff himself up. How decent is that?
You're a hairy act to follow, Lil. Here goes. In all the ways you've listed, decent Republicans are acting indecently. They have no excuse for averting their eyes to the indignity suffered by others under this president. Let me reiterate: There's no excuse for indifference to the human harm he causes.
There is, however, an explanation. It's called "negative polarization." That's when voters side with a candidate not out of faith in him but out of fury with the other side. Even after their camp wins, they're consumed with ensuring that the rival camp keeps losing; such is the depth of their disdain for the "enemy."
I must tell you about another smart Lily — the political scientist Lilliana Mason. She studies how negative polarization perverts the behavior of voters. According to Mason, whenever we the people form our personal identities as a reaction against the other side, "We act like we disagree more than we actually do.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Don't Label Me"
Copyright © 2019 Irshad Manji.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
CAN WE TALK?
1. Lily in the Field: Old, Blind, and Badass
2. Our Division Problem
3. Rivals Versus Enemies
4. Who Gets Respect?
5. How Labels Distort
6. A Dog-Loving Muslim Pundamentalist
7. People Aren’t Things
8. Honest Diversity
9. The Way Forward
WHITE, STRAIGHT MALE
10. Lily In The Field: “I’m Not Your Bitch”
11. A Good Neighbor
12. Is He a Homophobe?
13. Who You Calling Fragile?
14. Humiliation Nation
15. I Love You Just The Way You Are
16. The Disadvantage of Being White
17. This Is Progress?
18. Beware Of Your Brain
MUSLIM WOMAN REFUGEE
19. An Upper, a Downer And a Mother
20. The Unexpected Rebel
21. Real Liberation
22. Mistaken Identity
23. Can Words Be Violence?
24. Freedom, Finally
25: Lily in the Field: Wake-Up Call
WHAT CHANGE MEANS
26. For BLM, Do All Black Lives Matter?
27. When Purity Pollutes
28. Meet the Egobrain
29. Choosing Integrity
30. The Show Must Go On
31. America’s Seizure
A NEW IDENTITY
32. Lily In The Field: Many-Sided, Many-Sighted
33. We The Plurals
34. Friends On Opposite Sides
35. Listening Without Agreeing
36. Lily For President?
37. Social No, Sociopathic Media
38. Sassy But Classy
39. About Those Trolls…
40. Lily In The Field: Run!
WHY (AND HOW) TO NOT BE OFFENDED
41. Lily In The Field: Trust Issues
42. Reforming A White Nationalist
43. Tolerating The Intolerant?
44. Normalizing Empathy
45. Safe Spaces For All!
46. Lily In The Field: Blunt Talk
RETHINKING POWER AND PRIVILEGE
47. The Elephants In The Room
48. Welcome To America – Not
49. Power “Out There” And Power “In Here”
50. Did Women Co-Create The Alt-Right?
51. Privilege As A Blessing
52. Lily In The Field: Live and Forgive
53. Diversity Day At The Office
54. Humans Are Groupies
55. Should We Celebrate Bad Traditions Too?
56. Even In Canada
57. Ben Franklin, Founding Farter
58. Lily In The Field: Letting Go
59. The Killer Cuddle
61. Offend Yourself
62. Coward For Congress
63. Friends On Opposite Sides, Part 2
64. Moral Courage
65. When Isn’t Talk Cheap?
THE LESSONS OF LILY
66. POOP Time
67. Amazing Grace
68. CCRAP Time
69. Colonized By CCRAP?
70. How To Keep the Wheels Moving: Tips 1-7
71. Friends: Tips 8-10
72. Educating For Honest Diversity