Disclaimer: I know the title of this post alone will get some folks riled up even though the piece is barely about landlords. I am sure plenty of “decent” people are landlords, but their business is the passive collection of other people’s hard-earned income. If you’re taking most of my paycheque for a bachelor with no heat or hot water, I don’t particularly care how nice you appear cause that ain’t nice. I am also not interested in arguments about them having bills/taxes to pay and them doing repairs. You made the investment so don’t expect someone making minimum wage to cover it. You could be a repairman instead of a landlord which would be infinitely better for society. A roof over everyone’s head is possible when we get rid of landlords/property managers who jack up rents, buy vacant properties in order to make a profit, and prey off a vulnerable renter’s need for shelter. Lastly, you’re on an anarchist blog so of course I have a problem with landlording. The heck were you expecting? Anyway, onto the real post!
I titled this post “To Love A Landlord” because I was recently embroiled in an argument with one in my family. They stumbled upon my post online condemning landlords and property managers who evict people during COVID-19 and shit hit the fan real quick. They wanted me to think of the poor landlords during this crisis who being taken advantage of by people who “just want a free ride”. After a few rants about not wanting taxes to “pay for women who chose single mother as their career” (whatever the hell that means), condemning CERB and then posting a boomer cartoon about “the younger generation not knowing what struggle/pain feels like” I just stopped responding. I’ll call them eventually cause I want to talk this out, but I thought this experience would make for an important post. Why is it so hard to talk to family about revolutionary politics? Is it even possible or worth it to change minds? Your own head gets bogged down with questions and then there’s the persistent fear of losing contact, love, or respect which can paralyze just about anyone. Truth is, it’s supposed to be difficult because no one wants to hurt their family, but it’s definitely worth discussing complex issues with them. I mean who else can tug at their heartstrings like you can? It’s our job as accomplices for justice to do our best to change our loved ones. If we fail, at least we tried.
I was particularly sad about this exchange because my family (in general) means well. Most of them are liberals, but for a while I could justify it as “hey, at least they ain’t cutting holes in sheets”. I simply can’t do that anymore. The liberal mindset when mixed with nationalism is a bitter cocktail of white guilt, misdirected anger, and outright denial. Over the years I have had to listen to arguments of poor people being lazy, protestors ruining the economy, those suffering from addiction making that choice, Indigenous peoples being entitled, landlords being the real victims of the housing crisis, immigrants not adapting to “Canadian values” and police just doing their job even as they brutalize yet another citizen. I have been silent. Let’s call it hesitation for the sake of family and civility. However, my hesitation was, and still is, no excuse for inaction. Ignorant talking points are inherently harmful especially now when compassion and solidarity are needed more than ever. Silence in these moments is betrayal.
Some of you might be nodding away and considering your own family and friends who espouse similar ideas. I don’t doubt that many of you have experienced arguments with loved ones that have filled you with anger, sadness, and regret. It could be your grandfather being excused because “he’s from another time” or “too old to change” and other pitiful reasons for bigotry. It could be your good friend who feels comfortable telling racist jokes when surrounded by other white people. It could be your aunt ranting about hijabs oppressing Muslim women and how they shouldn’t be able to wear them in Canada. These events are a dime a dozen and thus often overlooked as a result of being commonplace. What have you done in these scenarios? Did you shut down and ignore it? Did you try and argue like I did only to give up out of frustration? I don’t blame you in either case. This isn’t an internet fight with some basement-dwelling alt-righter or even a face to face confrontation with a Neo-Nazi. No, this is your family or a close friend who you actually care about. Seeing them hurt will never feel like a victory. Our hesitation acts like a band-aid and it’s far better to rip it off quickly than peel it slow in order to spare their emotions. It’ll probably hurt like hell, but it’s for the greater good. So how can we reason with them and still feel all right about it?
In her book Me and White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad dedicated an entire day of her 28 Day #MeAndWhiteSupremacy challenge to looking at your relationship with family. The key to this is that we need to confront our own hurdles first. The reflective journaling prompts she provided at the end of the chapter really resonated with me because they focus on how you can change and face your fear of family tension. One of the primary issues that Saad focuses on throughout Me and White Supremacy is the idea of “perfectionism” holding us back. “What if I don’t say the right thing?” What if I don’t have ALL the facts available?” “What if they come back with this argument or that one?” and how this fear of our own ignorance or unpreparedness stops us from confronting the truly problematic ignorance of our loved ones.
I’m only going to share a few of the prompts from the chapter as they relate to this discussion. Me and White Supremacy may seem primarily focused on combating racism, but these arguments and prompts can easily apply to other societal ills (most of which tend to be influenced by white supremacy anyway). I also highly recommend reading this book and taking the #MeAndWhiteSupremacy challenge.
- To what extent do you place white comfort over anti-racism in your family?
- Have you ever excused your elders’ racism because they are “from another time”?
- Have you ever excused or ignored your family members’ racist behaviours because addressing them seems too difficult and you want to keep the peace?
- How do you allow perfectionism to get in the way of having racial conversations with your family?
Prompts like the ones above don’t have to be answered by you alone. The whole point of these difficult discussions is to challenge your loved ones and find the root cause of their unfortunate beliefs. Ask them why they don’t question things like racism or social inequity, why they allow abhorrent language to continue in their presence, or what influenced them to think in such a way. It doesn’t have to turn into a shouting match especially when you come to them with detailed questions and sincere concern. You’ll probably find that a lot of what holds us back also influences their unwillingness to confront the world around them. Now confronting truly bigoted family members/friends will be harder and I cannot speak for that experience, but challenging their ideas is vitally important regardless of the risk. In truth, not a single soul out there is too old, too set in their ways, or too lost to become a decent person. Question your loved ones and don’t shut up even when the ice begins to crack from under your feet. You wouldn’t be trying to talk if you didn’t believe in them.
It’s easy to hate. It’s simple for us to spit on and condemn the scum sucking villains who lounge high on the pillars of oppression. However, sometimes the most daunting challengers are those we hold close to our hearts. I wrote this piece because a revolutionary should be driven first and foremost by love. We have compassion for others and a fervent love for humanity, but some of us (me included) fail to show this properly in the presence of friends and family. Our conviction comes up short when weighed against the potential loss of both love and respect. This is completely normal so I don’t want any of you to beat yourself up about it. I firmly believe that our attitude needs to evolve in regards to changing the hearts and minds of those we care about. Rather than fearing what we’ll lose instead let us consider how much they will gain from understanding our reasoning. It says a lot about you when you’re willing to help your family and friends overcome harmful positions. I’ll repeat again and again that we wouldn’t give a crap if we didn’t believe they could change. You won’t see me out there having tea and cookies with the Soldiers of Odin, but damn right you’ll see me reestablishing a connection with my family. These talks might suck, they might reveal more than you wanted to know, and they might fail, but you’re doing this out of love and that’s what truly matters in the grand scheme of things. Good luck with your folks and please wish me the same. It’s about time I walked the walk instead of just scrawling it all out here.
Thanks for reading and I hope to see you all again. Solidarity, my friends.