"“For many people of color… [Minnesota Nice] is reminiscent of the racism we have experienced in our lives. The racism of being snubbed, the racism of being ignored…the racism of being penalized."

What you're describing is a little of what I documented as an ethnographer immersed for 3.5 years in two distinct conservative mostly white rural cultures, in Oregon and California. post 11.6.16. This is not just a mid-west phenomenon. I believe it is a rural American phenomenon. And rural America grew the conditions for the possibility of the 45th.

Passive aggressiveness is another way to say "offering inaccurate relational information intentionally." Right? Smiling while putting a knife in the back? If I pay attention to your smile and believe the information you've offered about our relation--that it's friendly--I don't see the knife coming.

Passive aggression is a cheat, and it steals my power to defend myself because it is inaccurate. It steals my power to make an authentic choice. It steals my power to object, to say "no," to dissent. It is the opposite of a democratic practice, which shares power. Passive aggression is authoritarian practice on an everyday level: it steals power relationally from one while empowering the other.

The heart of authoritarian practices is a severely imbalanced power relation. Racism is authoritarian. So is sexism, classism, heterosexism, speciesism, and ableism. Each has at its core a severely imbalanced power relation. And passive aggression contributes to the imbalance.

I experienced and documented literally hundreds of practices like passive aggression in my work, practices that relationally steal power in cultures where everyday authoritarian practices are the norm: in conservative, mostly white rural America. ("Everyday Authoritarianism Pt 1 is on my page, if you're interested in the work.)

Like democracy, authoritarianism happens in everyday practices, and a focus on relational practices like passive aggression can move us closer to a serious effort to address the cultural and relational conditions that continue to exacerbate racial divides in this country.

(Interestingly, passive aggression is a relational adaptation to an imbalanced power relation. If a person is passively aggressive, they are safer in circumstances where one person holds and wields all the power. For instance, in families where the father holds all the power, sharing none and stealing from his wife and children, passive aggression is sometimes the only way to fight back or defend without drawing attention to yourself. Family cultures are where we learn to "do" power first, by seeing how bigger people around us share it or not. Many children from authoritarian family cultures take those adaptations throughout life, reproducing the same imbalanced power relations.)

Thank you for your work, Shanna!

Written by

A San Francisco independent researcher, creative, and cultural worker. Content developer for The Relational Democracy Project. (relationaldemocracy@gmail.com)

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