Tuesday Aug 17, 2021

Against Civility with Alex Zamalin


Alex Zamalin

Most of us are brought up to be polite. We are told, by parents and educators, to mind our manners, to wait our turn, to be civil.

Director of the African American Studies Program and Assistant Professor, Political Science at Mercy College Alex Zamalin pushes back against the narrative that what our society needs now is more civil discourse.

In his fascinating book, Against Civility: The Hidden Racism in Our Obsession with Civility, Zamalin argues that civility has been, and continues to be, a tool used against those advocating for justice, equity, and liberation. The opposite of civility is not violence, though we would be led to think it is.

From Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, to Dr. King and the activists of today Zamalin talks about the ways in which civility has been weaponized against the African American community.

This book had me sitting in my apartment cheering as I read about all the ways that Black people have refused to allow the narrative to become about civility rather than rights, rather than justice.

This conversation left me energized. We can stand for justice or we can concern ourselves with civility. The fight for justice cannot co-exist with the ways in which civility is understood by those seeking to maintain the current power structure.

Listen to this conversation and then think about the ways in which civility has been weaponized and how to get out from under that oppressive system. I think you're going to find yourself nodding in agreement as you listen and maybe even change the way you pursue social justice. 

Action Steps:
1)  Refrain from tone policing
2)  Educate yourself on the perspective of those who face racism on a daily basis.
3)  Be unapologetic in your anti-racism work. Find the organizations in your community doing good work that you care about and collaborate with them.

For a written transcript of this conversation click here.

Resources mentioned in this episode:


Against Civility: The Hidden Racism in Our Obsession with Civility by Alex Zamalin

Harmonica music courtesy of a friend

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