Ellen DeGeneres has been copping a lot of criticism after being photographed sitting next to former US President George W. Bush at an NFL game. I understand how upsetting this is given she’s all about peace, positivity and promoting LGBTQ rights and he’s the guy who started the Iraq war and supported a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage among many other protest-worthy things.
Laura & George Bush sitting with Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi is not something I expected to see at an NFL game pic.twitter.com/AbWbhXd3RC
— Paid man gets bored (@cjzero) October 6, 2019
Ellen responded to her critics during a segment on her talk-show acknowledging that “a lot of people were mad….They thought, why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?”
Ellen and wife Portia De Rossi were invited to the game by some Dallas Cowboys executives. According to the New York Times, it’s these executives who decide who sits where in the owner’s box. Ellen sat where she was told to sit. It happened to be next to you-know-who. I do wonder why the Cowboys aren’t getting the same heat as Ellen for inviting the former President to the game in the first place, but that’s another story.
I’m not exactly sure what she was expected to do at this point but the general consensus seems to be that she should’ve done something. Leave the game? Refuse to sit next to the guy? Give him the finger when the cameras panned to them? Totally ignore him for the entire 3 hours? Either way, she didn’t do any of those.
“I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have” Ellen continues in her response. “We’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay….Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna be friends with them. When I say ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
Ellen chose kindness. And though it’s not without its flaws, isn’t that better than choosing hate?
Or does this only work in the context of someone who hasn’t got the same bloody track record as George W. Bush?
Isn’t that better than the Donald Trumps of the world who are shutting down anyone who shares a different view point to them and dangerously pushing an “us” verses “them” narrative?
Isn’t it better to build bridges instead of walls?
A number of justifiably angry people out there in the Twitterverse suggested that by befriending him, Ellen was “normalising” Bush’s anti-LGBTQ stance and his actions relating to the Iraq war.
I would argue that she humanised him and there’s a big difference: Normalising suggests acceptance of someone’s beliefs or actions, which she does not – George W. Bush goes against everything Ellen stands for which is what has triggered this uproar in the first place. Humanising suggests acknowledging a person’s humanity without necessarily accepting their actions or beliefs. It can be incredibly confronting as we have seen over the past 48 hours. But it’s an important distinction. Because if we don’t humanise people, don’t we take away the opportunity for progress or change? Doesn’t this mean that we can only ever build walls, not bridges?
As Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive society, John A. Powell explains, “bridging does not deny our suffering or the suffering of others, but builds a space where we can suffer and dream together.”
Isn’t that what Ellen is doing? Building that space? Or is that space impossible to build unless Bush is held accountable for his actions first?
I leave you with a quote from director Deeyah Khan who won an Emmy for her documentary on white supremacists called ‘White Right: Meeting the Enemy’. During her acceptance speech, she made a very powerful statement about finding the human behind the hate:
“I refuse to dehumanise people who dehumanise me, because otherwise, what’s the difference between us and people like that?”
Kindness may not be the perfect answer, but isn’t it the better one?