The Problem with Exile as a Strategy for Justice

During the Senate hearings regarding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, I woke up one morning and read comments from in USA Today article in which the author argued vehemently that Brett Kavanaugh should never be allowed on a girl’s basketball court again.  I didn’t read the full story, but I think I pretty much got the idea in the first few lines.  “Kavanaugh is evil and dangerous to girls and should be exiled.”


I felt so discouraged.  I felt so heavy.  I felt so sad.  Ever since then I’ve been trying to figure out why.  And how to put my feelings and thoughts into words.  I haven’t gotten there entirely, and I’m a bit afraid to try.  Because I am aware that this is this is very tricky territory we’re in together here.


I’m likely to offend liberal readers by even suggesting that Kavanaugh shouldn’t be forever exiled from girl’s basketball courts.


I’m likely to offend conservatives because I’m not a fan of Kavanaugh.


But my desire to say something comes from a desire for healing.  For myself.  For others.  For our communities. And as a progressive liberal and a woman who is horrified by the way Dr. Ford has been treated, the author of this article is in some way one of “my people.”  And I’m concerned about the direction my people are heading in these days.


I don’t believe that the path being recommended by the author of the article is the way that we will find healing for our country, or even for those who have been sexually assaulted. 


I do believe that I, personally, need to start attempting to have more conversations about these emotionally charged issues. I’ve been encouraged lately by some other voices calling for conversation, compassion and respectful dialogue (Omkari Williams, Martha Beck, Krista Tippet being among them) and I want to join my voice with theirs.  So, like a toddler stumbling around towards the goal of actually walking with ease.  In this little piece going out to my little community.  I’m going to try.


As I mentioned, I am not a fan of Brett Kavanaugh.  His rightness/wrongness isn’t at all part of the point I am trying to make here.  My concern is not for him personally or about him personally, so much as it is about us as a community.  About our ways forward. 


Next time I write on this topic it will probably be about how we need to learn how to hear each other: for the sake of our own joy AND for the sake of justice.  How we need to be able to disagree with people — strongly disagree – while maintaining respect and fostering connection.  And a lot of “my people” aren’t doing that.  And it’s very much on my heart.  


Or about the need to hold open the possibility of redemption.  Mercy.  Forgiveness.


But for today, I just want to put forth the possibility that perhaps naming particular individuals as evil and then exiling them doesn’t solve anything.  


There are a number of problems with this approach, from my view, but one of them is that it allows us we think that we are off the hook as long as we have called an individual bad and exiled them in some way.  Whether that is off the girls basketball court, off their TV show, out of school, out of their job, or into prison. 


Here’s the problem with this approach:  Calling a person evil and exiling them just puts them out of our line of vision, supporting the fiction that we have solved the problem with this action.  It makes us think we are done.  Off the hook.


But until we are “on the hook” together, we’re not going to move forward towards healing and justice.


  • Firing Rosanne for her racist comments, doesn’t actually address her racism or acknowledge the community of people that has and does support it – many of whom are white, working class folks who have felt ignored, silenced, judged, and left behind by the very same liberals who judge them so harshly. 

  • Keeping Kavanaugh off a basketball court, or even off of the Supreme Court, wouldn’t have solved the real problem, which is so much bigger than him.  What should have been “on trial” during the hearings is the problem of gender oppression and the “boys will be boys” ideas and actions that support a culture in which sexual violence is tolerated. 

  • Unsubscribing a reader from a magazine because they complained about an ad showing an interracial couple, isn’t likely to increase that persons tolerance.

Sometimes exile or some other form of “punishment” is necessary.  If Kavanaugh were proven to be a pedophile – which as far as I can tell hasn’t been argued anywhere – of course he wouldn’t be allowed to coach a children’s basketball team. 


But that wouldn’t solve the problem of sexual violence, or women’s voices being silenced any more that removing Rosanne from her show has addressed the class divides in our nation, or the racism she espoused.


It’s easier to call a person bad and send them into exile in some way, where we don’t have to look at them anymore.  We don’t have to see their humanness.  We don’t have to see how they are like us. 


And we don’t have to take action to bring change.


I don’t know about you, but I know I’ve got to stop taking the easy way out.

Here’s to thriving in action.