Ashley Judd, There Are No Apolitical Spaces

On Saturday, March 11, Ashley Judd attended a basketball game in Nashville, Tenn., to cheer on her favorite team, the Kentucky Wildcats.

She turned to Facebook later that evening to write about her unpleasant encounter there, which she felt was “uncomfortable and scary.”According to Judd, her experience was positive until “an older man with white hair” approached her and asked permission to take her picture. After Judd consented, he took the photo close to her face in an “aggressive” manner. The man told her, “‘I’m from Big Stone Gap,’” a town where Judd recently filmed a movie of the same name and in the vicinity of UVa-Wise. Judd replied, “‘I love Big Stone Gap! What a beautiful town, I loved making the movie there,’” commented on its culinary delights, and finished with, “‘I like Big Stone Gap.’” The man said “with open hostility as he was backing away, ‘We like Trump.’” Judd interpretes his behavior as “part of his plan to treat me with rudeness, aggression, and disrespect,” suggesting he decided beforehand to “say something menacing” to her, an unwarranted response since she had been “friendly and talking.”

However, the purpose of Judd’s post was not merely to describe an incident that was unpleasant to her. Instead, Judd uses this platform to call for “apolitical spaces” with the hashtag, #NoPoliticsHere. She describes such places that, like her beloved basketball games, function as “time and space in which we come together for a common purpose and with a common love,” unifiers “for something that is beyond who voted for whom and the platforms, beliefs, and agendas of respective candidates.” She invited others to volunteer their apolitical spaces as well: “Where are some of your #NoPoliticsHere spaces, and how do you defend and protect them graciously?”

While a few platforms published supportive statements after her post, Fox News and various conservative-leaning blogs narrated this as a sign that Judd and other like-minded celebrities are hypocrites for creating national awards shows that echo their primarily liberal political thinking but cannot handle one red comment at a basketball game. Judd’s Facebook page and Twitter filled with comments from both those condemning her and those agreeing that some places should not be political, such as crafting groups or nature.

I have to agree with her critics on the major point: There are no apolitical spaces, Ashley Judd. What you are calling for is silence, a gag rule, not the actual absence of political interference. Withholding from direct conversations about political figures and parties in certain public social situations is not the same as creating apolitical spheres. Politics inform every aspect of our lives; our lives are filtered through our political perspectives and influenced by the political beliefs of others, both belonging to those around us and to the people in the White House we will never meet. It is inherently impossible be politically neutral as human beings, a species which seeks to distribute power and make meaning out of everything we experience, including our bodies and the bodies of others.

For example, Judd could posit that a church should be an apolitical space. This makes sense at first by her definition, because it can be seen as a place where one should not go up to others and inform them who they voted for in a divisive manner but instead worship their deity in unity. However, churches have historically been at the forefront of many political movements, such as more recently the Christian right’s calling for governmental action in issues such as abortion and education. Denying their politics is erasing their function and culpability in American history.

Judd’s calling for such unrealistic places when it suits her shows her privileges as a celebrity and white woman. She was able to believe she inhabited such spaces before this incident, while those with less privileges, such as people of color, nonbinary people and those of a lower socioeconomic class, never have the freedom to escape the politics of having a body that comes loaded with stereotypes in America. As feminists such as Carol Hanisch and Audre Lorde state, “The personal is political.” A Native American woman/gay black man/transgender white woman does not have the same relationship with the United States government as a straight white man does, nor do they have the privilege to act as though the actions of the government do not personally affect their lives. Deciding which bathroom to use at a basketball game can be a political act when one’s identity and very existence is politicized.

I believe Judd was bothered by what constitutes to a political microaggression, and I’d probably be shaken if it had happened to me. However, the fact that this had apparently never happened before demonstrates what a privileged life she has led and leads me to question her role as a feminist and activist. Had it never occurred to her that she wasn’t in an apolitical space? Had it never occurred to her that others are harassed all the time because the body they occupy is used as fodder in political debates? I hope Judd learns from this unsettling event and becomes a more understanding, intersectional humanitarian.

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