Just read an article about how the phrase “he’s basically a good guy” has been used to justify all sorts of appalling behavior. The writer, Karen Rinaldi, claims this is sexist because she doesn’t see a similar phrase used for women.
But many times, I’ve heard phrases like “she’s basically a good person” used similarly.
Language is very important, and framing even more so. I agree that these phrases (for either gender) have been used to excuse all sorts of horrible behavior that should never be accepted. But change happens when we meet people where they are and find ways to move them further. This is typically a slow, gradual, incremental process. And the only way it ever works is if you approach your opponent with the idea that he/she is basically good. We as activists must be especially careful to keep that understanding top-of-mind. Far too often, we demonize our opponents and drive even more wedges, when change might happen if opened sincere opportunities to be heard, to listen, and to grapple with our differences instead of building walls of name-calling and accusation. It’s a marketing activity. And we market our ideas to those who disagree by finding pieces of their ideas we can agree with and build from, or at least that we can respect.
Sometimes, we even need to validate that they feel they haven’t been given a fair shake, and then show how the way to get that fair shake is not by pushing others down who are climbing up behind them, but by building ladders to help everyone rise. This is slow, difficult work, but also immensely rewarding. I’m no expert in this area, but I’ve seen it work miracles.