Why I might not say anything (racism)

Anyone who knows me well knows I’d be more likely than most to boldly, brazenly, even “rudely” object if I witnessed injustice. I don’t worry much about how I’m perceived, relatively speaking, when it comes to social justice. I act.

That said, reflecting on this powerful video, I’ve considered a few reasons why I haven’t spoken up in the past and why I might not in the future.

If you haven’t seen it, check out the video. The woman describes her experience being implicitly accused of trying to pass a bad check simply because she is Black. Her friend (sister-in-law? I forget), a woman who looks white, intercedes and appropriately shames the clerk into better behavior. There’s more to the story, and it’s worth watching.

As I said, on reflection, I’m not sure I will usually say something when I witness racism (or any other -ism). Here’s why:

  1. The woman who stepped up and did the right thing was familiar (family, even) with the woman being mistreated. She knew her so the context was all the more absurd and wrong. This relates to #2.
  2. While I consider fighting racism my business and our fight, the pride people take in “fighting their own battles” is quite strong. I’d be concerned that I’d seem condescending or patronizing if I said something to the clerk. I’d worry the other person might think I didn’t think they could handle things on their own.
  3. If the situation were as “Black and white” as the experience shared in the video, I can tell you without a doubt that I would say something. In fact, that’s a big part of who I am. I risk rudeness when I see injustice. I don’t stay quiet. But, the truth is, the racism I witness (and I witness it a lot) boils down to a gut feeling. The nervous laughter and fumbling of a clerk who doesn’t know how to just be a person with another person and makes everyone involved uncomfortable. A receptionist who is mildly cold to a fellow patient. Or a dirty look that just screams bigotry but no words are exchanged.

That’s it. The racism I witness is almost exclusively of the “plausibly deniable” variety. It’s subtle, insidious, and evil. Standing up and doing the right thing is more complicated than the video above implies. I am not, in any way, condoning staying silent. In fact, if it weren’t for my concern that I might make the object of the racism uncomfortable by stepping in, I might very well get direct with a clerk for the shitty eye glares they give. Can you imagine it, thought? If it were my friend who was getting that cold awkward ugliness, and I knew they’d understand I was using my privilege for good, you can be sure I’d call the bigot out on their bullshit. But, a stranger? a subtle interaction? It’s not so simple.

I’ll be thinking about how to fight those plausibly deniable offenses for a long time. I’ll also be thinking with empathy about the people who don’t have the luxury of just thinking about the offenses, but have to live them every day of their lives.

caring requires strength (why Romney will win)

Romney will win and the progressives (liberals, Democrats, however you want to label us) are helping to make that happen.

Every time Romney makes one of his gaffes, the progressive and even the moderate communities fall all over themselves with shock, disgust, and a lot of gleeful laughter. Each time we do that we put another nail in our coffin. The radical right knows their base of voters—and their base votes—believes hard work really pays off. In their view, if Romney is rolling in dough and helping the rich, he’s doing it because he’s successful. He must have done what they (the poor, working poor, and fundamentalist evangelical Christians) believe they can do if they try hard enough. He is a successful man, he is at the top of the food chain, so he is a leader (strict father morality) deserving of respect.

When we respond to him and mock him or say he’s awful, we are doing what the well-oiled communications machine of the radical right say that the “elitist liberals” do. We think we are better than everyone. We think we know what’s best for people. We condescend to everyone around us. We pat poor people on the head and give them a cookie and a hug. We don’t know how to be strong (like the successful guys like Romney or George W. Bush). Our wimpy ideas will turn our nation into sinful/amoral hedonists without any sense of responsibility.

Whether everything about Romney’s idiotic statements has been orchestrated, or if he is simply the best choice of puppet for the radical right (all politicians are puppets in this regard, the public face of policy formation and communications), or if they just got lucky that he keeps upsetting the progressives, it’s working. The progressives are all giddy because they think we’ll win. Surely even the least informed voters will realize Romney is an asshole who doesn’t care about them? The progressives are all passionate to show how wrong Romney is. The progressives are all swept away with responding to Romney. That’s how the radical right will win.

We need to stop paying attention to the radical right. We need to embrace our own values and share them with each other:

Hard work should pay off—A man should be able to work one full-time job and bring home enough money to pay for food, shelter, healthcare, and reasonable living expenses for his family. When hard times hit a family, the work they’ve done and the taxes they’ve paid should guarantee their freedom from poverty. Hard work should pay off.

Caring requires strength; caring is strength—Firefighters, police officers, first responders, and soldiers are all in the business of caring. They protect us. When a single mother protects her children by enduring the humiliation of asking for assistance from the government, she is being strong for her family. Protecting is caring and caring requires strength.

Government’s job is protecting our freedom—We should be free to drink clean water, eat disease-free food, and have access to electricity and drivable roads. Our health should be in our own control; the government should protect our medical freedom (access to high quality and truly affordable healthcare). Government’s job is protecting our freedom.

We are strong enough to care about each other. We are strong enough to be proud of our patriotic values (caring and freedom). We love our country because we value freedom: freedom from fear, from illness, and from poverty. We recognize we are a part of an interconnected global community. Finding peaceful solutions to international problems—trying to keep our soldiers safe—protects our freedom. Caring requires strength.