How Do You Say “I Care And You’re Wrong”?

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You know the words you say when talking about dealing with people who disagree with you?  That you can still have a relationship with those people who post racist, bigoted, intolerant statuses, because you want to be open and facilitate and participate in constructive conversations?  You know what I’m talking about.

Well, today I found out that a man I’ve known most of my life, who is well known in a small, rural, Virginia community, posted something blatantly racist on a live broadcast of former President Obama speaking while in Africa (at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, no less).  The way I found out was that a black friend of mine posted a screenshot of it in an (understandable) outrage.  In my shock I did the only thing I could think of: I apologized to her for his words.

I looked up the individual’s Facebook page and saw that he’d posted a live apology for his statement.  He blamed it on his political stance, reiterating repeatedly that he was in no way, shape, or form racist, and that he has many friends who are people of color and of different nationalities—because we all know that means you aren’t racist, after you’ve said something very racist.

Here’s the question that this situation provoked: how should I plan to interact with this man in the future?  And even more than that, how should I plan to interact with people I care about more deeply who say or do something racist?

Closing myself off is not an option, because if I do that there is no chance for meaningful conversations and possible change.  If I let it slide and remain close, then I am choosing silence and allowing myself to become part of something I abhor.  Addressing it every.single.time runs the risk of the argument being tuned out, and thus “casting my pearls before swine.”

Typically, I try to point out when things are inappropriate—whether about race or anything else.  Usually, I’m ignored or laughed at (one time I was temporarily blocked…by a family member…and then left unfriended because the person never communicated they didn’t want me to keep commenting).  Sometimes there is a lot of feedback, and on the rare occasion, it’s actually a constructive conversation.  The BEST interactions, though, are the ones that occur over time and in person—like in the office.  Those people who get to see you juggle a million things, struggle with crappy bosses and absurd deadlines and workloads…they pause to consider what you say during that much needed coffee break.  And a year later?  You find out some of your soap-box-speeches made an impact.

So yes, in person is ALWAYS better.  And that’s what I’m really getting at—how do you choose to interact with people who not only disagree with you but who are morally wrong in their belief?  And deny it?  So far, the conversation is working with people with whom I have a relationship, but the people who are only acquaintances?  It brings out a whole different reaction.

I could always write a letter…to the editor.  (I really like writing letters when I don’t like something.  I’ve written to Miss America Organization, NBC, authors who didn’t answer the questions they created in their book, op-eds, letters to the editor…if nothing else, it feels good to get it out!)

What are your thoughts on these issues?

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Charlottesville, VA: A Symptom, Not the Root

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Two and a half months ago, my husband (A) and I were sitting in our car one block from the Historic Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA when we saw a group of people walk across the road and into Emancipation Park.  We could tell it was a protest of some kind.  Grabbing our things, we jumped out of the car and ran to see what was happening.  Little did we know the gravity of events that would occur such a short time later in the exact same spot.

I have so many words, thoughts, and feelings about what happened on Saturday, August 13, 2017.  Anger, sadness, disbelief, and incredulity are a few of them.  I have read countless articles, scrolled through Facebook far too much, and engaged in deep conversation about the events with A.

What makes my blood boil is the inconsistency of people.  Numerous first-hand accounts confirm the counter-protesters fought back in self-defense…yet so many choose to believe the contrary.  They condemn violence “on all sides”, as if what happened was equally evil.  Violence is not equal.  In the case of Charlottesville, videos and individuals’ stories line up—the police stood back.  They did not engage like they would have if a Black Lives Matter protest had turned violent.  People did not die at the hands of police like they might if the groups had been filled with black and brown people.  Yet, some still insist that the counter-protesters were the instigators.  Of course, when the nation’s own president takes 48 hours to denounce the racist groups and their violence by name…it makes a bit more sense why so many refuse to condemn them.

People continue to defend Donald Trump, claiming he is not the reason these violent and racist events are occurring with rising frequency…yet statistics show that in the past two years, since he declared his candidacy for president, that racist crimes and actions have risen (here is a report citing incidents since Trump’s election).  That leads to the many who don’t understand the root of this problem (because it’s not DT).  They claim the decisions to take down Confederate monuments is starting these riots, but that is only a symptom—a side effect—of a centuries long problem called racism and white supremacy.  People are taking a stand and saying these monuments do not belong in our town squares and in front of government buildings, places of honor and recognition.  They need to go in a museum, as a relic of the past mistakes the United States made in allowing white people to lord over black people, as masters and murderers.

I have often asked myself how I would have responded to the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany.  Then, I wondered if I would have joined the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  Now, I no longer have to wonder: I am part of the movement to the fight against racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, ethnocentrism, and much more.  It is wrong.  There is no place for it if we are going to love each other.

What keeps running through my mind is: if we love others and desire change/equality/etc., we must be willing to sacrifice our preferences, desires, and privileges.  Without sacrifice, our selfishness and pride will prevail, and hatred, violence, and death will continue.  Therefore, if we believe love must win, it means putting ourselves in the shoes of others and thinking about their experiences, their history, and their lives and asking ourselves how ________ will affect them.  It means placing someone else above ourselves…especially when we (white people) are holding the flag of privilege.