The Courage of Your Convictions

Monday, August 17, 2009
Recently a friend of mine was exposed to an ugly display of public racism on the military base where he works. His blog details the way he handled the incident, and ways in which he thinks he could have done better.

Well.

I have to say that I think Jim's visceral reaction to the racist asshat in question was absolutely appropriate. If someone had called the president a "fucking nigger" in my presence, it's entirely possible that my foul language would have been the least of the asshat's troubles. My fist in his throat would probably tie with my foot in his 'nads for the number 1 position.

But I really found the discussion surrounding the incident to be quite fascinating. Most of the commenters felt that Jim had done the right thing, and admired him for it, although some allowed that his language could have been a bit less foul given the presence of children in the area. Of course, Jim just considered his actions "the right thing to do," and the congratulations embarrass him, I think.

But really, the tantalizing aspect to this discussion is what "regular folks" do when exposed to this type of public (or really, private) behavior. Do you stand by your convictions and confront the individual, or do you remain silent, but make a mental note about the obvious asshattery of the speaker?* When you state your opinion, do you do so forcefully (i.e., a fist to the throat), or do you try to reason with the person and change their minds?

For myself, I have to admit I have a blind spot in this area. I'm not really capable of civilized discourse when the White Supremacists or the Klan come out. I know this about myself, and I try hard to stay out of circumstances which would tempt me into punching folks over their poor choice of language. If I don't then I end up calling my extended family members nasty names and threatening to leave co-workers on the side of the road between here and Boulder. (Both true stories. There's a reason I only have contact with half of my extended family.)

So once I know you're a racist pig, then it's a safe bet that not only do I not want to be your friend, I don't want your presence to contaminate my air, because I'm apparently constitutionally unable to let these things go.

Is there a better way to handle such things? Maybe. Even probably. But having a zero tolerance policy on this issue is a fault I find I can live with.


*If someone calls another human being a "fucking nigger" and you agree with them, please stop reading my blog and go contaminate your own corner of the Internet. Unless, of course, you're interested in my fist coming into contact with your throat and my foot being lodged in your 'nads. Then, by all means, stick around for the natural consequences of your stupid assholery.

11 comments:

The Mechanicky Gal said...

Whew. Had to go over to I Can Haz Cheezeburger to look at pics of cute kittehs after reading the original post.
Not sure what I would have done, because how can you really combat such asshattery? The man has been a lifelong racist, and nothing anyone can say will change that.
So that being said, excellent use of foul language in public. I, too, am a bar word sayer ( I know! Quel Surprise!), so hats off to you, Warrant.
I am formulating a response should I encounter this, as I know that I will. And unfortunately, the most likely place will be from a friend. But the stance must be taken.

Stacey said...

I, like you, cannot suffer racist idiots. Spent a lot of time in the deep south - still having trouble washing the smell off - and suspect that my response would have been similar; including conjugated swear words. Sometimes it's not the person who said it who needs to hear it's wrong to say it, as MG said, he was probably a life-long racist and nothing you can say will probably change that, but the people around need to know that is NOT ok and maybe you show someone else it IS ok to stand up for your beliefs. I raise my glass to you.

Carol Elaine said...

Good question. I don't know that I've ever been in that situation, since I've generally been raised in areas that weren't stuck in 1920's Alabama. I would hope that I would tell the guy off, even if it's in my quiet, "You, sir, are a fucking idiot who shouldn't be allowed out of the house without an assistant, a helmet and a muzzle," way. Since I've told off many other people about various bit of public stupidity (including a mother who, in a very busy airport, would walk ten feet in front of her tired cranky toddler because the toddler was being, well, a toddler. I asked her if she wanted me to go ahead and kidnap her daughter, since she obviously wasn't paying attention to the girl. She got defensive and asked me what she was supposed to do. Bad question, because my answer was, "Be a good mother!" And then I walked off [but not with the child]). So these days I obviously don't have trouble speaking out.

The closest I've come was when I lived on NAF El Centro and went to school in nearby Seeley. I was young (10 years old) and shy, but when I was new to the school another girl decided she would befriend me. At first I was happy about that, since I was shy and all, but one day at recess she decided that she would go off about "the wetbacks." (No doubt gotten from her parents.) I didn't know what to do, so I just tuned her out, but I didn't move. Another budding friend walked by, so I called out to her, "Hi Juana!" Juana was, of course, of Mexican ancestry. Then I looked back at the gnat next to me and gave her a little smile (meant to convey, "You were saying, idiot?") as I stood up. She looked at me with a disgusted look on her face and flounced off as I moved to hang out with Juana, who was infinitely nicer and funnier.

FYI, if you're living twenty miles from the U.S./Mexico border, ranting about Mexicans and Mexican-Americans is probably one of the dumbest things you can do.

Janiece Murphy said...

I'm sorry, Carol Elaine - were you under some impression that racists are in any way intelligent?

mom in northern said...

Girls...racism is not limited to skin. Just fill in the blank where the word "skin" is in the above sentence.

Wendy said...

OH, goodie, I come back from vacation to find y'all on one of my favorite hot buttons!!

First, for those in the studio audience that don't know me, I'm a short, chubby, middle-age white chick, with a liberal upbringing. Live in the South in Hot'Lanta. Racism in any form makes me want to puke on the offender, regardless of their race.

Few weeks ago I was coming home on the bus, like I do every day. The driver got into an loud & animated discussion with a passenger about the volume of his headset, so loud I couldn't hear my tunes over their shouting match. I told them they were both being inconsiderate & rude as the arguement was making more noise than the headset ever had and they both needed to shut up. Never raised my voice.

Silence for a couple minutes.

Then rude dude starts making loud comments, don't know about what, I wasn't paying attention. So after a few he gets up, says he's being ignored and goes to the front of the bus (I'm about a third of the way back, he'd been behind me).

He's black. Starts in on me about I don't know him well enough to tell him to shut up and I only did so because he was black. Huh?

SNAP!

Me: No, sir, I did it because you were being rude to everyone after the driver politely asked you to turn your music down. MARTA has rules about headset volume. Until you went to the front, I had no idea of your race. Would have said the same thing if you were white or green. Rude is rude. Didn't you mother teach you any manners? She must be REAL proud of you right now.

Rude Dude: You racist bitch, don't you talk about my mother, you don't know me.

At this point we're a couple stops before my complex, and I signal to get off a stop early so Stupido Ignoramous doesn't know where I really live. He keeps going on!!

Rude Dude (he's yelling now): I suppose like all the other whitey's you gonna lie and tell me you voted for Obama. We didn't need your votes.

Me (as I get off the bus): Yes, as a matter of fact I did vote for the President, as did both my parents, and many more of my family and friends. And while you're looking up manners, you might want to look up election numbers. Had the so-called white vote not voted for Barack Obama, we'd have a very different person for president!!

I get off the bus, leaving him with his mouth open, still frothing. What I discovered as I turned around to leave was I was the ONLY white person on the bus.

When I got to the house I reported the bus driver for allowing the situation to get out of hand, resulting in Rude Dude attempting to intimidate a passenger. I recognized Rude Dude, know he'd been put off a bus at least twice before for being an asshole to the driver.

Believe me, had Rude Dude touched me like he was threatening to, he would have had a fight on his hands. Followed by handcuffs & multiple charges!

But me, racist? About as far from it as you can get. Goes to show as far as we've come we still got miles to go before we sleep on the whole racism issue.

WendyB_09

Venus Vaughn said...

In thinking about how I've handled this in the past and I tend to give strangers a pass. I figure they won't listen to my anyway, seeing as I'm a stranger, and you never know how bad the temper of a racist is. Call me cowardly, but I really don't want to be beaten or killed for calling out someone who's so filled with hate.

I'm black myself, and racism has crawled into the closet in recent years, so I don't experience much overt hostility. But I do get that 'feeling' once in a while, and I simply trust my instincts and stay the hell out of those people's way.

People I know though? They get told. Of course, the people I know know better than to use language that is racist against black people around me, but somehow they think I'll accept them talking about others in a derogatory manner. Which I do not.

Those who have my ear will hear my judgment loud and clear when they say something bad about the Jews, the Mexicans, the immigrants, the Asians and the people from the wrong side of the tracks. Prejudice affects us all, and if I don't stand up for others, I can't expect them to stand up for me.

Janiece Murphy said...

Wendy, I find I'm unsurprised at your choices in that situation. It's UCFish, in fact.

Venus, thank you for your thoughts. I completely understand your choice not to call people out when you're not in a controlled environment (such as a military base). People simply do not know how to act (obviously), and you never know what they'll do.

You and Wendy's comments got me to thinking, though...always a frightening turn of events. If Mr. Racist Asshat is called out publicly for his foul language, is it more effective coming from someone who shares his ethnicity, or less? And if, as previously commented, calling him out publicly has no bearing on his state of mind, is the act more effective as a tool to influence bystanders coming from someone who shares his ethnicity, or less?

I tend to believe it's more effective coming from someone of the same ethnicity, if only because it eliminates the possibility self-interest in the mind of the racist. While I personally believe that fighting against racism is in everyone's self-interest, racists don't really look at the world from a logical point of view.

Chris said...

I've known quite a few racists in my life but gave up wasting my breath trying to argue with them about it. The simple fact is, they're entitled to their opinion (regardless of how bigoted and ignorant it might be).

Now, when I encounter racism, I just walk away. I'd rather not waste my energy on such losers.

John the Scientist said...

"But I do get that 'feeling' once in a while, and I simply trust my instincts and stay the hell out of those people's way."

Yeah, in some ways that's more insidious. My wife played in a church softball game this weekend, and there was one guy giving her the cold shoulder - didn't shake her hand after the game, etc.

Hard to tell if he was racist, sexist, or both. Nothing too overt, so what are you going to do? He's a fireman, so I'm just glad he's not posted at the station closest to my house.

Carol Elaine said...

No, Janiece, I don't expect racists to be intelligent. However, I do expect them to notice when they're outnumbered so that they don't run the risk of getting their asses righteously kicked, however deserved it might be.

On second thought, go ahead, racists. Be completely and utterly oblivious to your surroundings. I'd love to see y'all win the Darwin Award.