Mental Housecleaning

Monday, October 31, 2011
I try to be honest with myself. It's not always easy, I'm not always successful, and sometimes I don't like what I find when I clean out my mind. But I do try. 

And here lately, I've had to do some mental housecleaning surrounding my perceptions of other people's motivations. For me, it's far too easy to assume that because an individual political conservative has loads of white privilege, is a person or a certain age, and has limited exposure to people of color that they oppose Barack Obama simply because he's black. It's usually far more complicated than that - after all, there are many, many reasons why someone would oppose the President's policies, none of which have anything to do with his color. I can disagree with these people's analysis without attributing nefarious motivations to them. To make the assumption that they're bigoted asshats is to engage in stereotyping - always a slippery turn of events, since even if the "general rule" is fair, the exceptions are usually legion.

So how do I apply the "general rule" to the group, without applying it to the individual? For example, I'm pretty convinced at this point that the Tea Party is a racist movement, and anti-American at its core. But that doesn't mean that a specific, individual member is a racist or anti-America. After all, I'm white, I enjoy tons of unearned privilege, I'm considered affluent by any reasonable measure, and only a small percentage of my family members and friends are people of color. By this measure, it might be reasonable to assume that I harbor bigotry in my heart. That assumption would be wrong, but I can see how someone who knows nothing about me might look at my life and see it that way. How would I feel about that judgement? Probably angry, and I'd start swinging the Shovel of Doom™ with abandon.


What makes this so tough is that there are cases where people really are motivated by bigotry, either about race or some other aspect of humanity, and their behavior should not be swept under the rug or excused for fear of giving offense by calling out their asshattery. Trying to determine which case represents a situation where people of good conscience can disagree about the political direction of our nation, and which case represents the rantings of bigoted asshats is the challenge. But I think I need to work harder at not assuming the worst because someone doesn't agree with me.

8 comments:

filelalaine said...

Humm. I read your post twice. What I am curious about is what brought this soul-searching about.

Janiece said...

Nothing I want to share publicly, filelalaine.

filelalaine said...

yikes!

Steve Buchheit said...

Yeah, the "false assumption" part of communications is a big hurdle, and one I often fail to clear.

It's a difficult question to handle. "I know people in the (movement), and they're not (bigoted), but their entire movement looks and acts bigoted. Are they?" Evil comes about because we often overlook those things right in front of us.

Let's take the TP. Their cry, "We want our country back" can mean a lot of things to their different members. However, when I look closely at the overall message, actions, and directions, I see that it's a cry of watching their worldview collapse, and now there is an "Other" in the White House. Their safety is threatened (in their minds), and they want things back to when they were comfortable.

Does that make all of them who shout, "We want our country back" racist? In some ways, yes. I'm sure those who supported the various political radical revolutions throughout history didn't want much more than food on the table and a roof over their heads. So they threw their lot in with people who had other agendas. Does that make them bad people equal to those who ran the movement? Yes, in some ways it does. It doesn't, however, mean they themselves held any views of the leaders, but they helped forward those leaders agendas.

Janiece said...

Steve, you've articulated my own conundrum fairly well. I have a hard time with members of the the Tea Party for the reasons you've explained - they themselves may not be personally bigoted, but they're enabling and promoting a bigoted agenda.

Which is Not Cool.

Janiece said...

filelalaine, it's not really "yikes." I just have a policy that I don't discuss matters that involve other people without their permission in this very public forum. And in this case, the impetus involved other people.

Carol Elaine said...

Steve and Janiece, can I "Like" or "+1" your comments? Because that's something I struggle with all the time and, like Steve, I often fail to clear that hurdle.

I hate hate hate generalizing about individuals because I do believe that a fairly large percentage of people are good at heart. But when they throw their lots in with groups like the Tea Party because they refuse to educate themselves about the real issues, it's difficult to not get completely judgmental.

And, as you have both said, enabling a bigoted agenda - even when one is not bigoted him/herself - is Not A Good Thing.

John the Scientist said...

Janiece, here's how to cross my line. When I write:

If you came as a child, you had no choice in the matter, your parents dragged you here. You spent your childhood praying the INS would not drag you out of school. You had no access to normal healthcare and were afraid to go the the ER for care even if you broke something. In the old days before 1986, you could not even get into college. If this sounds personal to me, it is. Several people very close to me "immigrated" here in 1979 when their mother dragged them to this country as middle and elementary school kids not speaking a word of English. They worked their asses off in school, but if it were not for the 1986 amnesty, they would have been stuck working in Chinese restaurants for the rest of their lives, after we spent all this money educating them in primary schools. Instead, one is a tax analyst on Wall Street, one is a computer scientist working for IBM, and one got a Ph.D. in Chemistry. How stupid would we have been as a society to waste the money we put into their schooling by deporting them or denying them accesss to higher education becuase we wanted to vent our spleen on their mother for illegal immigration? Not to mention the human tradgedy - once you've been here 10 years or more in our schools, you really don't know your native language to the level that people back home going to a native-language high school do, so you're unemployable back home, when you are perfectly employable here. On top of this, the criteria specifically exempt people serving in the military, and if someone loves this country enough, after enduring all the crap I mentioned above, to serve in our Armed Forces, they ought to be a citizen after their first enlistment is up, period. I have no love for Obama, but I'm with him on this one. Every prosecutor in the country prioritizes his caseload, this is no different. Shame on Congress, especially on the Repubs who are grandstanding this issue, not to pass the DREAM Act.

And you respond with:

Brought here by choice or not though.....illegal is still illegal.

Yeah. You're heartless and a racist not to concede any of those points - most of all the service in the Armed Forces part, since they seem to elevate that to a religion in everyhting else they do.