Friday, June 1, 2012

Two steps forward and one step back

I should start this with a caveat: this one isn't terribly profound, and it is a nearly spontaneous burst of anger and frustration, the result of reading stupidity elsewhere. So you could skip it, and your day might be more interesting. Or you can jump onto my train and see where it takes you. I like to think you will just think I was preaching to the choir.... Or, as a wise man once said, "I didn't mean to take up all your sweet time. I'll give it back to you one of these days."

By and large, I think the U.S. is a nicer place than it was forty-some years ago when I was a kid. I grew up in a (nearly completely) white suburb of Philadelphia, and, by the age of eight or so, I had already heard at least fifteen different racial epithets for black people, and I heard them on a regular basis at school -- a Catholic school, mind you, where, at least allegedly, we were learning the teachings of a guy who, I am pretty certain, never used any of those terms. Most of them I would bring home for translation to my parents, because it took a long while for that shit to compute for me. And by "compute," I mean " make any sense at all as a word." My parents were 1960s Hubert Humphrey liberals, not possessing a shred of antipathy to blacks, and they taught us from an early age that everyone was the same regardless of skin color. So my young mind in first grade at age five was worse than blown when I first heard the word "nigger." (And yes, we are going to be grownups here and use the damn word and not pretend that its mere mention will set our ears on fire). I simply didn't understand when I first heard it that it was used out of anger and hatred. 'Cause I was five. Five-year olds don't get hatred unless they were taught it, and I wasn't. I just thought at that moment that it was another word for black people, used by my friends at school.

And then I got home, used it casually -- because I didn't know any better -- and got the reaction from my parents that you would anticipate. Good for them.

By age eight or so, it was different. I understood the fact of racism. God, I heard that stuff all the time, right down to some (white) kids calling other (white) kids a variety of anti-black racial epithets for not being as white as they were (whatever that meant). But it still was a mindblow, just in a slightly different sense than at age six. Now I understood that hating people for what they are existed, but I still didn't "get" it.

Fast forward....

I heard an interview on NPR (I think) a number of years ago with a white-supremacist leader who had turned the gunsights of his rage away from blacks, and onto gays.

Because it was easier.

He said something like, "If I go to any street corner in a major city in America and start saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger,' people will slaughter me. America has largely moved on on race issues, and my point of view has lost. But I can still say, 'Faggot, faggot, faggot,' and only a few people will object out loud. A bunch more will secretly agree with me, and some will even step up and vocalize their agreement."

And I remember thinking that he was dead-on correct about that sad fact.

And yet, that *was* a number of years ago, and the bus seems, in many ways, to be moving forward. I see same-sex couples holding hands, even kissing, in public, in the *suburbs* now. It's wonderful. It's like they are, y'know, just like everyone else who is in love.

Because they are.

See, I just don't run in circles where people hate other people because of the answer to Bo Diddley's question**. I have friends from all over the political spectrum, but, as far as I know, none of them would comment on a picture of Freddie Mercury and say, "That faggot was probably the best singer of all time."

But a friend of a friend on FB just said exactly that.

And I'm not focused on the merit of his musical critique.

I also understand that what you joke about in private with your friends is much different from what you would say in public.

This was in public.

So I said something.

It's early still and he hasn't noticed yet. We will see where this goes....

And I guess the point of all this -- besides the obvious, "What the fuck?" -- is that sometimes we get cloistered in our little worlds and forget that there are some serious bigots out there. And they need to be called on their shit.

Notice, I said that they need to be called on their shit. I did not say that they need to have a sharp metal spike gleefully driven through their skull. Because, as much as that sort of well-directed violence might initially give me deep satisfaction on a level that Henry Rollins might envy, King and Gandhi had the better of *that* argument. Confront 'em with kindness. Just ask the simple question: "What did you say?" or its equivalent. And let them "explain."

Usually the answer is going to either preposterously and obviously demonstrate their foolishness to the world, or they will fall back on some selective interpretation of a religious text that makes it clear that when they decided to "strictly" follow scripture, they seemed to overemphasize the anti-gay stuff and missed the equally preposterous parts about no premarital sex, not eating pork and how people with crushed genitals aren't welcome in the place of worship***, to name but a few.

But ask the damn question, because this stuff never changes without the shove in the right direction from the right people.

That's all I have for today, folks. Be nice to people. Have fun.

**"Who do you love?"
***You think I am kidding? Oh, it's in there. Look for it and you will find it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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