Monday, August 10, 2015

Sometimes, a Cigar Is Just a Cigar

“I was really shocked and just taken aback of the way the crowd reacted to the two young women that courageously took over the stage,” said K.L. Shannon, a board member with the Seattle NAACP chapter who marched. “It sent a clear message on how they really feel about black people.”
Black Lives Matter Marchers 'Really Shocked' At Sanders' Seattle Crowd
When I was in my twenties, and living away from home, I found myself needing to learn a different way interacting with the world than my parents had taught me. Mainly because I lived in a different world than the one that they'd grown up in, and some of the behaviors that made them well-adapted to that setting were maladaptive in my own life. One of the lessons that I learned from them was that the hostility of Whites was born of racism and resentment. Which made sense - my parents had grown up during the Civil Rights era, which I'm not old enough to remember, but just barely - my mother was pregnant with me when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered.

But when I was in my twenties, somewhat older than my parents were when I was born, I learned that that were actually several possible reasons for the hostility of any given White person.
  1. They were simply being racist. (Hey, sometimes your parents are right.)
  2. They were having a bad day, and I just happened to be a convenient target.
  3. They were being a jackass.
  4. I was being a jackass.
  5. Some combination of the above.
Number Four was the important revelation. That Black people could be jerks when dealing with each other was a given - the world is full of jerks, and some of them are, unsurprisingly, Black. But when your relationship with an entire outside community is defined by prejudice, you may not learn that jerkdom can cross ethnic divides. When I was growing up, where was, really no such thing as interracial jackassery. Doing things that made White people angry was pretty much termed as "standing up for yourself," and when they did things that made us angry, it was always "racism." A person was only a jerk or a jackass when they did something that made someone else like them upset. And even though I unlearned it as I grew older, not everyone has.

Which is why I opened this quote with the Seattle NAACP board member. Had Henry Louis Gates, Jr. been coming to Seattle and Marissa Johnson and Mara Jacqueline Willaford insisted on disrupting his speech to a predominantly Black audience for some cause that they were passionate about, it's unlikely that members of the NAACP would agree with the two that they were facing White supremacists who didn't want to talk about issues important to Black people. So why must the anger of White supporters of Bernie Sanders be evidence of Seattle's inherent racism? Yes, a couple of posts back, I pointed out some rather nasty online comments aimed at the two activists. My point there was that some Black people were going to take those comments as evidence of racism - not that they'd necessarily be correct about it.

The long and the short of it is that Bernie Sanders has a number of passionate supporters in Seattle. The man bills himself as a Social Democrat/Socialist, and this is the Left Coast, after all. And they were angry as what they perceived as the jackassery of a pair of Black Lives Matter activists who were taking their frustrations out on them, rather than the actual guilty parties. The way they did it may make them jackasses themselves, but it doesn't make them racists. That's an important lesson to learn, and one that makes your life better once you have.

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