Sunday, July 23, 2017

Some Of My Best Friends Are...

I was in an online discussion, and a commenter made a short point about "the sort of overt hatred espoused by some of the Right." To which the reply was "Thing is, I think that is a mischaracterization. I am on the Right. My wife is even black and Native American. I would not say the Right is based on hate. That is not accurate, in spite of how often it is repeated."

I'm going to leave aside the fact that the first poster had never said "the Right is based on hate," and instead take a look at "My wife is even black and Native American" as a rebuttal to the idea that there are overt haters among one's political allies. My father taught me that anyone who says "I'm not a racist, I have [a] Black [fill in the blank]," is, to some degree or another, a racist. And, in my experience, it's turned out to be more accurate than not. Mainly because anyone who feels the need to proactively tell me that they aren't a racist understands that something that they are going to do or say may strike me as racist - and they rarely wind up doing something that turns out to be completely innocuous. People who don't have the expectation that they're going to something I may find questionable, on the other hand, don't feel the need to preemptively lay out their bona fides.

But, more to the point, here are some Simple Reasons why the fact that you are married to someone makes no difference when it comes to whether or not people who happen to agree with you on politics and/or policy might be overt haters:

  1. Most alleged racists and other forms of bigots or other people described as hateful are, when it really comes down to it, simply being, at least in the moment, garden-variety jackasses. (I think that we woefully overuse racist, bigot, hateful et cetera.) And there are several things tend to be  true of jackasses.
  2. Once a jackass does not mean always a jackass. It's not a full-time job. It's more a hobby that some people engage in from time to time.
  3. At any given moment in time, there are a LOT of jackasses in the world. So many, in fact that if your political group is large enough that it actually makes a difference, it's GOING to have at least one active jackass in it.
  4. Jackasses are loud. If you have a group of 1,000 people, and one of them is a jackass, you can bet that everyone who knows anything about your group will have heard that braying jackass. The 999 people who are perfectly reasonable will run themselves ragged just trying to get a word in edgewise. And a corollary to this is that people don't understand political ideology from reading political science textbooks. They understand political ideology from people who self-describe as that ideology. And so that jackass who's running around waving your group's flag is going to color the perceptions of outsiders.
  5. Being a jackass doesn't rescind the right to vote. And since jackasses can vote, someone is going to compete for those votes, especially in close and/or high-stakes political contests. Just because someone is a jackass, that doesn't mean that anyone they vote for is a jackass.
  6. Being a jackass is not an automagical disqualification for public office. If jackasses aren't getting what they want out of office holders, one of them will run for office themselves. But since the jackass vote is seldom large enough to win elections unassisted, you can expect outreach to the non-jackass part of the electorate. Accordingly, just because someone is a jackass, that doesn't mean that everyone who votes for them is a jackass.
  7. Squeaky wheels get the grease. In electoral politics, making it KNOWN that you plan to vote for or against someone is just as, if not more, important than actually doing it. If the subset of people in your group who are the most consistent about letting it be known their votes are in play are jackasses, their interests will always be represented.
  8. There's honestly a difference between a jackass, and a legitimate extremist. Once someone's at the point of: "Because this person is visibly different from myself, they're completely ineligible for any sort of relationship with me as an equal, regardless of any other considerations" they've gone beyond jackass and are somewhere in "movie caricature of a Klansman or an evil plantation owner" territory.
  9. Jackasses will often tolerate people who aren't jackasses in the same way that they are jackasses. To go back to the original discussion that started this, this isn't 1957. Just because someone thinks that the repeal of miscegenation laws is a crime against Nation and God, that doesn't mean that they're going to run you out of town on a rail for marrying someone who has different color skin. Because they may still value your support in other areas.
Sometimes, a jackass is simply a person who's having a really bad day. And for a subset of people on the American Right, pretty much every day from January 2009 to January 2017 was a bad one. Likewise, the American Left has it's subset for whom January 2017 may as well read "Welcome to Hell." There will be time for equal-opportunity jackassery.

Now, I've dealt with a lot of albatrosses being hung around my neck because someone happened to have had an interaction with a jackass who happened to be Black, and wanted me to answer for those sins, because I too, happen to be Black. And it took me a long time to understand that the simple fact that some jackasses are Black didn't mean that I had to prove that I wasn't also a jackass. Granted it's different when dealing with issues of race, rather than political ideology. I don't have the luxury of being able to simply "un-Black" someone, and make an interlocutor prove a connection. The (sometimes very) superficial similarity is all that's needed. And that made the learning curve slow.

But in the end, it came down to having the expectation that people were bright enough to realize that I'm not Maurice Clemmons, Jesse Jackson or that sketchy guy they saw on the corner the other day, and that people could complain about them, without necessarily extending whatever complaint they had to me - or using that complaint as a means of criticizing me. While it's true that some people fully believe that  Michael Donald received what was coming to him, and that I should have to explain why I'm not due some of the same, it's not as widespread as people often make it out to be.

But more importantly, I've learned to let go of the fear that anything less than a vigorous defense of myself would lead to the people around me suspecting that their complaints about other people who may be associated with me (for whatever reason) in their minds did actually apply to me. Part of that was simply not always expecting that this is the way that everyone around me operated. The rest of it was the realization that there isn't anything to be done about the people who did operate that way. If someone was going to make the leap from their belief that O. J. Simpson was guilty to a belief that I could also kill someone, well, that's life. 99 times out of 100, it won't make a difference to me, and in the 100th, simply telling them that I'm not like O. J. likely won't solve it anyway.

It's human nature to lump people into groups. And just as much so to worry about the reputations of the groups that we're lumped into. Because there are a lot of jackasses in the world, and we've learned to fear their taint. But holding up our relationships with people as preemptive shields don't really do much to ward it off.

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