I was listening to This Week In Blackness Prime yesterday as they discussed/reacted to the despicable shooting in Charleston that happened this week. The phone lines were open and at one point a caller from Georgia spoke about living in the south where “an acceptable amount of racism” is just always in existence.
Now, I get that she meant that people IN the south just accept it. Not that racism itself is ever acceptable in her mind. The problem is, I have heard this line before and it ALWAYS makes my hair stand on end.
NO, there is NEVER an ACCEPTABLE level of racism.
There is also never an acceptable level of homophobia, trans-phobia, islamophobia, antisemitism, misogyny, or any kind of ‘phobia’ or ‘ism’ that centers around the demonizing and “othering” of humans!
When it came up on the podcast, the caller also responded when asked what does she DO when she hears the random ‘n’ word and racist jokes (which is what she considers the culturally embedded level of accepted racism) and she said she would be exhausted if she pushed back on every single one.
Yeah, well, I imagine it is even more exhausting for the person who IS in the category being attacked. For how do they know if the person telling the joke or using the derogatory term is “just” your casual everyday racist or could turn into someone who would kill them?
I immediately flashed back to around the year 2006 or 2007. I was at a party with a bunch of the families who we knew thanks to my son’s participation in youth sports. One of the men who I had known since our kids were in kindergarten and who I really respected and enjoyed being around used the “f” word. No, not fuck – you know me, I will type that one – he used the one to put down gays. I remember it like it was yesterday. In my head I know I groaned, then I checked myself for maybe 2 seconds, and then…I told him I didn’t think he should use that word any more than he would use the ‘n’ word. I swear that time stopped and it was just SO quiet as he looked at me after this very mild chastising and I knew I was risking my friendship with him by doing that….but….to his credit he said “I’m sorry. You are right, I should back away from that term.” and we went right on talking easily (and still do to this day). PHEW, but…the point is…I HAD to say something because it wasn’t acceptable at all.
My story was easy though. I don’t live in the south or in a place where there is an underlining level of “acceptable” phobias and isms. I can stand here and say that I will *always* push back against those words but I am also fairly confident I wont ever be around them that much.
Words matter. They really do. The rise in the last 20 years of combative, loud mouthed radio and TV programs disguised as “news” has eroded our ability to be empathetic allies. It’s more “acceptable” to be a hyper critical bully putting down everyone with whom he disagrees than it is to be kind, measured, pragmatic and empathetic particularly in media and politics.
This country celebrates “anyone can make it here” reputation. We love to talk about how inclusive we are. Freedom! Independence! Democracy! Be who you want to be, worship how you want to worship! Yet we say there is an “acceptable” level of racism in certain areas?
I say that I agree with the people who say it is time to “take our country back!” Only thing is, I want to take it back from THEM – the bullies and white supremacists and people who carry around deep seeded phobias of OTHER PEOPLE! I want to take the country back and actually turn it INTO the place it was meant to be. No fear of differences, all inclusive and equal opportunity for all.
Now THAT would be acceptable.