Sunday, July 8, 2012

An atheist gathering in the South, and thoughts on confronting racists

Last night we went to dinner at my colleague's new (to him) 20 acre farm that's about 20 minutes out of town (that's how close I live to bumblefuck!).  Growing up less than 15 miles from the George Washington Bridge to NYC (and then moving from there to Philly), it was the kind of place I had only ever seen in pictures until I started driving out to the midwest to visit B's parents 5 years ago. The homestead is an expansion of a building that was originally built in the 1790s, so in the middle of his house is a big log cabin that has doors leading to various extensions that were built around it over the centuries. He has a family tree of the family that lived there from the 1790s-1912.  The glass in the windows are all wavy because they were hand made.

He has a few goats, lots of chickens, some turkeys, and a bunch of rabbits, aand a veggie garden that is now more of a small farm than a garden. Also 3 kitties, 1 full grown dog and a lab/shepard mix puppy named Piper that is just the most adorable puppy I ever got to hang out with for a few hours, and at 9 weeks she is already better trained than Barkley.  It was 100 degrees outside as it has been for a few weeks down here, but they had plenty of sweet tea and PLENTY of wine- I had 4 or 5 glasses by the time the night was over. 

His live in girlfriend (with whom he bought the house) is awesome and I consider her an honorary OTDer; she grew up in a charismatic christian hippie cult on a farm somewhere in the mountains of Virginia - the kind of place where she referred to her "Father" as the church leader vs. her "biodad" who was just another cult member.  After the cult and family broke up for various horrifying reasons (involving sexual abuse of course), she went through a religious transformation, and eventually became an atheist who now sports an awesome "FSM" sticker on her car.

So we always have a lot to talk about regarding becoming an atheist, the various stages you go through on the way, etc.  Like last night we discovered that we had both gone through a pagan phase after first leaving our original religion- mine was when I was a teenager and hers was when she was in her mid 30s, but both happened right when we first went "OTD" and still believed in god but had lost faith in our religions.   We both did candle lighting of various colors and trying to say magic words to change our luck and stuff like that for a few years.  But now neither of us do that anymore.  We talked about how for years after we didn't logically believe in god most of the time, we still prayed in our heads every once in a while when things went wrong, but how neither of us do that anymore either.

I lent her Deborah Feldman's book "Unorthodox" a couple of months ago, so she gave it back last night and we got to talking about that for a while (my colleague was like "I'm just glad to have that horrifying book out of my house, I kept hearing all these horrible stories second hand from my gf"). And how no, my parents don't do everything in the book, but they do a LOT of the stuff in there, including hilchos niddah. And how I don't know if my mother uses bedikah clothes/sends them to her Rabbi, and I don't want to ask cause if she does it would be too horrible to know about (Do most right wing modern orthodox women do this? I suspect they do).

And as usual when you live in the south and have a gathering of 6 out of maybe 100 atheists in town, we got to talking about living as an atheist in the south surrounded by religious people.  And dating.  And how my colleague and his girlfriend went out with basically every atheist/agnostic of their age range/who uses internet dating in the region before they met each other. And her last BF lived 5 hours away. I am SO glad I didn't move here while I was single, I probably would have ended up joining the conservative or reform temple or something out of desperation (or even worse, dated religious christians!). Actually if I was single I probably would have taken a 2 year postdoc I was offered instead of moving here.

We also got to talking about this thing at my school last year, when the sociology club sponsored a guest speaker to talk about the death row (her daughter had been kidnapped and murdered and she argued for the guy to be taken off death row so that he would tell her where the body is) and she kept ranting on about "jesus christ" this and her "faith in christ" that, and it made me super uncomfortable because we're a PUBLIC school, and this was a school sponsored event, so wtf. But that I didn't know what to do so I didn't really say anything, but it felt super wrong. And later my other colleague said things like "Welcome to the south, that's just what everyone is like down here" when I talked to her about it.    Which got my colleague's girlfriend talking about how she told off this person for saying "I'll pray for you" in this really nasty way.  "I'll pray for you" basically means "Fuck you" in southern jesus speak. Just like "well bless his heart" means "he's an incompetent moron."  It took me like a year to catch on to that one. Since they can't curse you out (since that's not very christian/southern/polite like) they've come out with a new way down here to curse you out without actually using cuss words.

Which got us talking about confronting people in general, and she told me this even more awesome story about how when my colleague was at the farmer's market, some farmer guy made a racist comment about an interracial couple there, and my colleague was like "you know, I've been buying from you every week for years, but because you just said that I'm never going to buy food from you again." And THEN he started calling out to other people passing by  "This guy is a racist, I'm not buying food from him anymore cause he's a big racist, he doesn't like interracial couples!  Don't buy from him unless you like racists!" or something like that for a few minutes.  Awesome!

I'm relatively white looking- although I have black hair/eyes and olive skin and sometimes I've been mistaken for Latina by Latino people who have started talking to me in Spanish.  My grandfather's nickname in the army was "Chico" because he looked Latino- he's actually Romanian/Jewish.  But I'm white enough that white people see me and see another white person.

Like many jewish people, I don't necessarily fully identify as white, especially since white people killed my great grandparents and enslaved my grandparents for not being white enough. But I know that to other white people, I look white, and I know I get all the benefits of white privilege, and especially lately white starting-to-look-a-bit-older and dressed in middle class clothing lady privilege.  I feel like I have a cloak of invisibility when it comes to getting pulled over, getting treated roughly by the cops, ever getting searched by the cops. Because I'm a white lady, and no white ladies do crimes (apparently)! And rough handling a white lady the way cops rough handle a white man or a black or hispanic lady, let alone a black or latino man, is just pretty unlikely to happen. I also of course have a leg up in the middle class job market, although not necessarily for "male" typed jobs, in which black/latina women and men of all colors who are seen as tougher or more agressive might have an easier time finding a job.

The only way to make my cloak of invisibility disappear is to look more like a hippie, because hippies are treated worse than regular white people, as I found out when I had dreadlocks and was super hippieish for a year in grad school (2006ish). It was funny, all the black people in my neighborhood started talking to me that year, all the cops and security guards started watching me, and all the white men stopped talking to me. Which I kinda liked, cause they also stopped lecturing me about smoking cigarettes.  Oh yeah, try being a young white woman smoking a cigarette outdoors, and count how many condescending lectures you get from older white men. Although that's probably more of a problem in the North than the South (I wouldn't know because I quit smoking).

Getting back to my point, white people say things around other white people that they might not say around other types of people. So I've had white people say racist things to me or around me assuming I would agree with it, and I had no idea what to do. I've actually had this happen to me much more in the north than in the south (probably because I lived there longer and my family is chock full o' racists), but it also has happened to me down here a couple of times.

If I've known the person well enough or didn't care about what they thought, then I have argued with them- like when my real estate agent here went on a whole rant about muslim people coming to town I was like "You know, the more I travel around the more I find out that people are just people are just people, no matter what the leaders of those people are saying.  Most people are just trying to live their lives the best way they can."  I knew I was purchasing a rather large service from him, so he needed my business, and I therefore felt comfortable saying that, although it's not quite as confrontational as I wish it would be. I've also been much more confrontational with people in my family, although not nearly as much as I wish I was. But when it comes to family members I always respond to racist comments to some degree though (ranging from expressing my dissent in a polite way to full blown screaming fights), and have since I've been a teenager.

But I've also been in situations where I was with another friend at their friend's house, and then that friend of a friend said something racist, but I was like...at their house. So what do you do? I said nothing, and I hate myself a little bit for it. Later all 3 of us who were there besides this racist guy talked about how uncomfortable it made us- but in a room of 3 non racists and 1 racist, the racist view triumphed because nobody had the ovaries to confront him.

I want to be more like my colleague. I feel the same way about racists that I imagine they feel about their chosen race of hate-  I fucking hate them, and every time I've come across someone who had a racist view, I've lost 100% of my respect for them. B had a guy in his social group (not close friend) in Philly who said something racist in front of me once, and every time after that that I saw him I avoided him, and did something else like go online to avoid joining in conversation with him. And he will forever be referred to as "Racist Joe" by me.

And yet I never once said anything to him about it.   I'm afraid of confrontation like that. But it needs to be done, and I need to be better prepared for future situations.

When I lived in NYC, I had my ass grabbed on the subway several times. And when you're a young lady without a wedding ring (and even once you have), guys hit on you on the street everywhere. The first few times my ass was grabbed I was in total shock and by the time I realized what was happening, it was over and I couldn't figure out who had done it (The subway can be super crowded during rush hour).  The third time, I grabbed that hand and started yelling at the guy and asking him what the fuck did he think he was doing, and he quickly got off at the next stop.  The first few times someone tried to hit on me on the street I just said nothing and walked faster and basically ran away from them.  Now if someone does that I'll yell back at them and tell them to fuck off, or ask if hitting on random women on the street ever really works with anyone...really?

I need to figure out some kind of equivalent response for when people say racist things, so I can be the one yelling at people in the farmer's market not to buy food from a racist, and so that years and years later I don't have to feel guilty about every racist remark I've heard that I've never confronted- because I'll have confronted them! That's the kind of person I want to be more like.

36 comments:

  1. I tell offensive people I find them offensive and turn away. I sort of like "I'll pray for you," as a response to a religious bigot. From the mouth of a known athiest. Wouldn't that twist their knickers.

    ReplyDelete
  2. >Do most right wing modern orthodox women do this? I suspect they do

    Does this bother you?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why go with "bother?" Does it "bother" you when someone does something hysterical?

      Delete
  3. >Awesome!

    I'm not sure that is all too awesome. You have to think mighty hard before destroying a persons livelihood in such a public display. Racism is a loaded word that today, can mean any number of things and some not so horrible that warrants ruining another person's life. As an example, you may know that Israelis are notorious with ethinic jokes. We laugh at one another and no malice is intended. Yet, I have experienced that to an outside, this smacks of racism (with the rest of scratching our heads). Do we deserve to have our lives ruined because your sensitivities deem it offensive? All I am saying, is don't be so eager and happy to the ruin that you WILL inflict on someone else.


    >years later I don't have to feel guilty about every racist remark I've heard that I've never confronted- because I'll have confronted them! That's the kind of person I want to be more like.

    This sounds a little narcissistic of you. So you can feel better about yourself????????? That's a great motivating factor to ruin someone elses life.

    ReplyDelete
  4. How do you handle those who make racist/hateful "jokes", and then act as if they are heroes for not being PC?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes, it bothers me that my mom and most of the moms and now most of the women I grew up with would do that.

    ReplyDelete
  6. JRKmommy I don't really know a lot of people who would do something like that, most of my friends are really liberal and the ones who aren't are actually more likely to be people of color, so they're not making racist jokes either.

    I think someone who made a racist remark of this nature, saying something about interbreeding of an interracial couple and how it disgusts him, and then broadcasts that and spreads that information to random other white people from his place of business, yes he deserves to have that information publicly broadcast in a publicly humiliating way that would potentially impact his business. He has a right to say whatever he wants, but he doesn't have the right to not face the consequences of saying whatever he wants to people in a public forum, when that information becomes publicly known in that forum.

    ReplyDelete
  7. So is it a public forum? Certainly your friend made it into a public forum by shouting it out randomly to the public vs him sharing it with one individual. So is there an ethical issue of transforming something from a private remark to a public spectacle?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Nor do I see what his business has to do with it. I would understand if his business was directly related to his racist actions, oh, like, lets say a printer that is also publicly selling KKK flags and banners, but that is not the case here. If I met a person who was an anti-semite, do I need to go out and publicly push for his business to close? I just wouldn't shop there anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Is it a private remark if he made it in a busy marketplace to a stranger/customer where other people could hear?

    If you went to a pizza store, and the clerk/owner said something racist to you about another couple walking by, would it be wrong to write a review about it on yelp?

    How is this different then that?

    ReplyDelete
  10. His business was related because he was espousing these views from his place of business, to a customer.

    ReplyDelete
  11. >Is it a private remark if he made it in a busy marketplace to a stranger/customer where other people could hear?

    Of course it's a private remark. How is the location relevant?

    >If you went to a pizza store, and the clerk/owner said something racist to you about another couple walking by, would it be wrong to write a review about it on yelp?

    I wouldn't. What does that serve? Does a racist remark warrant someone's business being shut down? At what point would YOU think things have gone too far? From your liberal POV, gender roles are bad, so if I was to a store owner and made a comment that I believe it's better for a woman to be at home, would you run out of hte store telling every pedestrian not to do business with me because I am a sexist misogynist?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Actually, I know what it would serve. You admitted it in your comment. You would feel better about yourself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes I would feel better about myself, because I feel it is morally wrong to sit back and allow people to make hateful comments without voicing my dissent, and I feel better about myself when I make what I feel is the more moral choice. What is the problem with that exactly?

      Delete
    2. Simple. This isn't about morals. It's about your self-esteem, first. If it was about morals, you would carefully weigh your actions. If you are so eager to make a public spectacle, than no, it's not about morals as much as you tell yourself. Liberals tend run more on emotions and have high esteem.

      Delete
    3. If I had high self esteem why would I need to enhance it by making a public spectacle? Can you at least be internally consistent while you're spewing out stereotypes?

      Was this a post about how I made a public spectacle of someone? No. So it seems I AM carefully weighing my actions, as I wrote a whole blog post about them before taking any action.

      Delete
    4. >If I had high self esteem why would I need to enhance it by making a public spectacle?

      No, you misunderstood (or it was on my part). It's your prerogative to feel better about yourself comes from self esteem being a motivating factor in your moral decisions. Your admission that it is morally alright to do so and that you would like to because it would make you feel better comes from a healthy liberal self esteem. So sorry, you didn't Do it nor did I imply you DID. But we are talking hypothetically here are we not? You applauded someone who did, did you not? Hypothetically, if given the chance, would you resist because you weighed the moral consequence to your action, or because you just don't have the balls? Those are two different things.

      Stereotypes? Call it what you want. Even stereotypes come from some truth.

      Delete
  13. You've encouraged and empowered me to state that I find "jokes" from able-bodies men about sexually exploiting women with developmental delays to be offensive.

    http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.ca/2012/04/two-dudes-retards.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you are offended and so empowered about it, why don't you tell him? I'm not his secretary.

      Delete
  14. Mind you, I am not saying not to say anything. But if a person is making a private remark, I believe you respond in a private manner. If the person is public to the effect that he allows the whole public to freely know, than you can do in kind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mind you, I'm not saying what he did was exactly what I would do, but I admire him for at least saying something to the man, which I don't know that I would have done, but I hope I would.

      Delete
    2. The remark was made in a public marketplace. It wasn't a confidential setting or relationship.

      Comments like that poison the atmosphere. They assume that others share in the hatred. A public response is more effective in reversing the harm, and preventing future episodes.

      Delete
    3. I see

      So the potential for him to have his business shut down. Loose everything. Unable to pay bills and pay off debt and the other bad things that will harm him and his family is a proportional response to statement that was made between two individuals? A "poisoned athmosphere" is too much of a meta and subjective concept compared to the real life pragmatic issue of ruining a person's livelihood.

      Delete
    4. I think so yes. If we make it so that such views mean people will stop buying stuff from your business, then people will quickly learn to keep their fucking mouth shut and stop saying that shit. They have a right to free speech, but nobody has a right to be free from truthful criticism. If they don't want their business to fail, maybe they shouldn't make such obviously terrible business decisions, like saying racist things to your customers.

      Delete
    5. And btw, standing outside shouting out not to be buy from an individual for comments he made is not "truthful criticism." It's bordering a gossipmonger. There are ways give someone truthful criticism.

      Delete
    6. Do we KNOW what was said? Or do we know what was reported to be said. Basically, you joined a business boycott on heresay and admire that. Taken to an extreme that could put the shopkeeper out of business, because of a comment he allegedly said.

      I'm not condoning these sort of comments, I usually respond with a "people are people" comment and usually an anecdote from a friend/classmate of that ethnicity, and then people stop making the jokes to me.

      However, the idea of a boycott because of such a statement makes me nervous, because a whole lot of "non-racist" things can be construed as racist by those that want it. Follow politics and the dog-whistle thing, the media has decided that it can declare non-racist speech racist by stating the implication by them. That sort of censorship is scary.

      Racism is disgusting, but trying to control the thoughts and words of others for disagreeing with you is pretty bad as well. The marketplace of ideas needs all ideas, even grotesque ones.

      Delete
    7. I'm not joining a business boycott of any kind because I don't even know which farmer at the farmer's market it was. And he isn't "Destroying this guys life" by starting a serious boycott- he yelled it out to a few people in the farmer's market, but didn't make it a point to tell me which farmer it was during the course of this story, even though he knows that I go to the same farmer's market. So I think saying he's trying to put this guy out of business is hyperbole as well.

      And from what he told me, it was a blatantly racist statement (like referring to an interracial couple breeding as disgusting and those men with our women kinda thing) not a statement that was then interpreted to be racist and that had racist undertones...like outright racist.

      I don't think saying your own ideas is trying to control the ideas of other people. As I said, people have a right to say whatever they want, and I also have the right to say whatever I want when it comes to criticizing them, as long as it's true. How other people interpret that message is up to them. Maybe there are some people who would make it a point to shop from him because he was racist?

      Delete
  15. >I think so yes.

    Good. As long as we have clarity and where each of our moral compasses point.

    >but nobody has a right to be free from truthful criticism.

    Um. Ok. Then how about this: Why not, just answer him back directly? If you mean to criticize and hopefully, either change his ways OR at the very least, teach him to keep his mouth shut, why not answer him directly at in individual basis that you find his comment abhorrent and that you will not be doing business with him anymore? Why make a giant spectacle when you can potentially get the same outcome on a more personal level? He might just finally realize not to say stuff like that to customers. As much as he might be a bigot, he still needs business. That way, you taught him a lesson AND he keeps his livelihood.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. as the story was told to me, I believe he initially did try to have a private conversation with the guy, only to be rebuffed/told to fuck off/whatever, at which point the public yelling commenced.

      Delete
  16. I found the best way to counteract is to say something like you did to the realtor. I find statements like that much more effective in the long run.

    But I am also a coward sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I think it would be better to engage with dialogue with the farmer's market guy, something like "What you just said really bothers me. Do you realize that what you said was racist? I don't think I feel comfortable buying from you anymore. Why do you feel the way you do?"

    That's a way to change minds, not yelling. People in places like the south or the midwest (where I lived for a few years) would more likely feel distaste for the yeller than for the alleged racist. It probably didn't get anyone to boycott him.

    If , after trying to engage him in dialogue, he says the equivalent of "F-you", then just stop buying there and tell your friends, and anyone else who you think might actually listen, what he actually said, and his reaction, and recommend boycotting his stand.

    Just yelling doesn't really do much. It may be cathartic, but it doesn't change hearts & minds.

    I'm not saying there aren't times to get out there with picket signs. But just yelling in a market is counterproductive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. well as i said, I'm not necessarily advocating yelling in a marketplace, but I think something should be said in response to all such comments, and I admire him for speaking up, while I feel bad about not always speaking up myself. I don't necessarily disagree with what he did either, but I don't know enough about the situation to say I fully agree.

      Delete
  19. On a totally different note...I just reread the part of the post where you mention the guest speaker talking about death row from her personal perspective as the mother of a victim.

    If it had been a professor who was making an argument about eliminating the death penalty using religious arguments, you'd be absolutely right that it would be completely inappropriate for a public institution.

    In this case, though, it sounds as though this lady may have been brought in to provide her unique, personal perspective. You don't have to accept her religion in order to learn something about how victims may be affected in different ways by their religious beliefs.

    Funny story: I heard a very similar talk in a Chabad shul, of all places. They had "Son of Hamas" Mosab Hassan Yousef speaking, and he was going on and on about how he renounced violence when he found Jesus. While the rabbi was clearly plotzing at the constant Jesus references, he didn't stop him. It was part of his story, and you couldn't fully understand his shift in attitude without knowing about the religious shift.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Meh, racism will solve itself eventually.That's the bitch about freedom of speech. A lot of people have a lot of stupid shit to say. I think you're right though that the situation should be dealt with somehow. People are less likely spout crap like that if there's a risk of a social sanction.

    ReplyDelete
  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete

Anonymous comments are enabled for now