Category Archives: Social Rules

The Friendly Racist On Social Media

Because I’ve wearied of both trying to shorten this post and get it right, I’m going to do what I often do: put it out there and let anyone who finds anything of value read it. Others will snipe it, and perhaps rightly so.

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I have a smiling friend from high school on social media who posts only clever anecdotes and innocent life commentaries on his own social media… Behind the curtain, though, I see his handiwork of prejudice and harm. Most of the time, he’s subtle, cleverly ensuring his remarks don’t go wide. The time I spent learning to follow the breadcrumbs with FOIA requests and ancestry leads me to the clues he’s left behind. Although he’s clever, he’s not patient. His impatience and intolerance draw him into diatribes he might otherwise avoid. I don’t actively follow his lashings. The news tends to draw him out, especially as tempers flare. It’s a sceanario I’ve seen play out a dozen times this past year.

Especially over the last year, I’ve had friends get caught in the crosshairs by “Robert,” as I’ll call him. They’ll struggle to understand why he’s turned on them or chosen them to blast, all the while keeping his own page clean of controversy. If they attempt commentary on his social media, he immediately lashes out at them for being childish or failing to understand the etiquette of social media. Robert is not the only one – there have been many. Once I explain to my friends that Robert’s goal is simple intimidation and to delete his comments, ignore him, or adopt his tactics back at him, most trollish behavior fades and they move along to new victims to intimidate. Weirdly enough, almost all of these people are white males and members of what I term the “Black Sock Mafia.”

Robert keeps his own space free of controversy and lashes out at anyone who brings up anything controversial, even if he first introduces an implied bit of hate. He visits other people’s spaces, though, and lectures all of them about how wrong they are, their ignorance, and how as a rich white man things have become really tough for him in this modern climate of minority over-sensitivity. Because his ego and identity are secret and invested in something he can’t easily admit in public, he faithfully learns the code and lingo of those who possess intellect and free time afforded by a privileged life. His words become his dagger and he jabs frequently, assuming no one is following his trail. He’s wrong. He’ll drop the veneer if he’s talking to people one-on-one and assumes they share his closeted prejudices. He will take a moment sometimes to bash those who use social media to discuss controversial topics; yet, paradoxically, he will visit other pages and relentlessly hammer the person on their personal space. He’s also one of those who visit news sites and groups to spew his fervent brand of prejudice.

Most such people who comment angrily on their friend’s social media invariably do the same on fringe new sites or groups. They need an outlet, especially one in which like-minded people can slap one another on the back and egg on their imaginary quest to make the world look like the faces they see in the mirror. If you are methodical, you can find the crumbs of their visits and tally them up for an accounting.

Robert and I share a friend I’ve known most of my life. Our mutual friend is oblivious to the racism in the heart of my high school social media friend. It seemed like the prejudice would be obvious to anyone observant but I’ve found this to be untrue for many social media users. One of these days, Robert will be in one of those instances like the tiki marchers in Charlottesville; it’s inevitable as he seethes in discomfort at being told “you’re wrong” by those around him, even if many don’t know or pretend to not know how deep his hatred goes.

So I wait, knowing that the backlash against racists and ignorance has him fuming. As many of us know, most racists have convinced themselves of their own practical prejudice; their prejudice is rooted in reality, or so they believe. Their fervor will eventually boil over.

I take note of instance after instance of those times when he simply cannot resist the temptation to insist that racism isn’t real and that minorities are their own worst enemy. He circumspectly runs across the line implying that other religions are somehow the center of a monetary conspiracy. Innuendo is his most frequent ammunition. It’s rare to find a case wherein a racist holds no beliefs regarding the other usual suspects in the minds of prejudice.

He would never pick up a tiki torch and march with those who proudly identify themselves as known racists. His brand is more insidious. He won’t hire minorities unless he must and he subtly steers claims of such prejudice back toward those questioning his increasingly visible motives. Any opportunity he can seize to belittle anyone of color is his for the taking.

The next-to-last paragraph was added after Charlottesville. The rest was a post I’ve rewritten a few times. I was right. Once the events of the weekned subsided, I saw that Robert couldn’t help himself. His anger became a fire that he insisted on unleashing. His racist brethren, albeit of a lesser intellectual stripe, had been revealed as debased human beings and his wrath became unleashed. But his own social media? Only rainbows, talks of wife and family, and details of his life, all presented in a new row of deceit.

Over the last year as Trump’s ascendency became pronounced, I’ve outed many racists to mutual social media users. They display the symptoms of being gaslighted – but once I let them in on the secret of the person accosting them, they are thankful and can sometimes even laught about it.

Knowing a person is racist is different than suspecting such a thing to be true. The label, once proven, grants us power over the racist. I almost always tell people of my discoveries privately because it’s no use starting a word war that will only escalate. People learn at their own pace if they ever learn at all. A very intelligent racist tends to have a long memory for grudges, too. I usually start by asking my friends if they generally trust their instincts about people. (Each of us sometimes speaks lazily or crosses a line – these instances don’t count as evidence of prejudice if they are singular or negligent in tenor.)

After observing people like Robert punch at a social media friend, I reach out and subtly point out that they are being gaslighted or treated like a lesser person. I use the list of logic defects to specify how they are being mistreated. Finally, I point out issues of common courtesy and respect. Most people get the message after a few such encounters and up their deamnds for the closet racist to go away if he can’t behave. There’s a ball of fire and smoke before people like Robert walk away. They need people to know that they have been wronged. Despite their constant nagging about victim behavior, they’ll play all the cards before finally shutting up.

If you have social media friends who do this to you, don’t ignore your instincts. You’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. We let these things pass out of courtesy, usually avoiding the reality that our collective pass at calling them out is only worsening the soundtrack of prejudice in their head.

 

Locals Underestimate The Minority

Recently, I had a friend severely underestimate the minority population of a local town. Before saying anything I of course looked up the information from three different sources. The % of minority population was markedly higher than even I had supposed.

I knew my friend was wrong in the assertion, though, even before verifying. Latinos had arrived at that town in force even 20 years ago. Jobs drew them there, even if the locals greeted them with distrust and frowns. Economics opens most doors in both directions, even if guests must ignore a few grimaces.

It’s common for the majority to severely misjudge the presence of minorities or minority viewpoints. Until they hit a critical level which impacts them, they tend to fail to appreciate that the fulcrum is moving underneath them.

Even though I’m a white male in my early 50s, it is a delight for me to see the region being renovated from the inside. I do not share the apprehension and fear which seems to have invaded so many of my contemporaries. The new faces, language, and cultures only serve to widen my world, not shrink it.

I hope the fulcrum shifts sufficiently underneath so as to make the minority overtake the majority in this region. This world belongs to us all.

Yet Another Take On “Leave If You Don’t Like It…”

It’s disappointing to see those who believe their claim to action bears more merit than those who arrived a year ago, either from New York or Somalia. The time your feet have graced a particular plot of land does not constitute a greater constitutional right to one’s opinion or the exercise thereof.

You have seen the rants, the ones telling us who disagree with their heritage arguments to get out of their country as if their claim to these lands is greater than that of other people with whom they disagree. It’s such an over-the-top denial of how democracy works in this country. It’s also an unwise way to live one’s life.

All such irrational demands are directed at minorities or at least the minority opinion. This is doubly dangerous because only resistance to the status quo has ever resulted in progress or improvement in our overall human condition. We don’t advance through universal agreement. Only rigorous and constant challenge has ever yielded gains to all of us as a group. It’s the reverse of angrily storming out of a room in a rage because in this case, you are insisting that the person questioning a perceived wrong be ejected from the room.

You, of course, can blithely pretend that we all don’t play for the same team and that things we do or allow to continue have lasting effects on members of our team. Whether this team is a family, a town, a state a country, or a planet does not negate the fact that harm to any is harm to all.

Beware the danger of assuming your current status has anything to do with the superiority of your moral position or the rightness of insisting that things continue as they always have.

If you are part of the majority, a warning bell should sound in your conscience in those circumstances wherein a minority accused you as a group of insensitivity. Each of us, regardless of how we came here or when, have the right to the same seat at the table, without qualification. In a democracy, you must accept the pinch you might feel as newcomers come to expand your culture and heritage. It’s easy to accept the validity of another person’s viewpoint if they share your color, religion, and language.

It’s illogical and harmful to resort to a demand that other people either leave or leave the argument solely because it strikes you directly in your comfort zone. if nothing else, these United States are dedicated to the principle that all who come and participate have a voice. It is up to us collectively to change our minds as circumstances change. It’s important that one does not poke a finger in the eye of a group of people as they insist that their viewpoint is incorporated.

History is not as straight or logical as you would insist it to be. It is an error to presume that you understand history sufficiently enough to believe that human nature has shifted accordingly. When you find yourself in the majority preaching or insisting that a minority is imagining that racism, prejudice, or harm has befallen them, there’s a great danger that you fail to see what it evident to observers.

Lest we forget, Native Americans walked these lands for millennia before we came here. For whatever myriad reasons we eradicated them from these places. As modern Americans, we should not succumb to paralyzing guilt for what happened but we should feel accountable to honor and cherish the idea that we should never slide into a situation that in any way reflects what we did to our own indigenous people here in the United States. It is only because we are indeed capable of equal brutality that we must be vigilant to protect everyone in our society.

Those cherished things you feel so protective of, the ones erected to ‘honor’ those who fought on the wrong side of history, they are merely things. As a swastika evokes violent emotions in the hearts of Jews, so too can granite reminders inspire anger, shame, or degradation in some members of our society. It is quite unbecoming for the majority to deny that the minority experiences negative emotions in response to relics of our brutal past.

If enough people insist that we need to move forward, we owe to ourselves and them to be better human beings, even if we feel a pinch for doing so.

Confederate Stones, Withering Trees, and Change

Observing the long view of history and social forces:

“A city or town isn’t the past, who founded it, or who once lived here. It’s who is here now and the children they’ll have. Those who were here first have no greater say in its disposition than those who moved here to be one of us. It’s one of the most overlooked lessons of history. A family changes as it accepts new members and towns can be no different. Roots grow into trees and those trees must adapt to the changing environment or wither to become the firewood for those who need it.

You can fight change with all your vigor or you can understand that all things perish, even ones carved in immortal stone. The things that we hold dear are not things at all. They are flesh and blood, love and hope, compassion and intellect. Those things which do not advance us and bind us together must be willingly set aside in favor of the great invisible.

Nostalgia for the way things were is the most human of traits. But we must always remember that we share these fields and places with those who look upon us with new eyes. Even our children will one day peer back with wonder at the things we valued over one another as people. As we are renewed, so too must our attitudes flourish, blossom and envelop those who do not share our history and culture.”

Peace

Social Media Is You

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Social media is different things to different people. As a universal tool, Facebook has created several tools to allow you to curate and control what you see (or don’t), including individual websites. Use the tools to control what you see before lamenting that there’s content that you don’t like. It’s not perfect, but neither is a conversation with friends. We all have friends who insist on talking about herbal tea remedies, Trump vs. Obama, or who invite us to play Pinball Casino Gunfight 2019.

It reminds me of those who visit the beach and shriek about the hot sand, never acknowledging that beach flip-flops cure the problem. It’s easier for you to put on flip-flops than it is to close the beach unless you’re Chris Christie.

Each of us has our own particular interests, whether they are sports, politics, religion, video gaming, or literature. We share many interests to varying degrees, but it’s hard to overlap completely in a world wherein some people think that baseball, the sports equivalent of earwax, is something interesting. I’ll watch any baseball clip if it contains someone getting brained by a thrown bat or the first baseman’s pants falling down as he dives for a grounder. (My ideal clip would be if every player suddenly stripped naked and jumped into the stands, screaming in Chinese.)

This is exactly why the smart social media companies have tailored their apps for individuals to control their own content. If each of us posts what we find interesting and we also curate our own news feed, it’s a little nonsensical to demand changes to a system already designed to address the ‘problem’ as you see it. Social media is similar to tv, with the exception that you have to do a little bit of work to avail yourself to the entire world it brings to you.

Social media has been one of our biggest communications accomplishments. We can log on and have instantaneous access to any of our friends, family, and co-workers, anywhere in the world. Of course, they are going to talk about things that you don’t find interesting. With a press of a button, you can forever eliminate any link to CNN, Fox News, MLB/NBA, or Infowars. You can also swipe past, just as if you were speeding past an old rust-covered jalopy on the interstate without looking to your right to see the weirdo driving it. (Hint: it’s probably me.)

As much as you might hate to see a post regarding Polynesian Ear Mites or How Democrats Are Drinking Their Own Urine, trust me, there are people holding their phones and rolling their eyes at whatever inane thing you find to be either interesting or entertaining. It’s what makes the world so interesting. As a bona fide eccentric, trust me when I tell you that you would be shocked to find out just how many people think each of us is full of crap.

Share what interests you and use the tools at your fingertips to avoid exposure to what you find ridiculous. You wouldn’t want to live in a world with reduced options because that world will soon enough find you as you grow older and those around you slowly circle in.

Some of us are fascinated by a million different things. Others, like me, create almost everything they post.

Between occasionally being forced to remember that Major League Baseball is actually considered a sport and it ceasing to exist, I’ll tolerate it for the few crazy moments it sometimes can provide. Social media is the same.

Dinosaurians and Trump

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Many of us share moments, some sublime, some perplexing.

Recently, a respected member of the community invited me to his house for lunch and a bit of jawing. (I know what you’re thinking – he couldn’t be illustrious if he were having me over at his house unless a lost bet was involved.)

One of the great stories he told me was about one of his neighbors. My friend told me that this neighbor knew how to build a car from scratch, plumb a house, wire an entire building, and seemed to know a little about every subject on the planet. My friend had always thought of him as a very smart, capable person.

…Until one fateful day when his neighbor extemporaneously deviated off the normal course of conversation and insisted that the world was only a few thousand years old. My friend is an elder statesman with a wide education, has traveled all over the world, served in the military and worked in a career helping people his entire life – so he’s been around the widest assortment of humans you can imagine. To say that he was flummoxed insufficiently describes the shock of the revelation that his neighbor is a “Dinosaurian,” one of the people who ascribe to the variety of nonsense that humans roamed the earth with Dinosaurs or that the planet is actually very young. Most of the people who believe such things are religious fundamentalists, but some are simply like the Flat-Earthers, cherry-picking whatever conspiracy theory fits their ideas.

Afterward, it seemed as if everything were about his neighbor’s insistence that the planet wasn’t ancient. No matter what the subject might be, my friend either couldn’t get the nonsense of his neighbor’s belief out of his head or his neighbor, previously silent on the issue, seemed to harp on and on about nothing else, as if mentioning it just once opened an invisible floodgate to his nonsensical ideas.

My friend told me that story to underscore the continuing amazement he has toward those who chose Trump as their president- or who continue to defend his actions now that he’s assaulted facts, news organizations, religions, and rational public discourse. Keep in mind, my friend is decades older than me. He also voted Republican all his life, even though he was more progressive than the party itself. He, of course, didn’t vote for Trump in the last election. He couldn’t have imagined voting for Clinton, but he knew a vote for anyone but the major candidates was a vote for Trump, having lived through several election cycles which were disrupted by left-field contenders.

Until this election, he could imagine that the choice wasn’t so grotesque as to be an apocalyptic choice either way. When he thinks of intelligent people voting for Trump, he imagines an army comprised of people like his neighbor, snidely ignoring the mountain of evidence at their disposal. He knows that reason didn’t bring most of them to their decision, even though they’ll insist otherwise. He watches as those who should know better fan the flame of prejudice toward other religions, something he’s observed go terribly wrong in other places all over the world. He’s seen how effective such fear mongering can be in a population. Watching people lose their insurance in the midst of so much concentrated wealth also should be sending a red flag to those in power, in his opinion.

For my friend, he holds out hope that the younger generation will continue to advance the progress we’ve made as a society, one dedicated to helping one another; being smarter, more compassionate and better human beings. He knows that people who voted Trump are either a bump in the road and soon to be passed over by time – or the warning bell for civilized, rational society. He’s not at all confident that we won’t descend into authoritarianism or some hybrid religious state.

 

 

 

Yet Another Note About DWI

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My apologies for the tenor of this.

No matter how often it comes up, I watch in fascination when someone gets a DUI, whether a celebrity, athlete or my second cousin. The whispers, the speculation, the shame. Then, with regularity, comes the backlash. “It’s not your business,” or “You shouldn’t be talking about such things.” Or, “It’s personal.” Drunks get really angry and often their friends and family join in to attempt to silence those who draw attention to their mistake. Part of the process for dealing with DWIs should be the social stigma and open discussion of it all, no matter how uncomfortable it might make people. Yes, the driver made a mistake but is one which involves everyone on the road while he or she is driving impaired.

If you find a cure for diabetes and drink champagne in celebration, it doesn’t lessen the fact that you could easily kill several people driving home from your celebration. You make the choice to drive after imbibing. It is surprisingly easy to drive impaired and many of us could easily make a poor decision and do it. This doesn’t detract from the necessity of us looking our error in the eye and dealing with it. That includes you keeping your mouth shut when someone has something to say about it.

I’ve said it a million times: if you get a DWI and no one is injured, it shouldn’t ruin your life, especially if you are young. (It’s the law that young people have to do stupid things. Older people continue to do them because we can’t help ourselves.) The humiliation and punishments should be enough to teach anyone a lesson which sticks. Part of that lesson, though, should be a huge dose of humility, one in which the person accused swallows their pride and admits publicly that they made a huge mistake, one which risked stranger’s lives on our shared public roads. If you get a second, you deserve a massively higher level of punishment, including mandatory inpatient treatment for several months and possible permanent loss of your license.

My dad killed a cousin in a drunk driving accident. He endured no consequences. Subsequently, he continued to believe that drinking and driving were things that should always be done in combination and he dedicated his adult life to endangering everyone on the roads. Many in my family had multiple DWIs, including my mom and aunts and uncles. I was in several accidents growing up in which adults were drinking. After the first one, all of them should have been put in prison, especially since people were seriously injured in the accidents.

For any of you who think you have the right to silence me in any way when I criticize those who get DWIs – and especially more than one – your opinion is probably because you haven’t seen the carnage of such stupidity scattered over a dimly-lit highway at night, while the officers on the scene both attempt to find an arm missing from the car or call friends and family of those who were killed driving home from a movie. And there are others, those who have received a DWI, those who are secretly furious that they were held to account for their stupidity through driving while impaired. I try not to be too harsh about DWIs but I do get testy when I see people openly defending those who’ve done it more than once.

PS: I have a neighbor across the street who drinks and drives like he’s trying to set a consecutive record. I await the day when his truck goes through the bedroom of one of the houses. He always announces he’s finished his drink because he hurls the red solo cup from the driver-side window.

Mismatched Fingers of Color and Delight

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People are craving the weird and eccentric, even when they may not even know it. Sure, we like pants whose legs are both the same length and houses painted more or less one color – and even food that bears some resemblance to its assigned name. As for me, I’d prefer to live in a world of spilled paint, one adorned with mismatched clothing and polychromatic houses spelling doom for a bored eye. It would be a carpenter’s dream to build in such a world. (But a carpet installer’s nightmare.)

Being around people, though, demonstrates that their eyes are drawn to those things less expected and strange. They may behave differently about it if they feel they are being observed, but the fascination with the novel is undeniable. Given a way to stop and look at something, they usually will, provided life gives them a moment to do so. Too much of our daily life is devoted to cursory swipe-left or swipe-right stimulus, rapid judgments without careful insight. It’s true that we tend to enjoy the feeling or familiarity. I’m not arguing specifically against that tendency, but instead am pointing out that if given a chance, people will frequently step off the known path for a weird stroll. The more they choose to do so, the less appeal the black and white world holds for them.

This week, I had the opportunity to watch and listen to a multitude of voices. When given the chance, I would sit and draw strange things. Some years, I’ve done 20+ feet of artwork along the paper-laden tables in the common areas where people congregate. All of the writing and drawing occurs where people constantly pass by, most taking at least a stolen look at whatever I’m doing. Some projects go quickly, whereas others take hours.

People stop and comment, most of them engaging with humor and relatively striking admissions about art, their lives, or how they wish they were more creative or able to do whimsical things. This week, several asked me if I were an art teacher, a writer, or something impossible to guess; I take these wrong guesses as high praise. We all need a plumber when the tides rise, so to speak, but it is the unseen and shared je ne sais quoi underlying our motivations that truly make the extra step worthwhile.

The passersby perhaps think they are observing me; however, I’m certain I’m getting more from the interaction than they are. The “What in the heck….?” type of reaction never fails to amuse me. I suppose that some expect me to be engrossed in drawing something pragmatic, such as a large intestine with vascular indicators – or a boat sailing along a riverbank filled with somersaulting otters.

One of the teachers who expressed interest in what I was doing asked me, “How do you get the detail so exact?” Her question puzzled me, so I asked in return, “Why do you think I had a vision in mind? Life doesn’t work that way – and even when it does, everything changes once we’re halfway through.” She laughed, “It seems like you were just waiting for me to ask something like that.”

Several people shared their stories with me, while others told me about things which sprang to their minds when watching me draw. All of them had something interesting to say, something which was already perched inside of them, waiting to stretch out into the world.

For those trying to make sense of what I was drawing, I would offer a spontaneous interpretation for each, with my goal being to devise a new explanation for each person asking.

The scale of the picture is much larger than you would imagine: the paper stretched across a full-size cafeteria table. I couldn’t take a picture of it unless I had dangled by a harness from the ceiling. Given that I’m three times the girth of Tom Cruise, I opted to avoid buying the school a new ceiling. This time, instead of leaving all of my work for the puzzled maintenance staff, I cut one piece of it off and brought it home. One person insisted on writing a compliment to the artist, so I brought that, too.

Most years, I leave the tables intact, with whatever I’ve created upon them. No matter how diligently you work, even on a whim, you simply are going to get up from the table one day, without even a glance behind you, and leave this world. Some of us will lament, “Not enough time!” while others will just shrug their shoulders and admit, “I didn’t make enough time.”

I’m hoping that you have color-stained fingers and a mind stuffed to the rafters with strange ideas when it’s your turn to go. You have permission to lead a normal, unflinching life, but it’s possible to lead a normal life and still have your hair full of crazy straws and pockets filled with half-scribbled notes to yourself.

I learned a lot this week, as I always do. I met new friends and shared outrageous jokes. However life is measured, my mind grew a bit, which is more than many days offer.