Monday, October 13, 2008

On Sins and Sinners

Sure I've made jokes that I wish I hadn't. I've been quoted, accurately, saying things that were horribly disrespectful of entire demographics. And in response I could only say that the statement did not reflect my beliefs or values. Trust me now?

My recent post on a racist sight gag was easy to digest and spit out angrily. It's easy to point a finger and shout you're a bastard then walk away. Then you're stuck with 'so what?'

So, 'stop' obviously. But when talking about it out loud I found myself reaching anger and still feeling stuck. Stuck where? Probably in the same place Casey found himself when he left this comment:

Wow. This is hard to watch... so bad that it begins by making me furious at the guy and ends with me simply shaking my head and feeling sorry for him.

Yes. It's easy to have an aggressive reaction of completely assured righteousness and a belief that the guy deserves no respect. That he deserves ridicule and blame. That he is already as understood as he needs to be.

But we can't settle there. Racism is not understood as it needs to be. And racists aren't understood as they need to be.

Why did he want to make the joke? 1) He thought it was funny. 2) He expected SOMEONE ELSE to find it funny. 3) He wanted the credit for doing something that would please SOMEONE ELSE.

Here's what I find so difficult but so necessary to move towards more understanding. I, just like Casey find myself feeling sorry for him. It's clear that at one point he was very proud of his statement. He probably bragged about it to someone. And he defined a part of himself by that expression. Hoping it would be accepted. Whether he had thought very little about it or a lot, when he notices the camera on him he suddenly thinks about it more. And differently. He realizes something else about his expression. That not everybody is going to accept it. That he will be defined in a way that he does not want to be defined.

When I watch that video (I've only been able to watch it three times) I start to feel bad for him at the very point that I imagine he's feeling shame. I can't be sure that he does feel shame, but it seems to me that he must. The joke ends with an 'act' of generosity and a turn. He doesn't want to be what he has just been. I don't know where his turn takes him. But he rejects something. Either he realizes it can't be defended or it's not worth defending, or he's not up to defending it. For whatever reason, it's nothing he wants to defend. That's an important point. Racism is not only the organization of disrespect and the defense of oppression. It's also the occasional acceptance of indifference.

Addressing racism is pointless unless there is faith in the ability of others to change. Racism exists outside willful evil. Little is accomplished by simply disregarding those who resort to it because of a smaller grasp than they are capable of. The discussion that points a finger at racism needs to move away from 'you are a fool' and towards 'that is/was foolish'. Unless we believe that the actors can abandon the act we are simply waiting for bigots to die and leave the world to the righteous. And that leaves us where we've already been.


Casey said...

I like this post, and I wish I could be sure it wasn't just because I'm featured...

fenhopper said...

i saw some video of him more proudly holding up the doll beforehand. looking right at the camera close up. i didn't get a clear look.

if i saw that correctly, then it makes me think that he had adopted a proud and defiant attitude for a while but he wasn't able to hold on to it. he came to realize his vulnerability and finally stepped away from it.

perhaps he'll go back to indifference with no real change in opinion. but i say again -- that moment when someone realizes that it's not worth defending is important. it's the seed of revolution.

you know -- all it takes for good to prevail is for evil men to do nothing.