You know those questions that cut straight through all the superficial, self-protective, crap and get straight to the heart of the real issue?
That’s the kind of question my professor asked our class several years ago. We were discussing our reactions to a video we watched in which a racially diverse group of people were discussing racism.
There was one cringe-worthy guy on the video whose name I can’t remember, so I’ll call him Paul. Adamant that he wasn’t racist, every word Paul spoke was a sweeping and unfavorable generalization about “those people.” With pride he claimed he was “color blind,” despite others around him saying that their race and culture was a big part of who they were and how they wanted to be seen. When others in the room shared their experiences, his reaction was, “That’s ridiculous.”
One of the professors, a black man, listened with great patience to everyone’s reactions to the video; I hate Paul. Paul is what’s wrong with the world. Paul made me so mad. How can he not see who he is hurting? Why doesn’t Paul shut up and listen? Paul needs to apologize.
The professor asked a poignant question that has stuck with me ever since. In a quiet voice he asked us to consider, “Why is everyone having such a strong reaction to Paul? Why is everyone distancing themselves from Paul as if he is saying things that are far worse than anything you’ve ever thought, felt, believed or said?”
I realized that by slamming Paul, all our rage was focused on him, a person on a video whose mind we’d never have the power to change. It was a lot easier and more fun to highlight how much better we were than Paul and avoid taking responsibility for the ways we were perpetuating racism, the exact thing we were upset with Paul for neglecting to do.
This story parallels the #pointergate scandal (if you don’t know what it is, take a minute now to Google it or read about it here) . I’m frustrated and bewildered by the irresponsible journalism and the implications of #pointergate. I’m amused by the clever pictures of people proudly flashing their pointer fingers in in protest. I’m cheering for KSTP to take ownership for actions.
I’m tempted to join in the public blasting of KSTP, but I hear the patient voice of my professor asking,
“Why is everyone having such a strong reaction to KSTP? Why is everyone distancing themselves from KSTP as if they are saying things that are far worse than anything you’ve ever thought, felt, believed or said?”
I think it’s okay to be outraged about a news story that diminished a person’s entire existence to a cliché racial stereotype. I think it’s good to want KSTP to apologize.
I just wonder if it could be more productive to do ourselves what KSTP doesn’t seem to have the guts to do…
To reflect on stereotypes we are accepting as truth.
To take an honest look at how well we are being inclusive of people who are different.
To notice how we might be unwillingly contributing to systems of oppression.
To apologize to someone who we’ve hurt.
4 thoughts on “Why We Love Pointing Fingers at KSTP”
Yes! I agree with every word of this post. I felt that right after this happened, and as some news outlets and other media venues pointed the finger at KTSP, I thought to myself that they have also done a lot of racist reporting. In this situation, media are quick to point the finger in hopes that another finger won’t be pointing at them the next time they perpetuate a stereotype.
Thanks! Good point!
Huh. I think my response towards the whole thing is disbelief that human adults (and by adults I mean “humans who are mature and responsible and who understand how what they say and do can affect other people”) are seriously going to be so deliberately hurtful to a man who has made enormous progress in his life, and so partisan in their coverage of politicians. I see it (the reluctance of KSTP to admit their error) as a situation of “There but for the grace of God go I”–I would have been just as adamant about not admitting there was anything wrong; I would have doubled-down as long as I could. It took a shock in my own life to shake me out of that viewpoint, and I don’t claim I’ve gone very far in the opposite direction.
It is a very hard thing to see things as they really are, and an even harder thing to see ourselves as we really are.
With that said, while I can’t expect that everyone would be trying hard to understand other people, I think it is also important that I can and do expect those who represent themselves as leaders be deserving of their self-assumed role. If the management and staff of KSTP are representing that they are telling a true story, that their goal is to tell true stories, then I expect that when they demonstrably are telling a false story that they would admit it, apologize, and correct the story–and when they don’t, that they would be held accountable and that they would receive continual pushback from the community they are representing and denigrating.
We can be careful and adult in our response, but we can still be angry at the way this kind of story, this approach, this slant, is tearing down people, tearing down trust, tearing down the willingness of people to serve their community.
Thanks for the honest response. Great thoughts.