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.