Angry white people without grammar or critical thinking skills

As I’ve said before, I love me a good celebrity meltdown. And, yes, this is, in part, because it makes me feel as if I am smart and reasonably well brought up. And so it might not surprise you that I enjoy tumblrs such as White People Mad at Food Network.

Social media has given all of us a lot more chances to display our opinions on issues. As such, I enjoy the interesting dissection of Americans talking about race in some posts. They help me think and formulate my own ideas. And the raving maniacs also help me formulate my own ideas.

But am I any better? Well, I don’t use the n word, glamorize the antebellum South, or make racist, homophobic, or ethnic jokes. But that’s easy. What about the hard stuff?

What about the other night? I had dinner with a friend and a young friend of same friend. Friend and Young Friend grew up in the same place, a town that they both love, but that is wracked with class issues and is not exactly a place of racial enlightenment (although it’s remarkably gay friendly). Friend reminisced about his adventures working in a rough part of town. Young Friend then suddenly started talking about “them”. It was clear that by “them,” Young Friend meant black people. And then he said something about “knowing how to deal with them.”

Friend began to tell more stories, trying to steer Young Friend away from these dangerous waters. I was horrified, but I said nothing. As Friend and Young Friend continued to tell stories, I tried to think it through. I should maybe have called out Young Friend. But this was the first time I had met him and he was Friend’s friend. What would I have said? What would he have said in return? I trust Friend, and so I was in a reasonably safe space, but I didn’t know Young Friend or what he was like.

I’m not a person who can argue cohesively about these issues. Given time, I can break down why something is offensive, and can express how to keep it from happening again. But I also am a smoother-over. Young Friend was young and stupid, and I was trying to make him feel comfortable in my presence. I am a woman, more worldly than he is, and am a good fifteen-some years older than he. Also, Friend was taking me out for dinner in exchange for dog care (Downith, a really cute dog), so I didn’t want to ruin the dinner for Friend.

Friend and I talked about it the next day, and Friend said that he had given Young Friend a talking to. I’m still thinking about it.

When do speak up and when do you stay silent?


16 responses to “Angry white people without grammar or critical thinking skills

      • When I was in my twenties, my mother was telling me about how an acquaintance had carried a concealed gun into her house (not to threaten her or anything, at least not explicitly). “I didn’t know what to do,” she told me. She was in her seventies, and I told her that she should have “grandmothered him,” by which I meant shamed him with that stare. “How dare you bring a gun into my house!”

  1. I’ve have some luck with raising my eyebrows and asking the person to repeat what they just said or to specifically identify the “Them.”

    It gives the person one more chance to think before s/he speaks. Doesn’t always work, but sometimes a good discussion comes from it.

  2. Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with this issue for a long time. My friends are open minded and we’re all shades of color, so we pass out crap equally.

      • I don’t know Indie, I might have done the same as you in the same situation, but in another I might poke a finger in someone’s chest.

        I befriended a young man from Ghana in a language class in Scandinavia. He was fighting the stereotype of unemployed refuge living off the government, which he wasn’t. He was well educated and smart. It was easy to get pissed with the local culture, I did it all the time, but the best support I offered was being a positive force and listening to him talk about all the things he was going to accomplish. In that place of empowerment, close minded jerks didn’t matter. I don’t think screaming at locals who wouldn’t change their mind anyway would have helped. Know what I mean? It’s always depends.

  3. Honey, you know me. Keep my mouth shut? How? Nah, I’d probably have to say something, alienate everyone, get a major battle under way, write some letters, call my people. that’s why I am so…effective (or not).

    I never heard that story about the gun. Really? who was that?

  4. Here’s a suggestion.

    Suppose ‘them’ wasn’t ‘them’ but your brother or your sister, mom, dad, or Great Aunt Matilda who was married to one of ‘them’ has children that are ‘them’, would you have spoken up to defend family even if it embarrassed friend and friend’s friend? I’ll bet you would. We’re all family, we’re all flawed and sometimes our lunacy should be shoved in our faces like a cream pie gone sour.

    Okay, so that sounds so sixties, I get it, but in situations like that all you have to do is what Sarah said, ask the person to define ‘them’. Usually they get your point and shut up.
    If I say nothing I feel as if I’m agreeing with the gist of their point, I do not and from your post I assume you do not as well.

  5. I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut about these sorts of subjects. I’ve stopped writing letters to newspapers and such because of the time and energy involved, but saying something to my face engages me like nothing else.

    A long time ago, a white guy in the breakroom of the supermarket where I worked made the mistake of saying that his people, Jews, hadn’t own slaves. He was eager to discuss the race issue with an actual black person (he was being polite and I think he was a college student, so I indulged him.) I told him that some of them did. I let him go on a bit about why he was right before I told him my mother’s great-grandmother, who had been born a slave, took the master’s last name as her own, as many former slaves had done. Her name was Cohen. The student stopped talking and started thinking.

    I try to be polite unless the other person(s) loses it, but it doesn’t cross my mind to let these things go, whether we’re talking race, sexual orientation, politics or whatever.

    • Yeah, Jews weren’t exempt from that atrocity either. I think that’s a common response in the white south (or at least, I thought that when I was a teenager): my people weren’t from the South and didn’t hold slaves, weren’t even in the country until the 1880s. But of course that doesn’t mean we didn’t participate in institutional racism, etc.

      When my parents moved to the South (mid 1960s) not all the elementary schools in town were integrated, and my mother made sure they lived in the neighborhood where my sisters could go to the elementary school that was integrated. Even so, she would say things, sometimes, that were borderline racist.

      I could call her on it. I need to start figuring out how to wade into uncomfortable waters to call other people out too.

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