Teachable Moment

So last week I was doing my routine Facebook check during my commute when I came across this insightful thinkpiece, the kind of thing that really makes you stop and reevaluate your life philosophy and choices:

Aisha comment

Now, normally I would have just slid past this SMDH but something gave me pause.  This particular person is a woman of color herself and I’m always intrigued by minorities who don’t/can’t/won’t empathize/sympathize/respect the struggles of other minorities.  I gave her the benefit of the doubt; maybe she just didn’t have access to the right resources or had the right conversations with well-informed individuals AND HERE I WAS.  READY MADE AND WILLING. I decided in my naiveté and more conceit than I’d like to admit that this was a teachable moment for her.  I would write a well-balanced, reasonable, and fair comment that would convince her of the error of her ways! Divorce her from her prejudices! Dismantle the structures of racism! ALL THE ILLS WOULD BE CURED BY THIS RIGHTEOUS FACEBOOK COMMENT! A PANEACEA TO HEAL THE WORLD’S WOUNDS! Also, like, Al Sharpton is a hella dated reference for real.  Black people don’t even listen to Al Sharpton.  Al Sharpton doesn’t even listen to Al Sharpton.  Well anyway, here it is:

“Hi BLANK, as someone who’s worked in the criminal justice system and with communities of color for a few years, I can confidently say that it is absolutely about race. Study after study consistently shows police and prosecutors are racially bias when controlling for factors like income and prior arrest. Meaning a black male is significantly more likely to be arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for a crime than a white male from a similar background who has committed the same crime. This is not to say all law enforcement are racist but there is no denying this a real issue. This kind of criminalization and dehumanization doesn’t just occur when people of color come in contact with the justice system, it happens throughout their lives; teachers are more likely to discipline black students for the same infractions as white students, black males are paid less than white males for the same jobs, and so on and so on. Racism is institutionalized in this country (re slavery, Jim Crow laws, income inequality) and while it may seem like it doesn’t exist because it hasn’t touched your life, that is not the case for thousands if not millions of African Americans and other minorities across the country. To deny the experiences of these people is what’s truly ignorant. If you’d like to learn more about racial bias in the criminal justice system, please visit the Vera Institute of Justice’s website. There are also a number of other resources and studies I can point you to if you’d like to learn more.”

*After rereading, I was annoyed I used “like to learn more” twice. Whatevs. I might have brought about world peace with this comment but I’m not perfect, OKAY?

Anyway, I posted this fair, well-balanced, reasonable (with a dash of shade thrown in for good measure) comment under her post.  I was a little anxious waiting for her reply or a comment from another person.  Since I have a rule of only replying once I had already formulated a partial response in my mind because I wanted it to be definitive.  I even texted friends about it just for the moral support.  About ten minutes passed before I decided to check back on the status of this REMEDY FOR THE PAIN OF THE WORLD.  But I couldn’t find it on my feed anymore.  In fact, I couldn’t find the poster anymore either.

I had been unfriended.

GUESS I’M A SNAKE Y’ALL.  GUESS TRYING TO EDUCATE AND INFORM PEOPLE MAKES ME A GODDAMN SNAKE.

My initial reaction was to laugh.  It seemed pathetic that a person would delete me on Facebook because of this comment.  But then again, I’m sure I’ve been deleted for lesser reasons (and never really noticed because I barely use Facebook as it is. LONG LIVE INSTAGRAM).  But as the day wore on, I realized something important – this was a teachable moment for me.

I learned two things from this:

  1. Not everyone wants to be enlightened. In fact, people on social media rarely do.  Over the years, I’ve become fairly measured in my reaction and approach to friends or acquaintances’ sexism, misogyny, homophobia, or bigotry in general.  Where a few years ago I would have gnashed my teeth and pulled the latest Jezebel article (I know) to support my position, I’ve learned to listen to people first and then state what my PERSONAL beliefs are.  If I’m questioned further, I engage.  Otherwise, I leave it alone.  Truth be told, it’s not my place to challenge every ill-informed remark I encounter, nor should it be.  If they haven’t taken it upon themselves to read up on something they’re commenting on then let them sound ignorant and close-minded.   It’s also exhausting fighting with people who are not looking to be informed.  Nor should anyone try because it just affirms their position as someone/something worthy of dialogue.  Do you think anyone can reason with Pamela Geller? Of course not.I’m not saying this person is on Pamela Geller-level, but what I am saying is if she were willing to delete people from her social media accounts because of differing opinions, she was definitely not going to take kindly to my comment however well -informed or well-intentioned.  And my presumption that my former Facebook friend would be more amenable to my effort to reach out because we went to the same high school and we share the same ethnicity, was just that: a presumption.  The idea that I alone could change this person’s view on this topic despite the history of racism in this country and the outrageous number of unarmed black men and women gunned down by police was thinly veiled arrogance on my part.  Some people just want to marinate in their beliefs unchallenged however biased or ridiculous.  But conviction unchallenged is not conviction at all.  Which leads me to my second point:
  1. Just because someone’s ideology doesn’t match my own doesn’t make it less valid. But that also doesn’t mean I respect it. I will respectfully choose to not respect your opinion if it is unsubstantiated or rooted in bigotry or hatred.  I will respect your opinion if you’ve taken into account all sides of the debate and done your due diligence.  I also respect my limitations on a subject matter.  You’ll never see me participating in a discussion on economics because I know jack shit about the subject (even after taking a grad course on it).I will happily engage in discussions (and I mean discussions not arguments) about social issues with people who don’t share the same sentiments as long as they respect my contributions to the dialogue and I the same.  So, no, I’m not going to delete people from my Facebook account because they think women should stay in the kitchen or that gays shouldn’t get married or comprehensive sex education shouldn’t be taught in schools because I want to know what they’re saying.  I want to know what they think.  I want to know why they think that.  So that I can learn more.  And also, so I can better defend my position knowing what the other side of the debate is.  Social media makes it so easy to create little worlds where everything is comfortable and isolated and there are no disturbances to the bubble. You can prune out unfavorable viewpoints and curry likes and comments that affirm your world. But that’s not how you grow. And you’ll definitely never learn more about yourself.  My thoughts and opinions have evolved or changed over the years because I listened and read and watched.  Cutting out differing opinions really only serves to narrow your own perspective and that’s such a goddamn shame because this world is so vast and great and weird and terrible and lovely.

Social media can provide a wealth of information and can also be an endless well of exasperation. But to be deliberately myopic is foolish.  I’ll even check men’s rights activist pages once in a while and and cry and cry because I’ve learned you just have to take the good with the bad because it makes you appreciate the good that much more.

And of course, I also learned I’m a snake.  A sneaky sneaky snake.

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