16 October 2008

The Audacity of Hop(ing you can finish your mac 'n cheese in peace).

Every Wednesday night, people from my office go out for Wednesday Night Dinner. This is primarily people not of my social group, but I know all of them through various projects at work or because they are friends with other people I know. I don't usually attend, because if I'm not working, I'm usually spending that night with friends, but tonight I decided I was being too antisocial of late and that I wasn't spending enough time with people to whom I feel indifferent. (Everyone I know falls into three distinct groups: People I Adore, People I Hate, and People To Whom I Feel Largely Indifferent. The People I Adore group is small, but I am fiercely loyal to them. The People I Hate group is even smaller than the first, and can actually be numbered on one hand. Not a primate hand, either. Maybe a Simpsons hand. The third group is vast and is comprised of 98% of people I meet.)

That turned out to be a bad idea.

Discussion turned, as it is wont to do in the climaxing weeks of the election, to politics. I don't mind a spirited, reasoned political debate with people of opposing views. Hell. I'm a Libertarian. EVERYONE has an opposing view to me. Even my own party doesn't agree with me half the time. (Libertarians have, instead of a party platform, a pack of those slimy frogs you could win as prizes at Showbiz Pizza when you were young. Each frog is a different stance on a political issue - we just throw them up on the wall of Federalism and see what sticks. This is, incidentally, why a Libertarian will never hold any office above school board president. [First action: disband school board.])

But what I got was less "reasoned debate" and more "eleven McCain supporters tell Erin, who mentions that she's supporting Obama in this election, everything that is wrong with the way she thinks/feels/lives her life." I'm not great at confrontation on the best of days - despite being pretty loud and obnoxiously opinionated, when people raise their voice to me, I immediately assume the beaten puppy look: head down, tail tucked and eyes darting around trying to find a safe exit. But it is worse when the things people are saying are so ridiculous as to inspire baffled laughter rather than a courteous, yet direct response. Here are some "facts" I was taught tonight:

1) Obama is a Muslim extremist who will blow us all up. (really, that one's been going around for years. New material, people, come on!)

2) Obama is not a citizen of the United States and is ineligible to run for President.

3) Obama has not served this country. (Apparently, to serve this country, one's only option is to enlist in the military. Nothing else - being an upstanding citizen, protecting other citizen's rights, or just being a really helpful person willing to lend a hand to one's neighbors and/or bake cupcakes - qualifies. By the way, this fact was told to me by someone who's never served in the military.)

4) Obama is part of organized crime.

5) I will lose my job if I vote for Obama.

6) I will have to take three jobs to support my kids if I vote for Obama. (No one had a good reply to my pointing out that, in McCain/Palin's dream world, I would have about 7 kids to support because I wouldn't be able to control what happens to my own body.)

7) Obama is racist against white people. (well, who wouldn't be, with such fine examples as this?), and

8) Black people are lazy.

If you're wondering, "black people are lazy" is about where I just stopped trying to talk and stood there, mouth open. The thing is, I'm no stranger to racism. You can't have the legacy of Mississippi stretching like a shadow behind you and be shocked by racist behavior. I witness it every day. I think what shocked me was more that the natural progression in any person's brain when debating politics would be "I don't like this political candidate. And also black people are lazy." I make the argument a lot that the kind of racism that's destroying our country is the kind you can't point out as being textbook racist - the things people think or say and then pat themselves on the back in self-congratulation for being so forward-thinking and "with the times" - but I don't know, there may be something to be said for blatant, old fashioned, in-your-face-all-that's-missing-is-the-white-hood, Jim Crow racism. It's as nostalgic as malteds and long-playing LPs!

The problem, of course, is that you can't argue with "black people are lazy." To argue against a point, there has to be a point - "black people are lazy" is just a ridiculous non-sequitor wholly unsupported by facts, anecdotes or good manners. It's the racist equivalent to the ex-boyfriend who doesn't quite understand why you won't return his many phone calls. You can't call him to say, "please stop calling me;" that's it; you've lost. All he wants is for you to validate his behavior with a response; once you've done that, he wins. So, instead, there was the aforementioned mouth-gaping, followed by a head cocked to one side and a befuddled "okaaaaay."

I realize that my shock in the way this evening played out smacks of naivete, and I assure you that I'm not Pollyanna-ing my way through life. I know that people feel this way. I even knew, at some level, perhaps, that these people feel this way. It is not as if we sit around discussing the latest and greatest from the ACLU; I know these people are mostly NeoCons. I think what continues to surprise and confuse me is that these people - the people who genuinely believe that Obama is the Muslim Antichrist Terrorist sent from Hell to blow us all to bits - even the person who dropped "black people are lazy" on me - these people like me. They think I'm charming and vivacious and adorable and spunky . . . but they hate everything I believe in (and, to be fair, I hate everything they believe in). Does personality transcend belief? I've always thought it did not; that we are, in summation, merely a reflection of our passions and beliefs. That who we are is intrinsically tied to what we want and how we feel. I'll never be accused of being the most open and honest person with the public - what I present to the public is rarely an indication of my actual self - but even my public persona isn't the type for which anyone would reasonably think that "black people are lazy" is a good argument point. So, do they like me in spite of my beliefs? Or are they so entrenched in their own beliefs that they can't recognize that I could possibly hold a different view?

This blog has gone way off-topic, so I'll bring it back around with this question: There are just a few more weeks until the U.S. Presidental election, and the nation is at a fever pitch. What is your favorite part of election fever? What do you really hate? And how many people have you pissed off this week discussing politics?

In summation, I offer you this political sign, which apparently HR will not let me put up in my office, and to whose creation I committed at least five minutes in MS Paint:

It's funny if you're me.


brightbluebeetle said...

your blog is absolutely the place for the sign! Now why didn't I think of that ... And I'm sure that hr thanks you too... I'm curious who you hung out with now though...we've GOT to invite them to wings on Tuesdays...

Rachel said...

God, that's all so depressing - and the thing is, I have a bazillion reasons why I dislike Barack Obama and the DNC right now, none of which go anywhere near that list: exploiting misogyny in the primaries, his insistence that women consult their pastors before having an abortion, combined with his attitudes on those women have third trimester abortions because they "feel blue." His flop on public financing. His FISA vote. His mediocre support of the Democratic protest to changes in classification of contraceptives to abortificients. The gaming of the caucuses, and the DNC manipulating the delegate counts. His refusal to even stand up for an HOLC-inspired requirement before he gave $750 billion dollars to idiot neocon white men on Wall Street? Like, seriously, I can go on for HOURS about the reasons why I, personally, could not vote for him.

Why invent hateful slanders when there are perfectly good reasons not to like or to vote for him? Your country continues to mind-boggle a bit more every year.

Moody said...

To quote Seth Meyers and Amy Poelher: Really?!

I'm kind of glad my guy didn't get nominated because his affair would have killed his chances of winning.

And technically John McCain wasn't born in America.

Meredith said...

This was a very thoughtful, well-written post. That created such rage in me that all I can do is...sputter.

Despite the fact that I'm certain your reasonable and informed arguments with your coworkers made no impression on them whatsoever, I'm proud of you for making them. It's not easy being the only liberal in a crowd of haters. As I'm sure you know, being from Mississippi, and I know, being from East Texas.

Watching the debate last night...ick. I'm sorry, John McCain has the nastiest attitude. He smirks and rolls his eyes and interrupts and says the most negative things. So I stopped watching and turned to the Project Runway finale. Because I am a terrible American.

poshdeluxe said...

don't feel bad, meredith. i went to the alamo to watch the debates and, at the last minute, opted for the sweetly awkward escape of "nick & nora."

wow, erin. i mean, it's once thing to know that yes, ignorance and racism still run rampant in our country, but it's a whole other thing to encounter it in person, with PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH. does this make it harder to work with them? look them in the eye?

i, too, applaud you for trying to be rational and make intelligent arguments with these people, in spite of the fact that you probably wanted to run screaming from the room. i might have ended up throwing some food, which is not v. professional behavior.

ladyshamble said...

*head explodes*

olivia said...

My dad sometimes sends me things that make my head kind of spin, just because I think they're coming from some kind of alternate reality, where people are scared of other races just because they're from another race, and where they really believe that Obama might be the next Castro/Stalin/Hitler. And even though my dad has a normal, middle-class job and a PhD, I think I can pretend that doesn't happen in my world, because he works in the military.

And I don't know what you do, but I can't imagine working somewhere where people I'd normally consider my peers say stuff like this.

To answer your question, I love the whole election. I love all elections. I think discussions and debates are interesting. In a kind of sick way, I'm excited this election has brought all (LITERALLY ALL) the crazies out into the open so we know what nastiness there is, and maybe in the next few years we can try to talk about some of that nastiness. But at least I can't go around fooling myself anymore. I've seen the racist, ridiculous emails. And I think that's good, if depressing.

Alyson said...

you mean to tell me that he's not muslim? AND you mean to tell me that all muslims aren't terroists? AND you're telling me that all black people aren't lazy... man, what is this world coming to?