The Root has a good piece up on how to deal with friends’ racist reactions to Ferguson on social media. It’s sadly necessary, at least for me. In my fifteen years living in New York, I’ve found myself arguing on many occasions that not everyone in my homestate of Alabama is racist, homophobic and generally averse to progress, but then I look at my Facebook feed and find that a good number of my high school classmates seem determined to prove me wrong on that count.
The rhetoric around Ferguson is particularly nasty, ranging from assertions that black people are somehow inherently inferior to just incredibly blind acceptance of Darren Wilson’s narrative that Michael Brown was behaving aggressively while going out of their way to disregard all other testimony. (It’s worth noting that Alabama’s fairly gun happy and people think any display of aggression at all is reason enough to shoot someone dead, but it’s particularly convenient for people who believe any young black man who is any way subverting white authority should be punished in the harshest possible way.)
The same thing happened when gay marriage was a big item on the national agenda and there were the usual worn-out and brain-dead cliches about homosexuality being a choice, typically followed by a Bible verse* that did little beyond telegraphing the post author’s lack of theological training. (It doesn’t surprise me that Alabama is #2 on this list. As usual, the state is only redeemed by the even more appalling behavior of Mississippians.)
The Biblical rhetoric that bookends those displays of hatred particularly irritates me because I grew up Southern Baptist and my understanding of the religion is that in its best form, it’s fundamentally about compassion and the recognition that we’re all imperfect (“sinners” in Biblical parlance) but redeemable. And spewing vile crap about black people displays none of that compassion, being completely unable to empathize with the large swaths of people in this country who face systemic systemic discrimination on a daily basis displays none of that compassion, being unwilling to empathize with Michael Brown or his family displays none of that compassion, and being unwilling to look at the hard data on the extent to which black people in this country are subjected to police harassment because you want to believe they deserve it displays none of that compassion. There is so much self-righteousness and so little empathy. And hatred rooted in your own sense of self-righteousness doesn’t justify itself.
I had a conversation a while back with a friend who asked me why so many poor white southerners were so inclined to hate non-white people, gay people, women as a class. Or conversely, why do the bigots tend to be poor? I said that A) they don’t. Most of the people posting racist things to my FB page right now are squarely middle class and some of them, by cost of living standards in the state, are fairly well off. B) But inasmuch as some of the bigots are poor, uneducated, unaccomplished, and so on, they have very little to feel superior about and if they can convince themselves that being white–or male, or straight–brings with it some sort of moral superiority or superiority of judgment, that’s pretty much all they have to cling to. They have nothing but their hatred to make them feel better about themselves.
And here I could launch into a Not All Alabamians digression, but I think everyone knows that.
There are many things I love about my home state, but the pervasive bigotry is the one major reason why I’d never move back there. We plan to have kids, and I do not want them exposed to that. That’s not to say that racism and homophobia don’t exist in New York, but it’s a matter of degree, and it’s just better here on that count. You can’t live in this city and not be exposed to people who aren’t like you. And if I have to choose, I’m going to opt for the city where my kid will never get forwarded an email comparing the US President to a monkey, preceded by the caveat “I’m not racist, BUT….” I can handle it, but I’m not going to subject a child to it.
In the meantime, I’m just going to point you to the donation page of the Southern Poverty Law Center. They’re based in Montgomery, Alabama, where I was born, and they do hard, necessary, fantastic work.
*Somehow all of the praying in public types gloss over the well-known story where Christ called the Pharisees hypocrites for doing the same thing. But cherry picking doctrine is also par for the course.