Recent experiences in social media have led me to the conclusion that we tend toward a very narrow window in assessing each other’s intentions, treating all communication as black and white, good guys and bad guys. We all have our blind spots, and/or are emotionally damaged. In fact, emotional damage has a profound effect on how we perceive the world, other people, other belief systems, and how we see ourselves. Inflicting more damage, even if unintentionally, does nothing to improve matters.
My interactions with diverse individuals and social categories of our population reveals that unless I am a clone of that particular person or an individual within that category, I probably have no place commenting on their circumstance or struggles. Attempting to embrace and validate their experience becomes an exercise in futility or worse if I take the conversation public. I then have no control over the input of others.
One of the unfortunate consequences of having a social network that spans the socio-economic-political-religious spectrum is that you are going to be called out as a bigot if you “protect” anyone else perceived as a bigot by those with differing experiences and views. The assumption is that everyone is already cemented in their views and not open to any additional information. We assume they know full well they are misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transphobic, God-denying haters, and not that they are simply uninformed or uneducated. They must be professional trolls.
There is a difference between an annihilist who desires to obliterate everything and everyone “different,” and someone who is simply comfortable with their own identity but uncomfortable with the new normal or having difficulty comprehending the territory. There is no way we can possibly put ourselves into the minds and bodies of others if we are not ourselves Black, homosexual, transgendered, or otherwise a “minority.”
It is my belief that there are many innocent people being labelled as bigots simply because they lack full understanding of the issues at hand. If you do not know where the mines are, you are eventually going to step on one. If you do not recognize the triggers, you will pull one at some point. When someone talks about “dog whistles” to the bigot camp, it may be that you do not hear yourself blowing one. The wrong intent is assumed. Groups that are trying to assert their long-suppressed rights, who are understandably angry at being marginalized and abused, if not murdered, begin to interpret every attempt at understanding, or every question pertaining to the historical “norm” as somehow a threat to be met with hostility, assigned to the domain of true bigots.
Me? I am the product of an overprotective mother, and an angry father on alternate weekends. It has taken me decades to undo the damage and I am still not a finished product. The truth is that we have no idea what anyone’s personal history is, what horrific experiences or sheltered lifestyles have shaped their views. It is impossible to know this unless they fully disclose personal information that they may feel leaves them vulnerable to ridicule and persecution themselves.
This blog is where I often articulate publicly the struggles I am having privately, in my own head, striving to be a more understanding, humble, and loving human being. Others choose to do that through social media where they make posts, or comment on the posts of others. Increasingly this is asking for abuse rather than clarification, understanding and patience. Boom! You are an instant a$$hole if you use the wrong words or admit your current frustrations or misunderstandings. Zero leeway, no empathy, nothing positive.
God forbid that you defend the wrong person, too. You are then a bigot for defending a bigot, guilt by association. Whatever happened to assuming the best about people, or at least having an open mind? Your experience with a person may be drastically different than mine. I am likely to keep both of you as friends until it is demonstrated by repeated behavior that you are not worthy of my emotional and intellectual investment. I can decide for myself who to keep in my circle, and I reserve the right to recall people I have kicked out, if they agree I am worth having back in theirs.
Perhaps that is our common ground, then, that we are all flawed; and all too eager to turn others into villains to advance our cause, make ourselves feel better, morally superior, and justified in our values and beliefs. That is a terrible way to receive validation, at someone else’s expense. We can do better. We can start by admitting we are incomplete, utter amateurs in the interpretation of the experiences of others. We can listen more, not reserve judgment but abandon it completely for tolerance, if not acceptance.
Can we hate bigotry without categorizing any one individual based on one conversation or comment thread? The scientific method demands reproducible results. We might apply that to our relationships. One bad event? Maybe the benefit of the doubt is in order. Repeated instances that reflect bad character? Now you have cause to re-evaluate the relationship. Each of us has a different threshold, and a single violent action should immediately end further interaction, but there is a fine line between cautious optimism and giving up on someone as a lost cause.