“Don’t get so tolerant that you tolerate intolerance.” – Bill Maher
Have you ever heard someone say, “Let’s agree to disagree?” or, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion”?
We should never tolerate acts of injustice.
A candidate for the Florida House of Representatives recently stated that President Obama should be hanged for treason. According to him, Obama is worse than Benedict Arnold.
Angry and disgusted by another blatant and violent act of racism in Florida, I wrote on my private Facebook wall: “Florida is a scary and stupid place.”
Now, I obviously don’t believe the entire state of Florida is scary and stupid. This is, surely, a blanket statement; people who know me (everyone on my private page) knew what I meant.
Well, that’s not exactly how it works.
What I say, even if it doesn’t truly represent my beliefs, represents me anyway.
Corky: Do you not see the problem with your statement? To call a whole state stupid and scary (racism usually includes fear) is a form of racism itself.
Me: I think it is wise to take my statement less literally since it was written on my private page. Also, I don’t think saying a state is notorious for racism is a racist statement, unless I was targeting a particular race of people in Florida. My statement is, however, discriminatory against Florida residents. But, you know what, people who know me recognize my intent: I’m mad at certain people who are committing racist acts — a lot of them coming from Florida.
The “People you see at Walmart” phenomenon is a good example of what I was going for. After you see enough interesting people at Walmart, you begin to think Walmart is a weird and entertaining place.
Corky: In cases such as this, we cannot rely on people understanding our “intent.” That is part of the problem with issues such as racism, bigotry, and oppression: you cannot argue that racism is justified in one case and not another. If you are going to attack people for their words or actions you should watch yours. I do not mean to make you feel as if I am attacking you; I am just not tolerating intolerance.
Excuse me? Why was my silly Facebook status being called racist? It felt as if I was being called a racist. And how dare she say she wasn’t tolerating my intolerance? I was the one not tolerating intolerance! This was ridiculous.
Well, no it wasn’t. It took a while for me to shed my defensive position, but I finally realized Corky was right: although I’m not racist, my statement was discriminatory. This fact could not be diminished by my intentions when writing it.
Me: I agree with you, Corky. You are not calling me racist; the statement I made is discriminatory. I thought it was obvious that I was exaggerating my opinion and that my statement didn’t truly represent me. I think, in small settings like a private Facebook account, we tend to think a joke or an exaggerated opinion doesn’t hold weight in the grand scheme of things. We tend to think, How can my insignificant statement cause tension when a potential state representative said the president should be hanged? The problem is, when people think this way, like I did, we forget certain words or phrases are inherently racist, bigoted, or oppressing.
Again: What I say, even if it doesn’t truly represent my beliefs, represents me anyway.
What if Corky had said, “You’re entitled to your (discriminatory) opinion” and left it at that? What would I have learned? I would have learned that I can get away with saying whatever I want because it’s private and my intentions are just.
I understand the appeal of a phrase like “Let’s agree to disagree” because people are sometimes hesitant to continue conversations that get heated. However, situations like this prove we can’t be intimidated by each other. And, you know what? I was honestly wrong! And if either of us had given up (if Corky had ignored my discriminatory statement because she knew my intention; if I had become too defensive and ignored her arguments), I wouldn’t have learned that my words ALWAYS hold weight. Just because they are said in private, or as a joke, doesn’t lessen the fact that they are still discriminatory.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this?