How Not to Cure a Racist

There have been a lot of racists in the news these days causing an uproar with their outrageous, offensive remarks. Most recently, a video has gone viral of a woman outside of a Dollar General store in New York yelling racist vitriol at a black man as he sits in his car. I have seen the video across the news and social media as people clamor to comment about just what a horrible, wretched, monster of a human being this woman is to be saying such hateful, reprehensible things to a stranger who seemingly did nothing to provoke her. What makes this video especially infuriating is the fact that this woman says all of these things to the man right in front of her children who are listening the whole time.

It is sad. It is sad to see a mother put on such a display of racism in public. It is sad to see that her children will have such a deplorable example to live by. It is sad to see such hatred “alive and well” in our country as the man in car repeats during the video.

But it saddens me for another reason. It saddens me not just that racism is so real in America, but that we all as a society have come to a place of pettiness where we think that the solution to such racism is to publicly humiliate the person committing the act of intolerance. I do not want to defend this woman for the things she said, they are truly disgusting, but at the same time, it is obvious to me that exposing her racism to the world really did nothing to improve the situation. The black man who took the video and was the victim of the incident simply chose to stoop to her level with an attitude of, “Well if you’re going put me down in public with such slurs, then I’m just going to shame you even more publicly by showing the whole world who you are.” And he clearly succeeded. The video has been viewed more than 7 million times in just three days and comments have come in saying horrible things about the racist woman who is the subject of the video. Many have come out in defense of the man,  even calling him a hero, and against the rampant racism that is symbolized by this one woman.

But, she’s still a racist. And I almost guarantee that everyone else that was a racist before the video was published is still a racist too. In fact, they’ve probably just been given one more reason to hate black people, fueling their racism. This woman gave a radio interview after the video went viral to tell her side of the story. If you listen to it, it really won’t give you a much higher opinion of the woman, but it does seem clear that her racism wasn’t cured by humiliating her. In fact, not only is she still a racist, but now her life is in shambles because of all of the backlash that she’s received. She’s in danger of losing her children and is being harassed everywhere she goes. I don’t know if that’s what the man behind the video was after, maybe it is. But to me, it doesn’t seemed to have helped the situation. It’s just given the rest of the world a new face to put to racism. It’s given everyone else a scapegoat to blame for a problem in a country that reaches far beyond the parking lot of one Dollar General Store.

The last several weeks that face has belonged to Donald Sterling after his racist rant to his girlfriend which was secretly recorded and then used to publicly shame him as well. And he also lost everything because of it. But, it has been clear from the interviews that he’s given since, that he too, is still a racist.

The thing is that if someone hates you because of your skin color, you’re not going to make them not hate you by making everyone else hate them. Sure it might feel like effective revenge, but as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Sure, at the moment of the incident the man kept quite composed and did not react out of hate, but in the wake of his video, far more hate has been sent this woman’s way than he could have ever reciprocated himself.

I cannot blame the man for wanting to get back at this woman, but at the same time, I would hope that we as a society can find more productive ways of dealing with the issue than this petty game of tattle tail. “Hey world, she called me a bad name! Let’s gang up against her!” Instead can we begin to actually invite each other into intelligent dialog about racism? I keep wondering what I would have done if I was in that man’s shoes and I can’t help but think that if rather than filming this woman and posting it to YouTube, what if he would have tried to engage her in a conversation, even apologize for startling her son by starting his engine as they passed, let her know how offensive her language was. Maybe she would have just rolled her eyes. Maybe she would have just continued in her anger. Maybe she would have actually stopped for a moment to consider what she said and calmed down a bit to listen. But whatever her reaction would have been, the man would have at least given her a chance to see that he’s a reasonable human being. But by turning the video on her he only provided her more reasons to hate and even seemed to be egging her on at some points to really prove just what a horrible person she is.

And here’s one other thing that I would like to say about this. This woman is a racist. A pure and simple bigot. But in this case, to me, the evangelical cliché of hating the sin but not hating the sinner seems to be applicable. I hate racism. But I see no reason for that to justify piling more hate on top of this woman. She may be a bad example to her children when yelling hateful things at black people in front of them, but she is still a mother. Being a racist does not equate one to being a bad mother. Nor is it appropriate to use her status as a stripper to further shame her just because we don’t agree with her perception of black people. In her context, maybe stripping is the best way that she can find to take care of her kids. She has a story of her own that has led her to a place of such repulsive bigotry. But in a strange way, the fact that what led her to lash out in her racial outburst was in fact her maternal instinct to protect her children, says something about her. Yes, her instinct was tragically misguided and based on dangerous stereotypes and ingrained prejudices that make my stomach churn, but the truth is that there are many more racists in this world and in the US who are also parents. Taking their kids away from them wouldn’t make them less racist. Probably wouldn’t prevent the kids from being racist either. They’ll always have a black man to blame for them losing their mother because those same prejudices are already ingrained in them.

The point being, I think there is a better way about all of this. I don’t know what the cure to racism is but I’m pretty sure it’s not an eye for an eye. Or a heart for an eye. I think that’s been proven plenty of times. But whatever the solution to the problem is, can we all try to search for it together without humiliating each other in the process? As angry as I am about the Dollar General Racist, I feel like our society has not made any steps forward because of the video being broadcast. Can we please try to find ways to take steps forward? Or are we just going to keep labeling racists everywhere that we see them and hope that that solves everything? Pointing them out doesn’t make them disappear nor does it make the racism in their heart disappear. It takes more than just our iPhones to battle racism.

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3 comments

  1. Amen. Thank you for going deeper into conversation. Everyone has a Story. and YES< if both sides take a moment to breathe and listen, perhaps a bit of understanding can be achieved.

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