The other day, I was talking with a good friend about hypersensitivity to racism, and other forms of discrimination. And just last weekend I had a similar conversation with my father-in-law while we were driving back from a funeral. Those events, combined with reading this piece of drivel, which appeared on my wall this afternoon, inspired this post.
Drew Habersang, the author of that screed, had a rather long story to tell about what was, in essence, a friend of his using an ethnic slur (I’m sure you can guess the one from the title) in his presence. Note the slur in question wasn’t directed at him, or about him, or, in fact, directed at much of anything in particular. It was used as a stand-in for a generic curse along the lines of “fucking shit” or “damnit asshole” during a tabletop game. If you’ve ever played a particularly rousing game of Monopoly, you’ve probably heard worse.
Now, before I tear this apart, let’s discuss an old tradition in my household, to which my close friends can attest: smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, and making tasteless jokes on my front porch. This wasn’t consciously started, except to say that my wife generally loathes the smell of cigars and has banished them to the front porch. So when I have friends over, I invariably go to smoke a cigar, and hand out stogies to anyone else who wants one. Soon, all the men are on the front porch while the women do… well, whatever women do during small social gatherings. I presume it is something intensely boring. But whatever.
Now, a bottle of whiskey is a prerequisite for cigar-smoking, in this blogger’s opinion. So that enters the mix, also. When you mix smoking, drinking, and several dudes bullshitting about random topics, you are sure to get something roughly similar on your front porch, I imagine. We insult one another in jest, and the insults are almost always ethnic and/or religious in nature. One friend of mine is of Irish ancestry, so the drunkard jokes write themselves. I have some Armenian in me, and so comparisons to Kim Kardashian’s rather… large assets are common. Certainly the jokes about cheapness abound, too. But no demographic group is spared the treatment. You will hear Polack jokes, Asian jokes, French jokes… and so on.
Well, except for one. For many such gatherings, there are two groups that are off limits: blacks and Jews. As it so happens, I have many Jewish friends. A great many, actually. So in my circles, Jewish jokes are generally permissible in the spirit of things – for they will rag on my ancestry with equal gusto. But those are still somewhat touchy in a way say, Italian jokes generally are not. Black jokes, of course, remain completely off limits. And judging from the reaction of Drew, the author of the aforementioned drivel, it is well that they remain off limits. This has all the hallmarks of a powder keg waiting to explode.
So why is this? Francis opined on it a few days ago. And full disclaimer (for again, this is a touchy subject, and I’m sure my readers can feel this almost instinctively), Francis is married to a Jewish woman and is a vociferous and frequent opponent of anti-Semitism. So let the hairs on your back settle back down, if you please. If they did go up, though, file that away for later in this post. You’ll need the observation.
There is a hypersensitivity at work here. A heightened and overactive threat-detection mechanism, perhaps. Whatever the mechanics of the thing, it is understandable. Jews did indeed suffer mightily in history, and are watchful for a future pogrom. Blacks did indeed suffer slavery and segregation.
And yet, this hypersensitivity is absolute and complete social poison.
Read that again, please. This is a poison pill. When you read Drew’s piece, you will notice how everything is colored through the lens of racism. He literally cannot see anything without suspecting secret racism behind it. And, furthermore, I have no doubt his friends are fully cognizant of this. They, not wishing to anger him or appear racist themselves (who does?), almost assuredly feel a constant social pressure to micromanage their words, gestures, and behavior around their friend. This, in turn, makes interacting with him less pleasant. This becomes self-reinforcing. Drew detects his friends act different about him, which fuels an assumption that the difference is due to racism, which in turn is detected by the friends, who now act even more different in an effort to avoid this very thing.
Everybody gets caught in a spiral of stupidity that no one can escape from.
All until somebody, in the heat of the moment, not thinking, breaks out a slur. Whether driven by bad luck, too much to drink, or some other mechanism, the micromanagement of offense is broken. And not even knowing how to handle this, the relationship of the man and his friends entirely breaks down, requiring him to write a letter to his friend, and considering abandoning the friendship altogether.
See how this works? Drew, like many American blacks, has a wall between him and the rest of us. Piercing that wall takes extra effort. He may even be entirely justified in how he arrived at the notion that the wall was necessary, just as a Jewish person is quite justified in worrying about pogroms and other such things, given the course of history.
However justified, though, the hypersensitivity works against healing and normalization of relations. It poisons relationships.
One thing I’ve noticed in the offensive front porch cigar conversations is that, despite a prolific use of extremely offensive things, everybody is closer together! There is no stepping on eggshells. My Jewish friend can call me a fat-assed Armenian, I can reply with a joke about cheapness, then I can turn around and say to my Irish friend, “damnit, we’re out of whiskey, who invited the Irishman?” Everybody laughs, has another round of drinks, and talks about some other thing. There is no micromanagement of behavior, no walking on eggshells.
If an SJW stuck a microphone on my front porch, he would die of apoplexy.
I don’t know how we solve this problem, or if it even can be solved. The story my father-in-law told me goes something like this. A dwarf he knew was working with a black woman, and the black woman called the dwarf a ‘midget’. The dwarf was angry at this, and the black woman was confused. She asked what she should call him, what the correct term was. Was it dwarf? Little person? And she asked why midget was so offensive to him in the first place.
The dwarf explained that calling him a midget would be like calling her a nigger. She immediately blew up at him. How dare he call her that! He explained that he did NOT call her that. He merely explained that the word ‘midget’ offended him in the same way. But like the incident in Drew’s screed, the context of the word didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t directed at her, that it was a mere explanation, that no offense was intended toward her. The word was uttered. The genie could not be put back in the bottle.
But it was likewise for the dwarf who was offended by her use of ‘midget’ when she intended no offense by it.
It is similar for some Jews finding out that the Pope Emeritus had said something that someone else had interpreted as anti-Semitic (it turns out it wasn’t anti-Semitic at all). No offense was intended, and it was pretty clear that was the case, but that did not matter. It felt wrong. The fact is, words are a mechanism for communication. You cannot divorce the word from the intent of the speaker, because the word is a mechanism for conveying intent.
I started to think if I suffered this condition myself. And truth is, I probably do. When the aforementioned Irish friend makes an Armenian joke, or an English joke, I laugh. But would I laugh as much if a Turk made that joke? Fortunately that’s a rare enough event that this has never been put to the test yet, but I hope I could take it. Still, how many such tripwires are in all of us? It would be best if we disarmed them, instead of erecting new ones as is the modern fashion.
I started thinking about how this goes in relation to the new darling of The New York Times: Sarah Jeong, and her tweets about white people. What’s the difference between her saying these things and my friends and I making fun of one another? Intent. Sarah doesn’t like white people, she makes it clear that it is her intention to insult them. She means it as an insult, not an off-color joke. Yet various media outlets have come to her defense to excuse her behavior. Ironically, the headline of that article is about not coming to her defense, and yet the author does so with gusto. The excuse given is that she was imitating someone else’s behavior. Again, what was the intent?
If Sarah was on my front porch, smoking a cigar, and made a Polack joke, it’d be funny. Read her tweets, though. Is there an undercurrent of good humor here, or an excuse made for bad intent?
We’re all becoming hypersensitive to matters of race, religion, etc… we have created minefields in our society, such that we have long divorced intent from perceived offense. Americans are looking for ways to be offended, or at least enough of us are. Once offended, one is granted a license to act as Sarah did (presuming one has the correct ethnicity, religion, or what have you), trash people with bad intent and get away with it. Many people covet this license greatly. They are permitted to be deliberately insulting assholes, and get treated as heroes for acting so.
I don’t know that Drew is this way. Actually, if anything, I sense a little bit of hope for him. I don’t know why precisely, but I get a vague sense that he is at least generally aware of how his hypersensitivity is coloring his viewpoint. It doesn’t change his behavior any, but realization is worth something, at least. Sarah Jeong, of course, is entirely unrepentant. She quite likes using her ‘I get to hate white men’ license to great effect.
However, the hypersensitivity is not just present in the traditionally “oppressed” classes (really, no one is oppressed in a First-world country, but whatever). It is also present in those of us who try to tiptoe around offense minefields. My friends and I are probably never closer together than when we’re saying things that would horrify SJWs. I think, once upon a time, Americans kind of bonded this way. Even, paradoxically, with historical immigrant groups. Italians and Irish, Polish and Jewish, etc… I suspect the ribbing went this way with all of them, and served to blend the new group with the old, eventually. It diffused actual inter-ethnic tensions, which are a matter of historical record. People used to loathe Irishman. Now nobody gives a shit. Why is that? It was actually an integration mechanism; a way to break down tribal barriers and meld into one people.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Gran Torino, you may have some idea of what I mean by this.
Yes, I know, for many groups it will be difficult to let go of the hypersensitivity, to let it rest. But before you write it off as impossible, remember Eva Mozes Kor, a Holocaust survivor who was experimented upon, who nonetheless was able to forgive one of her captors, shake his hand, and put the matter to rest. If that can be done… what excuse does a man like Drew really have? How can Sarah act as she does when she has suffered comparatively little?
Christianity is centered around forgiveness, and beyond the spiritual reasons for why this is good, there’s a practical one too: it can break down this wall of hypersensitivity to perceived offense, this lurking notion that harm is still intended, when it is not.
As a corollary, it may also expose the genuinely hateful people for who they really are. Deprived of her Marxist license to hate, Sarah Jeong would be outed as the disgusting individual she really is. And there are many more like her who, likewise, would be seen as such.
And then you too can enjoy a rousing discussion of bad jokes on your own front porch, fueled by cigars, whiskey, or whatever vices float your boat. And maybe then, men like Drew can actually enjoy being around their friends.
It’s probably all wishful thinking. The market for racism has never been better. The advantages the license to hate confers upon its wielder are tremendous. But if we don’t put a stop to this behavior, it will tear our country apart, and then we’re all pretty much screwed.