Saturday, August 29, 2015

Are You a Racist?

I've seen this clip posted on social media three times as an example of unfair journalism.

If you don't have the time or the inclination to watch it, lemmie give you a quick precis:

In 1996, there was a rally in California protesting Prop187, which made it harder for undocumented workers to use public services.  In the video, two supporters of 187 are interviewed, one injured by the protesters.  A Latina interviewer asks the man if he's okay, then starts the interview.
Reporter: Are you a racist?
White Guy: Why is it that people who stand up for America and want to protect our own borders, why are we always being backed up with the racist thing?
It's a pretty good answer, but then he goes off the rails.
White Guy: I'm standing here with a black man.  How can I be a racist?
You read that right.  He goes full on "I have a black friend."  The aforementioned black friend then jumps in with all the calm eloquence of a rabid yak dancing in an active volcano.
Black Friend: That's a dumb question to ask.  You ask that so you can put it on your program to make him look like a racist.  Why don't you ask me if I'm racist?  Because I'm black.  Right? You're a racist for asking him that question.  You're only doing it because he's white, and that's what you're going to show on your report tonight.  You shouldn't play that kind of game.  That's a dumb question.
Yeah, yelling at a reporter makes you look less like a racist than just answering the question.  He eventually makes a point.
Black Friend: You're in America, taking advantages of all America has to offer, and your only comment is "Are you a racist?"  That doesn't make any sense.
Let's ignore the falsehood there, and move on to his final comment, which I call the "coup de jackass."
Black Friend: Are you here legally?
Niiiice.  A little surprised he didn't ask her to make him a taco or test to see how wet her back is.

Anyway, there are things about this video I'd like to point out.

"Are you a racist?" is what reporters call a softball question.
The scene from "The Insider" where the terrorist doesn't get mad at Mike Wallace for this question.
You should be able to answer "Are you a racist?" as easily as "Have you ever killed anyone?" or "Do you love your mother?"  If you can't, if you've never thought about it, maybe you are.

In any case, a question is just a question.  You can answer it calmly, deflect, refuse to answer, or totally lose your shit.  Guess what these guys chose.

The best interviewers give you enough rope for you to hang yourself.  This reporter nods as he ties a noose around his neck and dives off a cliff.

Marketers call this a missed opportunity.
Everyone wants to believe their opponents are stupid and evil.  The reporter was asking for those who saw this man and his friends as enemies.  Instead of showing them he was a caring, thoughtful opponent, he reinforced their views by freaking out.

He gave them the evil stupidity they expected.

Are you a racist?

Asking someone if they're a racist is a challenge.

It means, show us your reasons for attacking a minority group.  Show us you've examined your own motives.  Show us why we should trust you.  Convince us you're not a bigot.

Are we racist?
Here's the short answer.
Humans tend to form groups and alienate the other groups.  We're normal, so they're different.  We're good, so they're evil.  We're wealthy, so they're lazy.  We've got the majority in congress, so we have the right to make rules that oppress others.

It's impossible to completely resist that pull, but if you don't try, if you don't constantly re-examine your motives and attitudes, you're a racist.

Or a homophobe.

Or a misogynist.

Or whatever.

Am I a racist?
I posted this joke last week.
Omfg. Guy at next table: "My wife told me to get rid of anything I haven't used in a year and doesn't give me joy. So I divorced her."
There was no guy at the next table, but I was afraid I'd be (rightfully) condemned for reducing women to their sexual function.  Still, it was funny.  Bigotry is always funny to the bigot.

Afterwards, I wrote a piece about the reaction people from the sixties would have to our society.  I figured they'd react with bigotry, so I wrote the bigotry into it.

Yes, it's funny.

No, I won't post it.

Yet.

I'm going to keep working on it.  Throwing it out would be too easy.  Posting it as is with a caveat would be too easy.  Working on it makes me confront my own bigotry.

I grew up in a time where movies used beating homosexuals and wives as comic relief.  I grew up in a time when minorities were portrayed as criminals.  I grew up in a time when rape was a punchline.

I'm always swimming against the bigotry of my past.  Sometimes I make progress.  Sometimes I fall behind.

Are you a racist?

That's a softball question.  The answer is "I try not to be."

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