So. This happened. On Facebook. (That probably removes any chance that you’ll be surprised.)
I have a lot of Facebook friends who linked up because they saw me on TV during my 12-plus years as a reporter for the Golf Channel. Naturally, golf is a common interest, so I was happy to accept most of these requests. But these aren’t people I know personally.
The other day, one of them put up the kind of silly-joke poster that you used to see in places such as Spencer’s Gifts. You know, the cat clinging to a rail over the legend, “Hang In There, Baby!” That kind of thing.
But this one had an important difference. The gag was, don’t call Mario (of video game fame) a racist — he’s multicultural! He does X like a [insert nationality here], Y like [same again], and…in the last line…”grabs coins like a Jew.”
I’m not making this up.
By now you have gathered that I am Jewish. If you read this space frequently, you know that the rest of my family is Catholic, and that I attend Mass with them. I work to be tolerant of all approaches to God, and I refuse to engage in potentially damaging stereotypes. I have an example to set for my son, for one thing, and it’s the right thing to do, for another.
Of course, none of the stereotypes in the ridiculous poster were proper, and one doesn’t have to be a humorless killjoy to see that. But one sees such crap all the time on Facebook. This time, that last line was the last straw for me. I commented “Unacceptable” and unfriended the poster, something I rarely do. I didn’t imagine he would care. I just didn’t want to be associated with that kind of thinking.
Amazingly — or perhaps not; it was Facebook, after all — it got worse.
I got a personal message a few minutes after my comment/unfriend. The poster said he didn’t realize the poster was offensive, and he took it down. I was on the brink of thanking him when I had a loud WTF? moment. So instead, I wrote back, “‘Grabs coins like a Jew?’ You didn’t know this was offensive? Maybe that’s a big part of the problem!”
His reply? Again, I am not making this up: “So…who do you like in the Masters this year?”
Of course, I blocked him into oblivion.
In the span of my life from late childhood to now, age 52 — a very brief second of history, mind you — the “N-word” has been effectively banned from acceptable conversation, as it should be. Yet across racial, gender, ethnic, and religious lines, enormous stereotypes still control the thinking of many. They are mental convenience food, low on accuracy and respect and high on easy and insulting. They continue to offend, divide, and obstruct at a time when we as a nation need all the unity we can scrape together. Certainly there have been enormous strides in awareness and actual protection of civil rights since the middle of the last century. But no time is right for dropping the vigilance of decency.
This has nothing to do with rigidity or an overarching sense of political correctness. It has everything to do with treating people with respect. When in doubt, err on the side of too much respect. There’s no advantage in erring on the side of too little.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr