Indelible Hate

It’s finals week. You have two papers due and that one lab report the professor said you could rewrite. There are three tests that will require three all nighters of memorizing and untold pots of coffee. Everyone is fighting a cold and a little bit drunk on exhaustion and holiday break anticipation. Somehow, there are still parties happening, and you don’t want to miss those, either. You’re hardly out of your teens, but real life is happening soon and this week counts. Big time. Grad school admissions officers, future employers, and likely your parents (who are paying big money for all of this) are expecting results. You get up early to caffeinate, or go running, or email that professor for another extension… and there it is.

The word. That word. And it’s everywhere. It’s everywhere and they’ll wash it off and paint over it and say sorry and condemn it and make feeble excuses for the feeble mind that wrote it, but it won’t matter. Black Lives… don’t.

And it’s finals week. You didn’t need this right now. You don’t have time to fight this one (but you will). You don’t have time to field the “I’m sorry/omg/don’t know what to do or how to help/I love you” texts from your friends who care, but cannot really get it… not unless those ugly words were aimed at them, too.

I don’t know what it’s like. What I do know is that students of color at Boston College have already been marching and organizing and engaging with leaders (some for a few years) to say, “Hey, this is happening… can you help?” Is there the smallest bit of consolation that this latest transgression is so egregious, so specifically racist and hateful? I mean, they cannot ignore this, can they? I mean, they’ll DO something this time, right? They’ll have to.

But when you’re white. Like, super white like me, maybe your first thought is that the bigger issue is our failure to treat mental illness, or to blame the current administration for emboldening crazies, or to put this incident in a box of outlier-type events. That’s where my mind wants to go. But that’s… unhelpful. I’m not an insider to an entire community that could laundry list similar gut punches to their humanity. It doesn’t matter why this happened; it matters how. And when a leader in that community—a community that is angry and hurting and still needs to take finals— asks you to discuss it in yours, that’s one small thing you can do. And I can try to do that without “white guilt,” which is unnecessary and vain, or guidance from black friends, who are not obliged to provide a primer for appropriate status updating to prove I’m one of the “good guys.” Especially now, when the wound is fresh… and there are still finals.

When I listen to, honor, believe, and even attempt to imagine that lived experience, I’m saying Black Lives Matter. Was this the crime of a traitor in the midst of a majority of students who believe all of The Right Things… or is it more insidious? How could you not assume the latter when you see the word. That word. Everywhere.

I cannot apologize on behalf of all white people for insane, hateful, unimaginative racists who do horrible things. But I can listen more and pray harder. Catching one bogeyman with a Sharpie might not feel like any sort of justice on campus, but rather proof of so many more hiding in dark corners.

Thinking of you, Savannah. Your strong voice, leadership, and unflagging faith are powerful. Our ears, hearts, minds, and arms are open. We’ll try harder and more often to shine light into dark corners. We’ll try harder to take up the slack.

You have studying to do.

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Fighting the Nazis… by Steve Safran

“You see Nazis everywhere!” an exasperated friend once told me in college. She had a point. I brought up Nazis a lot, usually joking, sometimes not. I was raised to fear the Nazis, even though they had lost a war more than 20 years before I was born. I had Nazi Nightmares. I would be sitting in my sixth grade class in Wayland, Mass., and the Nazis would come for me.

I was raised to “Never Forget,” starting with Hebrew School in fourth grade. I went to Jewish summer camps beginning in 1977. Even there, amid the summertime fun of swimming, singing and doing plays, we honored the holiday of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. It’s the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. We honored it at summer camp.

I remember being picked up at one of those first days of Hebrew School and saying to Mom: “Did you know about the Holocaust?” Of course she did. Although she was a toddler, she was a child of the war, and my grandfather, a first generation American Jew, helped build the ships that took out the Third Reich.

As the years went by, the Nazis became a punchline. They weren’t vicious genocidal maniacs anymore. They became “Springtime for Hitler” goofballs. Even the word “Nazi” has been defanged. It’s become shorthand for “strict.” There’s the “Soup Nazi” from “Seinfeld.” If you’re a pedant for word usage, you’re a “grammar Nazi.” And there’s Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.” Or, the longer a thread, the more likely someone will call someone else a Nazi.

But Nazis are real, they’re not a joke, and there’s nothing funny about this group of young, mostly male, Hitler-worshippers who have come out from the shadows. They have always been there, but now feel emboldened to take to the streets and foment violence. They can call themselves the alt-right, but that’s just rebranding. They want anyone who isn’t a “White American” gone. Stop calling them the “alt-right.” They’re white supremacists. And if they march under a swastika, they’re Nazis.

I believe—and this is very difficult to type– that the Nazis had a minor victory in Charlottesville. Yes, I believe love and compassion will win. But they want anger and hate, and they got it. They could have had their sick little demonstration, screamed about how life isn’t fair for white guys in America, and dispersed with little notice. Instead, we are left with three people dead. Chaos, death, fear means a win for the Nazis.

I spend a little time reporting these people to Twitter. This breed of hate-mongers are in violation of Twitter’s rules regarding abusive behavior. I search for racists with the biggest following, and I report them. It works. They get shut down. Often they’ll have the audacity to call being kicked off Twitter as getting “Shoah-ed.” The “Shoah” is another word for The Holocaust. That’s right– these people compare losing access to a social media site to being tortured and slaughtered for their religious beliefs. They are even sicker than you know. And, of course, they jump right back on Twitter with a new account. But I take a little pleasure knowing I’ve made it a tiny bit more difficult for them to spread their hate.

You can take the same action. Search the racist words they use and you’ll find no shortage of terrifying accounts. (Seriously: Twitter? You can’t crack this nut?) Report these people. They need social media to organize and spread their hate. We can stop them together. They act like it doesn’t bother them, but it’s a small delight to watch a Twitter user with 8,000 followers pop up again and have 10. Then I report him again. It’s not exactly “Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi-Hunter,” territory, but it matters.

We can fight the Nazis together, on line. Today’s Nazis thrive on social media. Let’s cut off their supply.

godwins-law

Maybe we can stop using “Nazi” as an umbrella term for those who do not agree with us… and save it for the actual ones in our midst.

 

Because a stranger called me a prostitute

Occasionally, an odd message will come through the blog or even directly to my personal email. They don’t comment on the topic at hand (trivializing breast cancer, embarrassing myself, hating exercise). Instead, they want to use my small platform to peddle their own ideas or products. Probably most cancer bloggers have had at least one herbal-happy loon suggest we attack our tumors with green tea and meditation because chemotherapy is an evil scheme. I’ve only had to block a few weirdoes, which is saying something in this increasingly say-anything-at-all world.

One reader suggested that my willingness to stand naked before anyone but my husband and undergo life-saving surgery was a profound disobedience to God. We in the Shittiest Sorority should submit to His plan regarding our cancers, and die (or not) according divine whim instead of disrobing for surgeons. BLOCK. But it disturbed me enough that I still remember it three years later.

Today I received a bizarre email from a man trying to strike up a jokey relationship based on the conceit that I am being held in this marriage against my will as an “American Comfort Girl.” An actually creepy, deeply racist stranger found a picture of my family on line and wanted to ridicule the outlandish idea that I had married an Asian and birthed these two bastard half-breeds. He wanted to help me “escape.” I couldn’t delete and change all of my passwords to everything fast enough.

This screen-polluting email made me even angrier that there wasn’t a true apology for this. (I won’t link directly to the disgusting clip.) When something that ugly is laughed off as lighthearted fun, it can lead to other jokey offences, actual on-the-street, go-back-to-China shouting, and possibly prompt a message from a stranger suggesting I am a prostitute to the husband I adore.

Our current political climate has reminded us that we’ve only been putting makeup over our hate-filled pustules of racism and sexism. We’ve looked good enough for the school pictures, but it’s time to lance these boils. Maybe someday we’ll actually credit the billionaire bully for exposing what has obviously been simmering and spreading below the surface for too long: fear and misunderstanding of different skin, beliefs, and women in general. And you know, it’s not helpful to simply wag a judge-y Facebook finger at the orange ego-maniac who has been caught on tape, or the white man who made an actual video demeaning an entire town of Asians. We’re going to need to do more than that.

Only one generation ago, it was against the law for Bernie and me to be married in many states. Some of our parents, just 20-30 years ago, warned us not to date other races “because it would be difficult for your children.” And those were the thoughtful, modern parents who weren’t overtly racist. And you know what? They weren’t wrong. Last week, I had to explain to my boys why an entire “comedy” segment on a popular news program made fun of people that look like them… and why no one said, “sorry.”

Have you honestly never been complicit and quiet in the presence of downright rape-y language about women’s bits? Do you publicly chastise the jerk (maybe even a family member) who makes the offhand Asians-with-cameras or black-neighborhoods-where-you’ll-get-shot comments? No. No you don’t. Not every time. And you definitely didn’t ten or twenty years ago.

And that’s ok. Not sure you’re changing minds doing that, anyway. But I bet you make damn sure that the kids within earshot get schooled. Dinnertime discussion at the Lee home has been nothing but race relations (complicated and problematic) and rules for talking about girls (only ever say nice things). Exhausted, exasperated, and frankly kind of grossed out with the topic (God, aren’t we all?), Teddy pushed back from table exclaiming, “I’m still PRE-pubescent! My voice hasn’t even changed yet! Do we still have to keep talking about this weird stuff?” Well, Teddy, yes we do. But last night, this picture went viral, and gave me a glimmer of hope that future locker rooms will be filled with actual feminists.

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Young men at Centennial High School, showing us how to combat the overwhelming ickiness on the news.

Unlike other angry outbursts catalyzed by news reports of truly gross behavior, mine is not political. I don’t care about the election (this year). Vote, don’t vote. Whatever, dude. But I do care profoundly about how you and I treat each other, how we talk about and to each other, and how we raise our boys to be champions for women. It’s time to get our multi-colored asses into pews or temples or mosques or yoga studios or Soul Cycle. Where do you go to tap into your sincerest, We Are the World feelings? I need them. And so do our kids.