A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post that was kind of about the B word (Bigotry) and kind of about the R word (Racism), and then sort of about some other things that weren’t doing me a bit of good to keep carring around.
So I threw them out.
why? Why? WHY?
Almost 5 posts down The Road To Blog, and I’m still asking myself that same question, right before I close my eyes and press Publish anyway. And I still don’t know the answer to it, any more than I know why I buy a 3 Musketeers and peel the waxy chocolate coating off of that gross, spongy middle part, and throw it away. It’s just a compulsion that brings me peace. Reason enough, I guess.
The response to my stories, were pretty much as expected. Some Yays, some Mehs, a few cold shoulders, a nasty private message, and an icky face or two.
Oh. And one un-friend.
Helpful hint of the day: If you want everyone to like you, don’t write about real things.
And look. I’m not one of those people who flips their hair and shrugs like I don’t care. I never really believe anyone who says that. Especially not me. I just don’t care enough to stop doing it. There’s a difference.
I haven’t had any trolls yet, which when you toss around words like Racism and Bigotry (especially when they’re tied to the word Religion), is a little bit surprising. And a little disappointing too. Because apparently you’re nobody, until some sweaty stranger who tortures ants and eats generic Spaghettios out of the can, next to his blow up girlfriend in his mom’s storage shed, hates you on the internet.
At any rate, from the minute I pressed publish, I’ve had this back and forth conversation in my head on whether to leave that post up, or erase it like that guy I dated who saw ghosts, and manicured his hamster’s toenails. Never happened.
“You don’t have to keep saying this stuff out loud you know…..” the one part says.
“No. I do. I really, really do……” insists the other.
Ok, so that may have been an actual conversation between me and my husband, and not in my head. But all I can say, is after publishing that post, it suddenly felt like I was walking down the street buck naked—and a part of me couldn’t blame the ones who covered their eyes in disgust like “OMG for the love of all things holy, put a kimono on that mess! $9.99 at Target. I’ll drive you there myself”. Because, you know—in a world full of airbrushed fantasy, real things horrify us all.
But then came the cab ride home from the airport a week later, with a dark skinned man with an accent, and suddenly, I didn’t feel like erasing it anymore. And no, I don’t know where he was from because A.) I’m terrible at accents, and B.) I didn’t care. I was just glad to be in a cab with him, instead of the Uber I had taken to get to there. Those 10 minutes in the back seat of a car that smelled like Mr. Whisker’s litter box, with a 20-something guy, swerving all over the road while he and his girlfriend did that creepy play bicker thing than no one thinks is cute (You’re so bad! No, you’re so bad!), and watched YouTube videos instead of the road, were some of the longest of my life.
So there we were, me and my possibly-Middle Eastern-but-I-don’t-really-know-or-care cab driver, laughing and joking about my Uber ride in the Honey Boo Boo Express, when his face suddenly froze as he glanced out his passenger side window.
“Whoa……what’s his problem?” he said, eyes locked on the car next door.
And as I looked out my own window, I was met with the flat, hateful stare of a white guy in his mid-sixties, that went from me, to the driver, and then back to me. In fact, it was the same hateful glare, that the same kind of the people I just written about in my last post, had given me 30 some years prior. And what blew me away the most, is how even after all of these years, right down to their self-righteous smirk, it hadn’t changed at all—as if they’ve all passed along the same heirloom tutorial, like a highly treasured jewel, from generation to generation. “Good my boy. That’s right. But squinch your eyes just a bit more. Like rat. Yes, yes! And and now sneer. Like I do, when I hear some uppity woman flapping her yap, who isn’t asking what I want for dinner. Excellent. Excellent. Nicely done. I’d say you’re well on your way to conveying deep, dark hatred for another human being, without ever having to say a word.”
As if the death stare from Grand Dragon Old Fart wasn’t bad enough, here’s where it got weirder. Even though my cab driver knew exactly what was happening, and I knew exactly what was happening, it was like we were both sucked in to this slow motion time warp, where each of us was waiting for the other one to admit what was going on. If I had to guess my driver’s reluctance, I’d say it’s because from the minute he showed up, he was a professional, and he probably didn’t want to blur the lines with something so weirdly personal. That, and because he had no idea who I was, and being accused of being a racist, for pointing out the obvious, tops a big list of Things To Avoid On The Job. My hesitation was along those same lines, because the way our Country is now, anything you say, can and will be twisted and turned into something it’s not, by some extremist wacko; so keeping quiet, usually feels like the safest thing to do.
Except it’s not. In fact, I had just written a blog (that up until that moment, I was wondering if I should erase), on how our silence and denial long ago, had given us all a false sense of safety and equality; which I believe is one of the many reasons that the racism and bigotry that’s been hiding in plain sight for so many years, is now exploding all around us.
“That dude is a racist” I finally blurted out. “People like him, don’t like to see people like us laughing and having fun together.”
There was a little awkward laughter, mixed with some nervous agreement, and then we both went on talking as if nothing had ever happened. I told him about my old job, he told me about his brother the cop, and then he dropped me off, and it was done.
Except it wasn’t done. I was so pissed off I could barely sleep that night. How does anyone hate a complete stranger so much that they’ll sit through an entire light cycle, just to stare them down? And why hadn’t I pulled out my phone, and recorded the whole thing, and then sent it to that Dateline guy with the white hair and ghost story voice, so there would be undeniable proof for everyone see that yes, those people are real. And that no, I wasn’t making it up. In fact, I left the worst parts out, because I was too much of a wimp to say it all out loud. And that yes. A staring contest in traffic many not seem like much, but anyone who has been on the receiving end of a covert hater, understands it’s part of a larger, more pervasive destruction. And if we just had the right proof to get everyone on board, we’d stop sitting back and pretending it’s not real because it doesn’t affect us, and stand up for each other, right?
As it turns out, the answer may be no.
In fact, according to a comic strip called The Oatmeal, that I ran across that same night, there’s a brain function called The Backfire Effect, that causes the exact opposite to happen. Since the words “brain function” probably dropped me down to the last two readers I had left, let me just say that I’m not going in to a detailed explanation about the cartoon. But it’s titled “You’re Not Going To Believe What I’m About To Tell You”, if anyone wants to Google it. And you should. We ALL should. Because it explains so much, in the simplest way, about why we react with anger and denial when we’re presented with information that doesn’t support our core beliefs. The good news is, it’s not because we’re all just a bunch of jerks. Except for the Stare-inator. He actually is just a jerk. I mean for normal people. The ones of us who aren’t sociopaths.
And look what just showed up there. One of my core beliefs. The one that says that bigots and racists of the sit-and-glare-in-traffic caliber are most probably, un-fixable Narcissistic Sociopaths. And that’s exactly how it works. You could give me solid proof that Mr KKK spends every evening and weekend, hand sewing tiny slippers for homeless puppies out of his own shirts, and not only would it not change my belief that he’s a Narco-path, it would push me to assume that the only reason he’s doing nice things, is to camouflage his real evil—which makes him even more of a sociopathic jerk.
The bad news is, from an evolutionary survival standpoint, The Backfire Effect actually makes sense—which means we have very little motivation to ever stop doing it. The nutshell version of how it works goes something like this: The emotional center of the brain is called the Amygdala. (Aaaaannnd I just lost my second to last reader. Hold on last man or woman standing! I’m almost to my point. And no more boring science-y words, I promise). This primitive part of the brain is what makes us react to “threatening” information (i.e. that doesn’t support our core beliefs), the same way we would have reacted to a Saber Tooth Tiger who was stalking our prehistoric cave. In that situation, if we sat contemplating the pros and cons of defending ourselves, we would have been left dangling on the bottom rung of the evolutionary ladder, long, long ago. We react the same way when our core beliefs are threatened, because if we trace those beliefs down deep enough, they’re like a fortress of protection around the way we see the world—which is closely connected to our perception of safety and survival—even if that perception isn’t particularly logical. To make matters worse, our primitive brains are also wired to love consistency and to hate change; so even if a thought or action is consistently bad, our brains will see it as safer and more survivable, than and a new thought or action that logical, healthy and good.
That’s why those drunk driving videos where everyone dies, have very little power to change the behavior of someone who believes that booze makes them sexier, funnier, and a much better driver. Because somewhere much deeper, at an unconscious level—as back-assward as it seems—their core belief about the benefits of booze, is vital to their perception of acceptance; which is always a key component to safety and survival. It’s also the reason why it doesn’t matter how many Bible verses on love and equality you show to a bigoted religious person. If their core belief is “This white hood makes me powerful and superior, instead of a hateful little Weenis who cries after sex with my grandma’s floral pillows”—not even the word of God can talk them out of it.
And yes. That’s my core belief showing again.
I have other ones too, that create all sorts of prejudice and biases, that aren’t always that logical. Take religious men in suits for example. True story. One time I was asked for a list of triggers that caused “a poor emotional response”. So I put religious men in suits. And Southern Comfort (but that’s a totally different story). Which makes sense. Because of all of the things that have threatened me the most (besides way too much of a sickly sweet whiskey abomination), an authoritarian religious person definitely tops the list. Not that they all wore suits. Or that they were even all men. But that’s just how the brain works. We fill in the gaps with our own bits of experience or bias, because a complete story feels safe and consistent (brain function #1), even if it’s not completely true. Take the Drive By Racist. It took no time for me to put a Jesus Fish on the back of his Lexus and a Bible in his lap. In fact, a part of me sees it so clearly, that I actually want to include it as part of the story. Except I can’t. Because he didn’t. So it wouldn’t be true. But since he’s the same type of person, with the same type of rat-eyed, sneer-glare from the authoritarian ghosts of tribal religion past, I want to make him into that type of religious person.
And put him in a suit. A cheap polyester one. That gives him an itchy pimply rash all over his butt. And a booger filled pocket hanky.
And look, I really do challenge these things. Every Sunday in fact, as I follow my kids to church and have purposeful interactions with religious men who are nothing like the ones who create “a poor emotional response”. Which isn’t hard, because the large majority of them aren’t like that at all. Along with that, I also try to consciously remember the ones who were good and kind, even long ago, instead of letting them sink to the back of my mind like some not-even-real kind of unicorn. But here’s another weird thing, that even with the best of intentions, can sabotage those efforts too. The survival part of our brain will under focus on the good things, and over focus on the bad things, just to make sure we’re not forgetting what we know about what is and isn’t “safe”.
Around Father’s Day last year, I actually did forget what I knew, and made the unfortunate mistake of reaching out for a bit of fatherly church comfort during a hard time I was going through. And I dunno. A simple “There, there dear” with a non-creepy, grandfather side hug would have probably been just fine. But no such luck. He tried to exorcise the Jezebel out of me instead. Because isn’t that what’s wrong with every woman who can’t just bury it all in a Cream of Gak smile, as she mixes up the green bean casserole for potluck? And here I thought I was just a normal person, experiencing a normal moment of sadness. But thankfully he, in his Supernatural Wisdom saw what was really going on: the most evil woman in all of Bible history, was living right there inside of me—and it would take a special boss like him, to boot that bitch out. I mean, it would have been an honor just to be nominated, but to actually be chosen as her unholy dwelling place? Well I don’t even know what to say, besides, I guess that explains those peri-menopausal mood swings. Nice catch Mr. Opportunistic Superiority Complex Man. Do you think it’s too late to cancel my GYN appointment?
And don’t worry, I’m actually saving that story for another compulsion, I mean, blog post, so I won’t go on about it now. But the point I’m trying to make is that the magnified effect of a really bad, rare interaction, compared with the far more numerous, but minimized good interactions, still leave me wanting to show up one Sunday morning, frothing with a mouth full of green Palmolive, and flopping on the floor in my old AC/DC shirt, hissing the lyrics to “Hells Bells” backwards.
And look, I’m still on my own journey to sort this stuff out, and to question the core beliefs that fuel my own prejudices and biases. And yes. There’s still a pretty big box to untangle. But the good news is, if we can convince ourselves to leave the door open—even a crack—and tolerate the skin crawly discomfort that new ideas can bring, then there really is hope that we can change.
Even Grand Dragon Old Fart?
I guess you can never say never, but I won’t be laying any bets. Because to make a change, you have to want to change—and anyone who’s that invested in superiority and hatred, doesn’t have the best chance of wanting it. But what about all of the rest of us garden variety jerks, who actually are willing to try if it can make the world a better place? Yes. I believe we can.
Maybe the first place to start, is to dig deep, and trace our own core beliefs down to the Backfire Effect. (And really. Go read The Oatmeal. It explains it all so well). And then maybe the second thing we can do, is actively question the places we feel the most resistance, even when it feels uncomfortable and wrong. Then maybe the third thing we can do, is try to remember that every single person we meet, has their own Backfire Effect, with their own fortress of beliefs, surrounding the World View that they’ve come to see as “safe”—and without any kind of awareness, we’ll all fight each other just as hard, to keep our own defenses strong.
Awhile back, I had a white friend tell me that it bothered him that I’ve had black boyfriends, and that he didn’t know how to stop feeling it. Not long after that, I had a black friend tell me that his grandpa always warned him that white people were “the devil”, and a no matter how hard he tried, a little part of him still believed it.
Both of those friends, were the last people on earth I ever thought I’d hear those things from. But the truth of it is, I think we all have racist, prejudiced and biased thoughts to varying degrees, if for no other reason than the experiences of a lifetime, are always forming an army of beliefs, to keep our world stable, predictable, and “survivable”. Recognizing similarities and differences and judging everything around us as “safe and predictable” or “dangerous and unpredictable” is a hard wired survival trait that all animals—including us—are doing every second of the day. I think the problem comes in, when we lose the desire to think deeper, and be better, than our primitive, tribal selves—and we let fear, greed, and superiority, morph into the unchallenged core beliefs, that protect a destructive, self serving World View.
And ya, I get it. No perspective is ever exactly right. This is just one—and not a fully developed one at that. Which is why I called this blog “All Who Wonder”, instead of “All Who Know”. Because the only thing I’ll ever know for sure, is that I’ll never, ever stop wondering; and compulsively peeling the waxy chocolate facade, off of the gross, spongy center of life—to hopefully find the peace and understanding, I know has to be buried inside.