Guest Spot is a recurring post on Natetheworld. In it, I provide a guest author an article, story, or video and then ask for their honest response. This month, we are featuring Nathan Woolard. Enjoy!
To read the original article, "How a Hate Crime Changed My Life, click here.
There’s this episode of South Park, which, in all its glory, does what South Park does best, parodies society and culture. It’s this episode where the fictitious town of Beaverton, built under the world’s largest beaver dam, falls victim to an epic flood. The irony of course is that it was only a matter of time that the dam collapse and Beaverton represents New Orleans. What I found to be the funniest part of the episode was Randy (who is of course the best character on the show) says “Saving all those people is not what’s important right now... It’s finding who to blame.” Hysterical.
I was asked to provide a review of an article written by a Turkish-Muslim man in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was not an instigator, zero ties to Al Qaeda, just a kid serving as a Resident Hall Assistant at a university in Pennsylvania. The premise of the article is that the author attempts to shelter an 18 year old freshman student who, in the early morning of September 12th, unbeknownst to him, fell victim to a hate crime. Before the young freshman awoke, the author cleaned graffiti from the Muslim student’s door that included profanity and racial slurs. Toward the end of the article the author apologizes for not allowing the freshman student to see and learn from the hate first hand. The author believes he should have left the graffiti so the young student would observe and learn what the world truly is. This is what we are. This is what you are thought of. It is best that I not shelter you from it, experience these things to learn, understand, and grow.
I typically keep my political and social beliefs close to the chest and really only discuss in small intimate settings where it causes minimal collateral damage. This hasn’t always been me, in year’s past I was happy to have a strong opinion on anything. I would like to emphasize the word anything. I think organically as I have aged that sense of fighting has waned. I’ve learned to be more objective and empathetic; to have an opinion but not at the expense of others. Most of the time that is. Not that I’m great at, I’ve suffered from a beer-inflicted lapse on many occasions. Taken together however, I think more than anything I find the discussions to be exhausting. It’s nothing self-righteous, I just rather watch Netflix than bother arguing with people who will never see things the way I do or the flip. But, in the interest of providing an analysis I will divulge in to behavior here that, in a sense, is counter-intuitive to the message I attempt to convey. Buckle your damn seat belt.
One of my favorite pictures (relatively speaking) is a young girl with the bible, holding a semi-automatic weapon in front of the American flag (see below). In seeing the picture, some internet superstar out there realized that picture struck an odd resemblance to this one...
At this point, I’ve probably done well to segregate a couple of camps and they likely center on political belief. There is of course those who identify as liberal and in all of their fight and pursuit for equality and inclusivity, I am likely speaking your tune. I just stuck in those ‘pubs didn’t I? Sorry, Republicans, amirite? This articles is an indictment on the agenda and lacks true Americanism. What a leftist. Of course he’s a leftist, he’s a professor, it’s kinda what they do.
The reality is that I am attempting to do nothing of the sort. This picture is not intended to be an indictment of conservatism, but rather to illustrate an indictment on our culture.
The parody extends beyond conservativism and liberalism. It’s not a discussion of political choice or human values, it’s an indictment on humanism. We are hard-wired for struggle, amplified in the current climate by the keystrokes we blog, Facebook, and tweet. This struggle is not limited to political ideology or social belief systems, liberals do this on the regular and disguise the behavior under the umbrella of equality and social justice. It’s not that the fight isn’t worth battling, it is the way we do it. We are to the point where we sensationalize, we justify, we objectify. We have opinions of opinions, amplified by the soundboard of our followers and Facebook friends. Two of the greatest poets of our lifetime, the Avett Brothers, once said that “People like to talk on things they don’t know about.” The problem here isn’t that you have an opinion, it’s that we’ve entered an age of entitlement where are opinions lack objectivity or empathy. We are so strongly set in our beliefs that we cannot dare to allow someone to believe that homosexuality should not be legalized. And, when they don’t believe things we do, we label them. Who are they, right? Bigots! We are so committed to the eradication of guns and flags that we sensationalize arguments and use phrases like “highly offended” and “outraged,” and “this world is going to hell.” The reality is that this time in history, even with its struggles, is a pretty nice time to be alive. And, you’re not highly offended, you’re highly entitled. Quit wallowing in your own self-righteousness.
You see, we’ve created a culture of social lynch mobs. We don’t have the opportunity to shelter the innocent like the author of the article, they learn of hate through keystrokes and well-timed GIFs. This article was written about a time long ago when the world wasn’t so connected. How can anyone even be sheltered anymore? This was written about a time 14 years ago in a preFacebook utopia of Xanga’s (I think) and AIM where dial-up internet ran rampant through college campuses. We don’t have the luxury to shelter the innocent any longer. They learn of hate and opinions through 140 characters. They develop opinions of Obama subconsciously through pictures and memes that they are subjected to. They learn about “equality” through passive aggressive posts that ironically ostracize those who think differently. They learn homosexuality is an abomination from a blog that mentions Leviticus. They see that the defense of traditional marriage is modern day racism because of a side-by-side photo comparing the movement to the Civil Rights. And, the more we view these things, the more Facebook is programmed to send them our way. We created a culture of social lynch mobs.
The sad part is when we sensationalize our views on social and political ideology, we actually do harm to the movement. When you post a picture of something radical (the girl above) you do little to advance your belief system, you simply come off as bitter, shallow, and cold. When you use a picture of two overly flamboyant gay males making out as a middle finger to those who support traditional marriage, you do little to show true gay America. You hurt the movement. That’s not gay America, that’s sensationalism. And, collectively, when we do these things we build cultural divides. We build a right and wrong way to view political and social ideology; we put up walls between each other. We perpetuate stereotypes and fuel hate crimes.
The role of higher education, especially in relation to race, religion, and sexual orientation, is to provide a healthy place for discussion and to teach our youth to view issues objectively. When we’re able to openly discuss gay marriage without sensationalizing in a room with self-proclaimed rednecks and gay men, we bring down barriers and empathy is born. Not every issue should turn your face red, and quite frankly, you don’t have the right to, you’re just being entitled. You’re not right because you are right, you are right because you think you are. Reality is socially constructed and situated in how members interpret meaning. What you believe to be true isn’t true because it is true, it is true because you think it is.
Now I’m not talking about the big elephant in the room here. Race in America is far too long overdue for radical reform and we are making small strides. There is such a thing as white privilege, you just got to know how to look for it. Not to get too much in to it, but as an example, go watch ABC Family for two hours. Count how many white people you see and how many black people you see. It’s probably a 15:1 ratio. Now, for each person you see and that they allude to, write down the occupation of those people. Yup, white privilege. It’s not that white people are inherently racist, we just in many instances fail to empathize. We don’t see it. That’s not racism, that’s a failure in cultural identification. I’m never going to truly understand what it’s like to black in the United States so I won’t pretend here. What I’m talking about is people who get “highly offended” by everything. The people who write in all caps on Macy’s Facebook page or stand outside abortion clinics with cleverly stupid signs.
So, what does this all mean and how to do we move past it? What I am suggesting is that in many ways we’ve created a culture of extremism. And, it’s not limited to any one political party or social ideology, we’ve taken extremism to the extreme on the stupidest of shit. We protest outside Chik-fil-as because their CEO says something we don’t like, or, we hold a candle lighting or hetero hug fests because he did. Stop it. Stop doing these things. When you take your fight to the extreme you’re not helping the movement. People who think differently can’t empathize, they actually loathe you and your actions further perpetuate hate. Find a way to empathize with those who think differently than you. Attempt to view movements and social ideology through each other’s eyes, to understand that we all operate on a different set of belief systems that are learned from our experiences. Stop blindly following a political party on every issue; these are not football teams fighting against each other. If we do this, we might be able to create a culture of understanding and respect. We may create a culture born out of true tolerance (and not using the world tolerance as a strawman for labeling people bigots). If we can create a world of true tolerance, empathy, and understanding, maybe acts of aggression and extremism will wane. And, maybe, just maybe, this article wouldn’t have been written.
So, what is the most important takeaway here? Is it race, religion, sexual orientation? It’s actually none of the above. The most important piece has nothing to do of extremism either. We’re going to switch the focus entirely. The takeaway is centered on the way I presented my arguments. Think back on this review. I want you to consider the language used to discuss each of these topics. I don’t actually use any sort of objectivity while arguing my point. I make the argument that everyone lacks empathy and objectivity while not actually being objective or empathetic myself. Everything I said was so definitive and direct. I make statements like “We sensationalize” and “You believe.” That language isn’t fair and it wasn’t intended to be. In many ways, this is my own view of culture and humanity based on my own experiences and interpretation. My beliefs are not true because they are true, they’re true because I think they are true. Would this be my view if I were black, gay, Arab, or from East Tennessee? What we do need however is for many of us, myself included, to take a step back on occasion and view world issues from 50,000 feet. A good place to start are the issues we feel so strongly about. We should all attempt to truly consider how you might view this issue if you were a completely different person. This is a good exercise for everyone, regardless of their background. So what is the most important takeaway here? This review was intended to be part of the problem.