Monday, February 25, 2019


Today I saw one of those "viral" stories that might not even be based on anything that happened to anyone. Its basic idea was this:

A bilingual boy and his toddler cousin were playing in a park when they were unexpectedly yelled at by a white woman for speaking a language other than English. The older boy, being a child getting scolded for no reason by a bigot, was rude to her in return. The white woman snapped and began threatening the children, claiming she was calling her husband to come set them straight and beat them up. He was scared, and he and his family decided to avoid the park for a while afterwards. 

Many years later, the bilingual boy had become a bilingual man and he had a good job, and he ended up seeing this woman again when she was sent to his company as a temp. She didn't recognize him but he recognized her. He tolerated her for a few days, and then had an opportunity to bring up the incident in a sideways fashion, pointing out that the woman's current residence was very close to a park where he was once harassed by a racist for not speaking English. The woman looked uncomfortable, got silent, and didn't lay claim to the action, of course. Later he contacted her temp agency and asked them to cancel her contract--which was legal for him to do as they don't need a reason to refuse to permanently hire whoever they send. 

This story circulated on Facebook. Many of the people saying "GOOD, had it coming, this is karma" had profile photos that suggested they were people of color. Almost everyone pearl-clutching over the bilingual man's refusal to offer forgiveness and be the bigger person and not hold a grudge had a white person in the thumbnail.

The common thread among so many of these white commenters was that a bilingual man of color lacked class and must be bitter because his resentment must have grown instead of mellowed over the years, and that wronged parties still owe their abusers forgiveness or else they themselves are not good people.

What they see is an old incident that shouldn't "count" anymore. What they see is a woman whose statute of limitations should have been up on carrying any consequences for threatening children with violence when they'd literally done nothing wrong. Even though she never apologized (despite the bilingual man bringing up the incident, at which point it would have been embarrassing but possible to own the action, voice shame, and offer an apology if she had in fact grown as a person since then). These people focused on what the white woman deserves and what the brown person did wrong, and these people focused on how failing to forgive amounted to revenge.

Did any of them imagine for a second that a woman who's unrepentant about screaming at children, a woman who thinks multi-lingual people are offensive for speaking a non-English language in public, a woman who felt that someone wronged her because they didn't default to her language . . . might actually make a terrible employee?

It isn't as simple as "she did something shitty once and the kid didn't forget and got his revenge." It's that she's apparently still a shitty person. Racists shouldn't be given opportunities by people who know they're racist. It should be socially and professionally unacceptable to be racist. Some people think it's "personal" and "doesn't have anything to do with her as an employee," but if she's willing to scream at children in a park and literally tell them a grown man is on his way there to assault them, how much must she hate brown people? How likely is she to be willing to take professional direction from one? How about if she were promoted and a non-white or bilingual person worked for her? What if they had an accent? What if they had a foreign-sounding last name? What if her customers do? What if her hatred of other races--which, I remind you again, has manifested as willingness to terrorize children who were minding their own business--led her to serving marginalized people in dangerous or less professional ways?

Racists are racist at work. They're racist in their dreams. They're racist in the voting booth. They're racist in church, racist when they teach, racist when they raise kids. They don't keep that hate out of their everyday lives. It informs and infects everything they do.

It isn't simple revenge that motivates a man of color to send a racist packing. It's social responsibility. And it would have been justifiable even if she hadn't been able to connect her bombed opportunity to the way she treats marginalized people, but he even brought it up to her as a way of having that fresh in her mind. When a man she was now working for was able to bring up her act of hatred more than a decade later and describe it as the first thing that enters his head when he thinks about that park. No, it's not about revenge. It's about consequences, which is not the same thing as revenge.

And the idea that marginalized people are supposed to "rise up" and "be bigger" when they experience this, or the idea that they owe their tormentors "forgiveness" regardless of whether their tormentors have repented, or the idea that the victimized lose quality as human beings if they react "improperly" to old wounds etched onto their youthful hearts . . . the idea makes me sick.

I would always prefer an opportunity to come to an understanding versus enacting a simple punishment. I do believe peaceful resolution and reconciliation is superior to cold consequences. But if a person doesn't believe they're wrong to hate diversity so much that their fury over it inspires them to threaten children, that isn't something I can overlook. We HAVE to tackle that first. It isn't politics or opinions or free speech. A person like this thinks only their speech is free, while a brown child speaking a "foreign" tongue must be silenced and punished. 

And frankly, it is not a marginalized person's responsibility to do the dirty, exhausting work of deprogramming a racist--especially if they've been personally harmed by racism (or that specific racist). If this is all about who's been made a better person by all this time passing, where is the evidence that this white woman has confronted her awful beliefs and tried to unlearn racism? Why do we assume she's better, or deserving, or that she hasn't hurt uncounted others in similar ways? We're always ready to excuse a white lady for that one time, but for even one of these times to happen, a whole architecture of racist thoughts and racist intent has to have been constructed in her foundation. This wasn't an accident or something that slipped out. This is an expression of who she was and probably still is. 

Let her do the work of becoming a better person. The bilingual man was already hurt by her once when he was far more vulnerable. He doesn't need to show the world his magnanimous big heart as he extends his forgiveness and education to someone who treated him like he was subhuman. And if we as a culture didn't expect such tolerance, such endurance, such "bigness" from people of color, no one would be in those comments saying his worth as a person is lowered because he wasn't willing to invest himself and trust a racist. If these apologists want people to earn respect by looking past racists' damning ideological flaws, why don't they hold their own to the same standards when bigots refuse to "look past" someone's mother tongue or their brown skin?

Racists aren't good people even when they do good things. What happened to this meritocracy people like this are so fond of? Let her earn his respect if she expects to work at the man's business. Let her acknowledge her wrongdoing and demonstrate that "another chance" wouldn't be wasted on her. Let her prove she's leaving bigotry behind and is deserving of a present on equal ground with someone she once abused out of hate and ignorance. Let her demonstrate that hard personal work--or else surely someone else who hasn't screamed at a kid for speaking the wrong language deserves that coveted position more, right? 

Sure, if that man wanted to, he could extend a hand and try to feel out the woman's potential for education and self-improvement. But to imply it's on him to do this or he's selfish, short-sighted, bigoted himself, bitter, childish, vengeful, or petty? Sounds like more racist nonsense. He can offer the slot to the best qualified applicant. I'm not surprised a man of color would consider the racism of an employee to be a dealbreaker on the level of being a habitual shoplifter or an embezzler. (And as mentioned, if you really think a racist's racism doesn't affect how they do their job, you are sorely mistaken.) Why, if you are a decision-maker, would you decide the best employee is one who is threatened by the language a child speaks, who was willing to express her disgust of such with threats of violence, who threw her weight around hurting a vulnerable person in a situation where she gained nothing from doing so except the satisfaction of causing pain? I don't want that person working for me even if I'm white (well, you know, and I am). I don't want someone around who thinks like that. 

If your response to a story like this is "that poor racist" and "how petty of him to not forgive," I know who you relate to in this tale, and I have my doubts about you as well. I hope you're receiving everything you deserve. 

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