Monday, April 13, 2009

Hateful Ignorance Versus Hate As A Sword

Ellen Degeneres
Hateful Ignorance Versus Hate As A Sword

In the early morning hours on Friday, I was channel-surfing and stopped briefly on Family Feud. A white family with strong Texas accents were competing with a Latino family, and both teams had only one male in the line-up. The mother of the white family won the play for her side by answering the question "What is Ellen Degeneres best known for?" with "She's gay." (Uh, no, she's LESBIAN, but since Ellen shies away from the L-word, I didn't scream that at the TV screen.) It was the number one response, and the family hopped up and down, starting play. There were three daughters in a row, all blond, perky, and sporting names that began with H. In quick succession, they got three right answers: "She likes to dance", "She has a talk show", "She's a comic actress." Play returned to the father, and John O'Hurley, the host, said "You have a chance to make this a clean sweep."

Dad said, with a nervous smile: "She's known to not care for our country."


John O'Hurley is extremely good as a host. He gets along with everybody, he laughs with them instead of at them, he seems to actually enjoy human foibles and eccentricity in an unsupercilious way. He's a professional. But this visibly jolted him. He managed to keep his smile, even as the rest of his body went stiff and formal. The audience with their frenzied cheering at nothing much sensible also went quiet. O'Hurley turned to the board, and of course that answer wasn't up there, total zero. He went on wordlessly, back to the mother, who said "She's married" with no overtones at all, simple statement of fact. And ding ding ding, they had now swept the board and won that round. No thanks to dad.

The thing is, he wasn't just taking a pot-shot because he couldn't resist. For one thing, twenty grand was at stake. But mostly it was his expression, his tone, which indicated he actually believed Ellen Degeneres hates America, that it's a commonly known reality, and while he wasn't going to pretend it was okay with him, he had to speak the truth in order to win the question.

Epic delusion. I mean, has he ever watched her show? Her shtick is talking to Americans from every walk of life with interest and connection. She raises endless money for charitable ventures of all kinds, she's great with kids and animals and old ladies (especially old ladies), and I personally wish like hell she'd be a lot MORE political, a little less everybody's token darling.

It bothered me so much I couldn't shake it. Was this code for saying if you're queer, you hate America? Is that the way "their" logic runs? Or was that he's heard her at some point object to oppression, to George W. Bush, to some obvious flaw, and from that he deduced she must hate America, because if you find anything at all wrong, you're a traitor?

I deliberately don't watch the elite white boys who fill mainstream media because they don't know what the fuck they are talking about and listening to them actually lowers my energy, clogs up my brain. I don't want to hear this kind of shit coming at me from a game show, of all places. I'll bet you anything O'Hurley calls Ellen at some point and apologizes for it having occurred on his watch, I think he's that kind of guy. Drew Carey sure wouldn't, but O'Hurley still has a conscience, I think.

This incident became linked in my mind with the hearing this week about mandating photo ID, where Texas State Representative Betty Brown (R - District 4, Henderson and Kaufman Counties) was interacting with Ramey Ko, representing the Organization of Chinese Americans. Ko was eloquently explaining that because not all alphabets use the same letters as English, or use letters at all in the way we define them, transliteration of names is difficult and inconsistent, leading to different versions on various documents. Brown responded, in a genuinely empathetic voice, "Do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown later expounded on this by stating she was suggesting the adoption of a name "just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”

Okay, brief rundown of racism 101: "You and your citizens" is racist when you are talking to another American from a different ethnicity. "They" are "Americans" too. And "their" names deserve the same respect as anyone's name at a polling site. It is the JOB of poll workers to "deal" with names; that more or less sums up the job. It is not the work of government to ensure poll workers do not have to encounter names which are ethnically distinct from what they perceive as the dominant culture.

Various folks began insisting Brown apologize, and eventually she did. It wasn't the best apology in the world, but it wasn't the usual Republican "You are making this shit up, I'm no racist because I like Michael Jordan" dodge, either. It's certainly a better apology that the kind I always got from one smooth-talking ex of mine, who could say "I'm so sorry you got upset over nothing" in such a convincing manner, I bought it for several years. I've watched this clip several times, the whole exchange, and I believe Brown was actually not meaning to be offensive.

Just as dad on Family Feud wasn't trying to make up something about Ellen, either. He believed what he said.

Now, don't get worked up, I'm not about to excuse white supremacy or lesbo-hating. I'm not going to argue that we need to credit people for good intentions, because I believe in actions and behavior over intentions (it's a recovery-based philosophy). I believe in demanding accountability and respect at every turn.

But when we are dealing with the Right, there are those who deliberately lie, deliberately try to create division and fear, and there are those who are ignorant/scared. The former are constantly manipulating the latter for their own gain (power and money). I don't think we have to try to rescue the ignorant and frightened. Still, the schism has deepened drastically under my observation as an adult, and now the "culture wars" is becoming an armed conflict in growing instances. I am raising the question: If we ourselves don't espouse eliminationist rhetoric, if we refuse to condemn the ignorant/fearful to oblivion, then what do we do with them? How do we set an example of respect, how do we explain their delusion in a manner which may (at some point down the road) sink in enough to allow them to change?

Even more, obviously Betty Brown exists in an environment where no one ever points out the racist underpinnings of her language, her assumptions, her world view. Calling her a hate-monger won't encourage her to renovate her environment. I think a distinction should be made (by those of us who self-identify as progressives) between those who are intentionally, by design, fostering hate versus those who are adding to the pain accidentally. The "accidentals", the nonthinkers, the delusional are not necessarily lost causes, you know? Women are raised to believe men don't mean to be pigs. People of color are raised to ignore as much of white shit as they can. The contradiction to this upbringing, this conditioning, is not living with raised hackles but, instead, living with complete awareness of what's going down AND assuming your ability to enact change around you, in every instant.

On a good day, of course.

As always, it's fine with me if you don't want to consider these questions or do this work. Just don't hurl frustration at those of us who are willing, at times, to assume this burden, okay? I absolutely have days where if I have to hear one more dick make a joke about bitches and leg hair, I will want to sharpen my axe and slip ricin into tubes of Cruex. But writing from that place is not helpful, doesn't advance me one iota toward the world in which I'd like to live, and "venting" simply redistributes foul air, in my opinion. I won't muck up your space and I ask you don't muck up mine.

P.S. I switched away from Family Feud, because I was so upset, but went back before it ended to see who made it to the final round. It was the Latino family, and one woman by herself got 191 out of 200 possible points. They won $20,000 and I cheered, you bet I did.