I’m Just Saying

So I’m reading this story about some idiotic demonstration by the KKK, where 30 of these utter dipshits “proclaimed hatred for blacks, Jews, gays and Latinos as they stood behind barricades at the Civil War battlefield where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address,” and it’s pretty much just the usual nonsense. A bunch of people showed up to yell back at them, the cops outnumbered the Klansmen 5-to-1, etc. etc. etc.

But then there was this: “Several groups counterdemonstrated. Park Service spokeswoman Katy Lawhon said there were no major incidents; one man was cited for entering a restricted area carrying a rainbow flag.”

What’s that all about? It’s probably safe to assume that the area wasn’t restricted just to people carrying rainbow flags, but to everyone, so why on earth is the rainbow flag worth a mention? “There were no major incidents, except there was this one gay dude who caused some trouble.”

Probably part of the radical gay agenda, wouldn’t you say, Martha-Ann?

Oh, yes, Mabel. Those shifty queers are always up to something.

Yeah, I know that one stupid passage in one rather unnotable news story isn’t the end of the world, but it’s still irritating. It’s like when some white person’s telling me a story about, say, a cashier who didn’t give them the correct change, and they insert some caveat like, “…so the guy, who happened to be black…” (Which occurs more often than one might think, at least where I live.) And whenever I say, “What difference does it make what color he was?” they always give me the “Oh, it doesn’t. I was just saying” routine. Uh-huh. You were just saying it because you assume I’m a racist moran like you are.

And, inevitably, these tales of black cashiers who miscount change, or Latino waiters who fuck up an order, or Asian dry cleaners who ruined a shirt, are rendered completely moot when you steal the thunder of what their tellers were just saying. No one tells this story: “I went to the 7/11 and this guy gave me the wrong change, and I pointed it out, and he apologized and corrected the mistake.” There’s no there there. They tell this story: “I went to the 7/11 and the guy, who happened to be black, gave me the wrong change. And I had to point out to him that he screwed up. Can you believe it?” And the there there is not about a slight (and very common) inconvenience, the retelling of which takes longer than the actual incident, but a commentary on race—because there’s really no other reason to tell the story.

In the wake of the “macaca” debacle and Tramm Hudson’s “blacks can’t swim” comments, I wrote a post about privilege that led to a discussion about overt bigotry verses ignorant insensitivity. And one of the points I made in comments is that our society—from political wedge issues to pop culture—makes bigotry (racism, sexism, and homophobia) the default. Escaping them takes work—an active, conscious decision to thoughtfully engage and analyze the messages, images, and conventional wisdom we consume every day. Part of that means challenging seemingly “throwaway” comments like the one in the article and the statements made by people trying to disguise a race commentary as an innocuous anecdote, even if they don’t seem like that big a deal. When there’s no apparent reason for mentioning someone’s race, sexuality, etc. and it’s mentioned (or alluded to) anyway, it’s time to raise a flag, rainbow or otherwise.

What difference does it make that the guy was carrying a rainbow flag?

Oh, it doesn’t. I was just saying.

Ah. Well, you’re an idiot. I’m just saying.

(Crossposted at Ezra’s place.)

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