One of the things that parents, and others in the sensitivity training business, are always trying to teach is seeing things from the other side, the idea that other people’s experiences and background may lead them to different conclusions and feelings than yours. Once you get this, you can start to learn about each other and learn to stop offending each other.
Today I got to feel what it’s like to be one of those people who doesn’t know they’re being racist or homophobic, but really is.
To be clear, I don’t think I am racist. I do not judge people by the color of their skin, only by how attractive they are and whether or not they can be of service to me in some way. I also don’t go around saying stupid things like “I don’t see color” or “I know how you feel, I mean, I’m Jewish.”
I think I’m pretty well educated about the history of race relations in this country. I am aware of my white privilege but don’t walk around talking about it because the story of race in this country isn’t actually about me and my feelings.
But today I was told that I had been racist. I published a “Real Wedding” post on my wedding blog ( the writing for which I actually get paid). The wedding was interesting to me because the bridal party danced in to the wedding doing the popular “Gangnam Style” dance – that hippity horsy thing from the video by the Korean singer, Psy.
The title of the post was “Real Fall Wedding (with a Little Gangnam Style).” In case you’re wondering, when you write a title for a professional blog post you don’t actually want a cute, clever title. You want one with the key words for which people will be searching. So, here it’s Fall, Wedding, and yes, because it’s still got another 10 minutes of fame left, Gangnam Style.
Within a few hours I got an email from the photographer who submitted the wedding. His client was angry, she felt that by referring to the wedding as “Gangnam Style” I was being “really racist.”
My stomach hurt, my body tensed, my hands shook. I did the weird thing I do where I clench my teeth and turn my head like a Cocker Spaniel. I went and reread the post searching for the racism. I felt stunned and confused. What could possibly be racist about this? It’s the name of the song and the dance. Then I felt angry, really angry. How dare this woman accuse me of being racist? Did I tell her to send her bridal party down the aisle doing a stupid YouTube dance? Is she really that stupid that she can’t tell the difference between me commenting on her dance and me confusing all Koreans with one song? I didn’t even know she was Korean for Pete’s Sake!
I wanted to write her and ask her what her problem was. I wanted to either refuse to change anything or just take the whole thing down. Because seriously, how dare she. I wanted to double down. I did not want to be told that I was wrong or needed to see the error of my ways.
Then, about half an hour later, I changed the title of the post and tightened the text a little to make it clear that I was talking about the song, not her. No matter how stupid I think she’s being, no one should have their wedding photos used to make them feel like crap. I want her to feel good about being on the blog, and I hope this fixes it for her. If not, I’ll probably edit again.
I still think she was wrong. I still remember that feeling of disbelief, of anger and shock. All across the country there are people with black friends who think Obama was born in Kenya. There are people with gay friends who think marriage is between a woman and a man. There are people with Jewish friends who think Jews own the media.
These people do not consider themselves homophobic or racist or anti-semitic. Yet we wonder why, when people do things like create a Tumblr called “Hello Racist” it doesn’t help. We wonder why exhortations and arguments to think differently don’t help. It doesn’t help because as we parents (and others in the sensitivity training business) say labeling and name calling doesn’t help.
I’m not saying that I think I was racist. But now I know what it feels like to be called a racist. I know what it feels like to be told I hold beliefs and values that in my heart, I don’t believe I hold. It does not make me feel like reaching out and opening up a dialog. It does not make me feel like learning more about this person’s culture or beliefs. It does not make me want to hear what she has to say. It does make me hope that I remember the feeling, I hope I choose my own words and labels more carefully because of it.