Some people are just jerks
I have read a lot this year about racism and sexism. It’s kind of a big deal, right? Definitely, if there is inherent, systematic, foundational racism (or sexism) ((or homophobia)) that is keeping certain races or genders (or sexual orientations) from accomplishing everything they could, that’s something that should be dealt with. If you read something exposing racism, and think, “That’s not racism,” then you’re being racist. Or privileged. Because you don’t understand. And I’m not black, so there is no way for me to ever known how it would feel to go to the store and be treated like a black person, or drive my car and be treated like a black person, or attend school and be treated like a black person. Because I’m not black. So I’ll never know. And that means, that as a white person, I have to accept and believe everything that is said by black people about how they are treated, and why. Because if a black person it treated in a way they don’t like, it’s racism.
Can I propose an alternative?
I think that some people are just jerks.
It’s pretty simple, but I’ll try describing what I mean.
I’m a woman. I went to college in fall 2002 with the intention of getting a degree in Biochemistry. I ended up getting a degree in Biochemistry and minored in Physics. Might as well, right? I was already there and it was only a few more classes. Anyway, in the very first week of classes I met with one of the administrators of my University. He was an old, white man. He asked me what I was majoring in, and I said, “Biochemistry.” I remember this conversation very well, and you’ll see why.
“What are going to do with that?”
“I’m going to get married and have kids.”
“No, I mean what are you going to do with your degree?”
Me, slowly, “I’m going to get married, have kids, teach them and raise them to be really smart.”
Him, with perhaps a touch of disdain, “That doesn’t any sense. If you aren’t going to do anything with your degree, why don’t you major in something easy?”
I don’t remember if I responded. But I know the thought that exploded in my mind was, “What a jerk!”
I was shocked. I was majoring in Biochemistry because I thought it would be interesting; that’s what I wanted to study. I had other reasons; if for some reason my husband died or became unable to work, I wanted to be able to support our family. I wanted to have a degree with some value. I thought other majors might get boring. But mostly I had just always loved science and math and knew that Biochemistry would be a good balance of all the topics I had always found fascinating. Maybe I said something like that to him, but it doesn’t really matter because obviously he wasn’t worth giving an explanation to. He was a jerk, and although I remember the conversation clearly, I never let it effect me. I thought, “What a jerk,” then moved on with my life. I got my degree, got married, had children, and now I’m home schooling them. Exactly what I always wanted to do.
You know what I didn’t do? I didn’t change my major because I felt stigmatized and undervalued as a woman. Women were outnumbered in my classes, but I didn’t care. I didn’t think about it much. (I probably would have thought about it more if I hadn’t already been engaged upon arriving at college, but as it was the genders of my classmates was fairly irrelevant to my studies.) I didn’t petition to have this old, privileged, white male fired for his sexist attempt to hold down a woman and keep her from reaching equality with the males, who obviously belong in the ‘hard’ majors.
I didn’t curl up and demand a safe space with bubbles and puppies, so I could recover from the horror of being treated with such disdain. I didn’t protest by refusing to attend class or take my tests until all of the administrative staff had undergone sensitivity training and they instituted quotas for women in administrative positions in the STEM majors. Because obviously I would need women in positions of power in my chosen course in order to have the best chance of obtaining the same success.
I didn’t leave his office thinking, “This University fosters such negative stereotypes of women. This university has such a deep set patriarchal foundation.”
I thought, “This guy is a jerk.” Him. One random person who said one random, stupid thing. Then I moved on with my life. I attributed his behavior to him, not the system, not society. He said something, I didn’t like it, and that was the END of the situation.
This incident illustrates a couple of points. The first, and I think the most important point our current generation should take away and integrate into their minds and lives, is how you should act when someone says something you don’t like. No matter how offensive, no matter how personally insulting, no matter how sexist/racist/phobic it may sound. Tell yourself that person is a jerk, and move on.
The next takeaway has to do with what this all means. Does racism exist? Perhaps. But I think the far more likely scenario is that some people are just jerks. What do I mean by that? Think back over your life. Has anyone ever said anything mean to you? Have you seen people be mean to each other? If you went to high school you probably saw kids be mean to each other all the time. I did. People made fun of each other. Called each other names. Cut each other down. I saw it, and experienced it. My theory is, there are people out there that will be mean to other people. Maybe they think they have a reason. Maybe they say something about the color of someone’s skin, because that’s what they notice. Maybe they say something about a feminine male, because they think it’s funny. Maybe they put down a girl, because she’s a girl. Or maybe they make fun of the smart kid. Or the religious kid. Or the conservative kid. Or the fat kid. Or the zitty kid. Or the short kid. My theory is that it has a whole lot more to do with the person being a jerk than the person to whom they are being a jerk.
Can you see what’s going on here? There are these categories of protected people who think it’s reasonable to ruin an administrators life and grind an entire college campus to a halt because someone called them a mean name, because racism. Isn’t it far more likely that, instead of a culture of racism where everyone around you is subconsciously judging you based on your skin color, that you just happened to run into someone who likes to cut down other people? And because your skin color is obvious, that’s what they mentioned? And if you had, instead, been fat and white they might have said something about your weight instead?
Like I said, I’m not black. So I don’t know what it’s like to walk around, being black. But black people don’t know what it’s like being white, either. It certainly doesn’t mean that we never get insulted. As a kid I wore pants that were too short, had braces and glasses that were far too big for my face. I was also pretty smart. If there is a stereotype of people who get made fun of, I think it’s nerds. So, yeah, people said mean things to me, and I still grew up to be successful, self-sufficient and happy. Do we need to have a national conversation about how nerds are judged by their looks and personality and have to endure constant taunting and stereotypical portrayals in movies and shows and books? Or can we just accept that nerds exist, and sometimes they get made fun of, and it’s something humans just deal with?
And maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe racism means that people look as you askance when you go into a department store. Maybe it means the police are more likely to harass you. Maybe it means you don’t get called in to a job interview. All because of the color of your skin.
Or maybe those things happen to everyone. I get odd looks when I browse in Nordstroms. Why? Because I don’t look like the kind of person that would spend $10,000 on a purse. Racism? No, I’m white, but I still don’t look like ‘that kind’ of person. And I’m sure there are black people that fit into a store like Nordstoms much more easily than I do. And I’m sure that the employees there know what to look for and how to treat people they think will spend money. Maybe if you get funny looks in a department store, it has nothing to do with the color of your skin.
And maybe other people get harassed by the police. I certainly haven’t had many positive experiences with cops. I had a cop approach me while I sat in my car at a playground, because I looked ‘suspicious’. Then he called back-up when I wasn’t cooperative. A white woman in her late 20’s. Maybe when the cops approach a black person it’s because they’re black. Or maybe they approach lots of people in lots of situations, and it has nothing to do with the color of your skin. Or maybe it does. Either way, you can choose to get over it.
Maybe you didn’t get a job because you’re black. Or gay. Or a woman. It’s hard to know, isn’t it? I interviewed for several jobs after college, and I didn’t get any of them. My husband also interviewed for several jobs, and also got many rejections. It happens. Sometimes you don’t get a job because there is someone else who is more qualified. The remedy? Become more qualified. Try again. Make yourself valuable. Companies (as liberals love to remind us, are run by selfish, greedy, rich Republicans) exist to make money. If hiring a specific person will make them money, they will do it. If you are the person that will bring the most money to the company, they will hire you. My husband and I have both been interviewed and found unworthy by many different companies, because they thought someone else would be more valuable. I swear to you, that’s the motivation.
The point is, you don’t know why things are happening to you. You don’t know why people are mean to you, or why you don’t get a job, or why you didn’t get a loan, or why employees look at you a certain way when you’re in a store. But it seems to me that many black people believe that every negative look, or comment, or anything, is because of the color of their skin. But you can’t know that. You can’t know that. And you can’t assume that these micro aggressions you experience only happen to people in your situation, because you are the only one having your experiences! I have thousands of daily experiences, positive, and negative, and no one can know what they’re like because they’re happening to me. So you can’t sit back and say, “All these bad things happened to me because I’m black, and they didn’t happen to you because you’re white,” because A) You don’t know they happened because you’re black and B) you don’t know that they haven’t happened to me.
I keep hearing that we need to talk about it. Why? In my experience, the things we talk about get worse. When my kids are fighting, I can sit down with them and make them talk it out, analyze everything they said and their motivations for saying it. And they just get angrier, at me and each other. Or I can just ignore it, and they stop fighting and a few minutes later forget about it. Instead of having a national conversation, can’t we just let these things naturally dissipate. Instead of talking about it, just ignore it. If you feel like someone is being prejudice against you because of the color of your skin, or sexual orientation, or gender, just ignore them. The more we talk about it, the more frustrated I get. As a kid I thought racism was the most ridiculous thing. I thought different skin color was like different hair color. Noticeable, but irrelevant. Every black person I knew was just like the other people I was around, so why would I think they were any different? But now, after years of hearing about racism, and being accused of racism, and being told that I can’t help being racist, and seeing protests because black people were insulted, now I view things a little differently. I don’t think that black people are inherently worse or less intelligent. The black friends I have are all awesome. (They’re also all conservative, so there’s that.) We have a black president, the richest woman in America is black, and one of my husband’s best friends is, in addition to being literally the most awesome person on earth, black.
But for some reason, things aren’t as straightforward as they were when I was a kid. Because we can’t stop talking about it. Talking about it just highlights the idea that there are differences. If people weren’t going on and on and on about every bad thing that ever happens to black people, then we could all just look at each other as equals. Isn’t that the goal? If we would just stop talking about it, I think it wouldn’t take much more than a generation for people to stop being ‘racist’. But, in my opinion, there really isn’t much racism to begin with. When a nerd gets abused, it’s because someone is a jerk. If a black person gets abused, it’s because of racism. Isn’t there some discontinuity there? Can’t we just say that anytime someone is being a jerk, it’s because they’re a jerk? Instead of labeling it racism/sexism/phobia when the recipient belongs to a certain group?
I think we could all be a lot happier if we just accepted that sometimes bad things happen. You will run into jerks in your life. If you happen to be a woman, you can tell yourself they’re acting that way because you’re a woman, or you can tell yourself they’re being a jerk. If you’re black, you can tell yourself that they’re being mean because you’re black, or you can tell yourself they’re being a jerk. Whatever you are, whatever they say, just get used to it. I don’t think we have any chance of eradicating mean people from the human race. So stop dwelling on it. Stop thinking you’re a special case because someone was mean to you. It happens to everyone.