Diminishing the Hate

The divisive ideological culture that we have in the U.S. appears to be getting worse with time.  It’s been growing on my mind, that more than anything else this might be the biggest problem we face in this country.  Because that “other side” isn’t going to magically disappear, and the very serious problems we face in this country are only going to be solved through coming together and bridging the gap that separates us.  I’ll admit that I am at a loss at how to effectively do this, but one thing has caught my eye, that I think might help.

One thing is that I think we have to stop posting things on social media that are just negative sound bites of what politicians or what celebrities say.  I think just the absolute large exposure of hateful and/or negative messages legitimizes the hate more than it does make it go away.  And the exposure might get around to some people that might not normally have seen it and those people might say “Hey, I actually think this hateful message might be right and not hateful.”  More importantly the key is how do we diminish the impact of such messages, I think one of those things is to literally ignore it.  Some of these things are so ridiculous that we literally waste our time sharing it and trying to shame the message.  There is a blogger on patheos that I follow called the Friendly Atheist.  As well-meaning as he is, he often brings up ridiculous things that are being said by small time pastors in small communities in the south, and now all of a sudden people are seeing it all over who follow him.  Now most who would follow this blogger will be like yeah, this pastor is an idiot, but some people follow atheist bloggers to argue, and to show their followers the ridiculous stuff the “other side” is saying.  Now a story that might not have gone beyond a local community or anywhere is bring spread around the country.  That’s not good.

Now I know you are probably saying, “well it’s important that these terrible ideas are challenged, and thus we must say something!”.  I don’t mean to argue that we shouldn’t oppose such things, and so before I address this, I want to add one more thing that is also I think unhelpful and leads into what I think is a better way to oppose.  The inspiration for this post came from an article that a friend posted yesterday.  A very compassionate and comparing individual, and I am sure we all know such people and the article was titled “While Trump Spews Hate, These Muslims Just Raised $100,000 for San Bernardino Victims”.  Now compare this to this article “Muslims Raise Funds for Families of San Bernardino Victims”.  Can you spot the difference in the titles?  Not only that, nowhere in the second article do we see an attack on those who are prejudiced against Muslims.  Now you might say well shouldn’t a good article represents both sides?  Not necessarily, because this article is simply reporting a reaction by the Muslim community to help the victims.  This is objective reporting.  Now if there were Muslim communities that were cheering, than yes it would be important to report that too, but my point is that when you read the headline of the first article there is an attack on Trump and his supporters.  Those who support Trump will immediately have a physical reaction that will prevent them from effectively ingesting the good works done by the Muslim.  I have written about this before and this is sometimes referred to as the “backfire effect”.  Now I am not saying all hateful messages shouldn’t be addressed, but most sound bites are hardly substantive.  We make all sorts of rational arguments about why they are wrong, but the sound bite itself (which sometimes is even out of context) contains no substance and thus from a rebuttal standpoint requires little substance in return.  And when we post that message it makes those who might support that message simply feel attacked and thus less likely to listen to all your rational arguments.  But when hateful or negative messages are spread with substance, by all means a substantive response is important.  But maybe this is best addressed in an op-ed to your local paper, or a blog rather than Facebook or Twitter.

What I suggest is simply posting the positive message when you are outraged by something.  Don’t post an article about what some hateful pastor has said in a rural community in Alabama, but perhaps post an article about what more progressive pastors are saying that would lead to increased tolerance and inclusion.  Post the rational arguments instead of only posting them in response to something ridiculous that is said.  If what you consider to be a negative and/or hateful message has merit, force those who support it to make their own substantive arguments to rationalize it.  Force them to think.  What I find is that even if I agree with you, I might get angrier and such an emotional state does not help me either in terms of seeing us a group who has to work together and I feel more helpless at how divided we are, even if I do feel that my friends are on my side.

My thoughts here are not meant to be judgmental, but rather a call to action for others as well as myself because I know I have been guilty of this at times too.  It’s easy to let our outrage get the better of us.  There is a lot of it out there today.  But most people, I think, would rather get along with their fellow man and a friend than an enemy.  This is one thing we all have in common.  So the next time you get upset, think about how you can spread the rational and the positive, without spreading the anger, the outrage and the remarks that attack rather than inform.

Why is Barack Obama Black?

Barack Obama Jr. and mother (From http://www.slate.fr)

It is given as a fact by people and media alike that Barack Obama is the first black president of the United States.  This has always irked me a little because Barack Obama is not black; he is biracial, as his mother is unmistakably white.  It makes me wonder why race is being portrayed a certain way.  It is not as if African-Americans are claiming he belongs to their race and white people are claiming he belongs to their race, everybody refers to him as being black.

I am biracial, with my father being from India and my mother born in Canada (half Scottish and half Mennonite).  Even if I were to choose which race I identify with

Barack Obama Sr. and Jr. (From http://upload.wikimedia.org)

most closely, it wouldn’t change the fact that I am of mixed race or that my skin tone is a lovely olive shade in between my darker father and my white mother.  Obama is the same way.  He is clearly lighter than his father and darker than his mother.  So why is he still black?  Personally I would be a bit offended if people try to label my race in a way that ignored the genetic and cultural influence of both my parents.  Moreover I was struck by the fact that when it comes to celebrities like Tiger Woods or Shakira, nobody has any problems identifying them as mixed race.  So, again, why is Barack Obama black?

Now it could be that African-American’s are happy to tout him as black because they are still an oppressed race in this country and for the sake of unity as they continue their fight for equality they are looking for an African-American leader.  Someone who can fly the flag for their race and as president make great strides towards greater equality in this country.  It would be sensible, but I think it would be insulting to many African-Americans to assume they are that naïve to think that one man can make that much of a difference to an elected body that is still predominantly white males and has relatively few minorities and women (in discord with the percentages of minorities and women in the country).

Then I wondered whether or not this issue doesn’t make a larger comment about race and racism.  Many people who are biracial have experienced some lack of acceptance as a result of their mixed race (fortunately not me).  This probably not only extends to mixtures of black and white, but all races.  Now here in the U.S. few would complain about a mixture between an Indian and Chinese person, but in India (and probably China) this would be a big problem.  As prejudice towards black people still lingers in this country, I wonder if it isn’t much more comfortable to label Obama as being black than biracial.  Many white people have grown to accept that black people have just as much rights at them, but for some it becomes a whole different ball game when their white child wants to date somebody who is black, or any other race for that matter.  It strikes me as interesting that while the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional in 1954, it would be another 13 years before they ruled that banning interracial marriages was also unconstitutional.  It seems clear that people are uncomfortable with mixing.  And I know it’s not only white people, and I know it’s not just a matter of race either.  As a half Indian I am well aware how much of a problem it would also be for my dad’s side of the family (and probably also my dad) if I married a Muslim (even if they looked like any other Indian) given that my dad was born in the Sikh religion.  Indians also have trouble with mixing amongst classes.  If I were to marry an “untouchable” or low caste Indian then that would be even worse.

Finally, it’s important to ask Barack Obama how he identifies himself.  According to what I could find he filled in African-American on his census.  I imagine as someone who has darker skin and curly hair, he was likely treated as black by most people who did not know his ethnic origin and perhaps that is why he identifies himself that way.  Certainly his struggles would have been a bit similar, but of course he did have a fairly well educated and financially comfortable situation growing up.  The cynical side of me might say that he identifies himself as black instead of mixed race to gain more voters. Either way, maybe it’s best that we respect his wishes, but it still seems to me that his “white side” is essentially never mentioned.  He’s black. End of story.  As I jokingly tell my black colleague in my department, “Obama isn’t one of you, he is one of me!”  And although this is going to be very controversial, I don’t agree that Obama is the first black president, he is the first biracial president.  It could be that because he was largely raised by his mother and maternal grandparents that he acts and sounds white enough to please white voters, and looks black enough to please black voters.  There is that cynicism again.  I truly believe that being the product of two different races gives me more uniqueness and strengths in my worldview and how I perceive race.  Given our country’s history towards racial mixing, perhaps Obama’s biracial origin is something we should be celebrating more.