From, Your Brother From Another Mother
Cliché and Scapegoat went into a bar. They were both white and enlisted in the Navy.
Cliché’s friends refer to him as, “Actions speak louder than words;” Scapegoat’s, “It was only a joke; it didn’t mean anything.”
Scapegoat helps all of his buddies off the hook when they say something racist. He attacks the standards of political correctness, claiming “reverse racism” and calling people who’ve objected to the joke “too sensitive.”
The Navy calls on these two fine sailors quite a lot because it finds them to be effective. The problem with the Navy is it lacks diversity. The Navy says, “We are diverse,” and backs it up with, “look, we have minorities in the Navy.”
The funny thing about this situation is that it is borderline Tokenism, having nonwhites and women involved for the “show.”
Another interesting Navy leadership tactic is to utter a favorite of its phrases, usually as motivation to implement a new and unpopular policy. The last time I heard it during my time on active duty was after the repeal of the military’s sexual conduct policy, “Don’t ask; don’t tell,” in 2011.
“The military sets the standard for civil society,” one of our leaders told us to open our sensitivity training.
Why so sensitive?
Three years after I was honorably discharged from active duty, I was scrolling through my news feed and shared an article reporting the developments at the University of Missouri.
Its system president, Tim Wolfe, had just resigned due to pressure from Concerned Student 1950, an activist group that lobbied for the end of the racist harassment of locals and Missouri students alike on minority students, mainly focused on the black population. In possibly the most notorious instance two months prior, Missouri Student Association President Payton Head, a black student, was called a racist slur by a group of people passing by in a pickup truck.
Concerned Student 1950 issued some demands, including Wolfe’s resignation, on Oct. 20, according to the article. A Change.org petition garnered thousands of signatures and one student pledged a hunger strike. Still, the only thing that achieved any attention by the university was when the Mizzou Tigers football team vowed to boycott all football operations until his resignation.
I found the situation relevant, especially with the recent black-deaths-in-police-custody, like Sandy Bland, and the unwarranted killings of black Americans by police, like Walter Scott and Samuel DuBose. So I shared it.
I had a friend from my time in the Middle East while I was at my final military duty station. He was of the “I’m not racist, it’s just a joke” persuasion. He responded to my post with nothing more than a link to a blog post (unsettlingly, it was shared more than 10,000 times), which, in its entirety, stated nothing of substance, unless you are in need of a white college student forming — not even that much effort, declaring — his or her opinion based on his or her own thoughts.
This former friend of mine deemed the author’s authority legitimate, his reasoning, by my deduction, was twofold: like-mindedness with my former-friend-turned-Internet-troll and the fact that this person attends the university.
I wanted to enlighten Person-whom-I-still-considered-a-friend-at-the-time, so I responded:
I already suspected he was merely trolling me to discredit the legitimacy of the movement at Missou and my beliefs that racism is alive and well, and he confirmed it with one message:
As you can see at the bottom of the image, he then blocked me.
These knee-jerk reactions are quite prevalent during times of controversy. Many people get goaded into the conversation, basing their stances more on their own beliefs than the actions involved in and context of said controversy.
After all, we are products of our environments. Without conscious, deliberate effort, most people would never consider circumstances outside of what their own experiences have taught them.
However, we do not simply have opinions; they are to be formed by scrutinizing the evidence. It turns out that things aren’t as simple as our initial thoughts would lead us to believe. Truth is, most opinions are half-concocted, if even that.
He formed his opinion on me based on what he deemed sufficient evidence. He saw a fellow white guy in the Navy. We had the same friends. We both knew that we each knew minorities who we served with together, also.
He knew that I never spoke up when I heard the racist comments and hate speech too many — not all — sailors spouted in my presence.
For that, to you, the readers, my friends and family members who I failed to stand up for, I’m sorry.
But not as sorry as I am for this.
He probably has heard me say the word. At first, I told myself it would be easier to say nothing. Allow others to say whatever they wanted with their good buddy Scapegoat hanging around. I admit, I have used racial slurs a few times. I knew it would gain me some form of acceptance. It helped me blend in, I guess.
But this former friend of mine did not know how detrimental our behaviors of speaking those words are to others, and to ourselves. Neither did I.
West Bend, born and half-raised
I thought I was above that. My life began in the suburbia of West Bend, Wis., where I was born in 1989 and raised until 1998. The first place I lived there was an apartment complex next to the local high school. I spent my school days being homeschooled and attending Good Shepard Lutheran School and First Baptist Academy; my summers running, biking and swimming with my friends and going to Vacation Bible Schools; my Wednesday nights and Sundays in the church.
As in most phases of life, we have some vivid, concrete memories interspersing spools of blurred monotony. I’ve always remembered people more than events, myself. In hindsight, I can tell you there were probably two black families in the whole town — our cousins and family friends, through my mom.
We played together regularly — we all lived in the same apartment community for some time, in fact.
I never really questioned the existence of racism. Why would I have? I never saw anything like that. Lord knows it was rarely talked about in those days, especially in a place like West Bend.
The lack of knowledge didn’t do me any favors, though, contrary to what people thought then — and what too many continue to believe today.
My parents separated in 1998. My dad moved to Milwaukee. I hadn’t spent much time with my father back then. My brother and I asked our mother if we could spend the summer with our dad.
She didn’t understand, and neither did I, but we talked about it for awhile, and she eventually agreed to let her two youngest sons head to “the big city.”
From “Leave It to Beaver” to “Straight outta Compton”
School was rough. Zablocki Elementary was a stark contrast to what I was accustomed then. I saw fights almost daily in school and on the walk to and from home.
I also noticed some contrasts between my old and new communities. Our south side neighborhood comprised a majority Hispanic population, but there were some white, black and Hmong that I knew of, as well. Still, the tensions among separate races, while not constant, were noticeable.
I also confess that I have been attacked based on my race. Still, I understood that these were just a few people of those other races who felt such hatred toward me. Honestly, I had already made friends with people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. A Hispanic boy saved me from a fight in 6th grade when I had yet to grow to above five feet or break 100 pounds.
When I grew older, my sister had her first daughter, my beautiful niece. Her father is black. My first niece. I babysat her at the time. I loved her so much then, and I still do. I always have.
I let her down when I allowed others to say racist things, when I spoke them myself. I let her sister and brother down, too, my other niece and nephew. I let everyone down when I use it or stand by as others do.
We all let everyone down in those cases.
Cliché needs to be discharged. His time is up. I’ve found him out.
He’s a phony.
In fact, he doesn’t make sense. I hate to tell you, especially if it’s your credo. Speaking is an action.
We should not look at being respectful as being politically correct. These Good ‘Ole Boys, like my friend from a past life, most often complain that people complain about everything. Ironic. Another of their chief complaints is that people lack respect.
Spoiler Alert! The next phrases out of their mouths are usually disrespectful.
Sensitivities do not make us sheep; they help us relate to other humans. They are particularly useful in trying to practice empathy. Let’s put it another way, which I find pertinent.
Form an educated opinion by seeking knowledge. Gain perspective.
And be respectful.