I opened a hurtful email at work yesterday, from a man I don’t even know. He went to some trouble to find me after he saw an image of my high school government class visiting with a local Republican Congressman. The Congressman was a man who, in this guy’s opinion, didn’t have the proper responses to the race rioting up north. He reached out to me to tell me how important it is for me to teach Race (he used a capital R) properly, as if I didn’t know that already.
This was piggy-backed on a Twitter thread of mine from the night before where some woman I also don’t know criticized my classroom instruction. She told me I wasn’t a good teacher (how could she know this?) because I hadn’t taught the civil rights of Black Americans properly. Again…how could she know this? She had ascertained her opinions simply by looking at ONE picture of my students I proudly posted on my own Twitter, with the harmless hashtag #pacehigh and an @ to our Congressman.
Who are these people? Where do they live? Who in the world taught them to think it’s ok to do this to other people?
They don’t even know me.
Southern. White. Republican.
When these are strung together, the word racist may come to mind. Has anyone ever called me racist? Not until recently, on TWITTER. No. No one who actually knows me would ever use that word to describe me.
Southern, White, and Republican are mutually exclusive of one another. As of late, however, people who have never met me decided that those three terms can be used collectively, strung together, to sum me up as a racist so they can then judge me, and everything I believe, and, more importantly, how well I perform my job as a teacher. This is called ‘stereotyping’, and stereotyping others is exactly the behavior these people claim they want to stop.
I know only tidbits about what’s been happening in Virginia this week, or in Kissimmee, or in Boston. I know a bit about the details, but I try to stay off the national news. Not because I’m ignorant or not in-tune with current events. In fact, I teach Government and Politics to gifted high school seniors, so it’s literally my job to know the important details of what has happened recently. I don’t watch the loops on CNN, FOX or MSNBC, because those three American news channels bait us into hating each other. In fact, I avoid them as often as I can.
Some would say “Oh, that’s your White Privilege talking.” People believe that all white, Southern women of a conservative nature turn a blind eye to institutionalized racism because it’s uncomfortable for us. No, that’s not it exactly. I cannot speak for everyone, but there are behaviors and opinions present in all activism that keeps me… hesitant. Black Lives Matter is a single-issue movement, and until I can guarantee that I believe in absolutely every single law, action, motion and activity they promote, I will not attach my name to their movement. I feel the same way about the feminist’s movements and their marches. I feel the same way about abortion causes, immigration issues and America’s involvement in foreign conflicts. Hashtags on my pages are like marriages, and sometimes they can be regrettable. Some political marches are not diplomatic and peaceful. Some of the legislation being proposed in the wake of some political movements are questionable. I cannot hitch myself wholly to any movement when I cannot guarantee that I can advocate for their message in its entirety.
Maybe some are using love and peace and are promoting things I can get behind, but the media doesn’t want me to see that!
What if I emailed someone and told them, “Hey! You need to go to church more often!” What if I posted a comment to an acquaintance suggesting they should spank their children more often. What if I found a person I’ve never met, on the news, and Tweeted @ them because they intended to allow their children to watch the eclipse without the proper eyewear? Would I – should I – track that person down and berate them because I feel I, Dawn Quarles, have some duty or obligation to set them straight and give them the what-for?
Instead, I addressed these behaviors with my Government kids in class. We talked about the Twitter troll and I read them my haughty email.
Then I gave them my Three Rules of Social Media:
- I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever change my mind after battling someone on the internet, and you won’t either. I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever suddenly see things your way because you called me out publicly, and neither will you.
- Leave other people alone. Stay off of social media sites belonging to others if your sole intention is to disagree with them. You have your own Wall/your own Twitter/your own Instagram to use for your opinions.
- Finally, much is lost in the typed word. People do not sense your humor, they will not get the inside jokes, and it will be impossible to grasp the backstory of a dialogue to which you are not a party.
I’ve made some Social Media mistakes, beyond a doubt. I have, with the greatest of intentions, tried to give advice drawn from my experiences, I have tried to steer kids away from trouble with my subtle suggestions to remove ‘this post’ or delete ‘that picture,’ and I admit to thinking I am a lot funnier than I really am sometimes. I have regrets. With my missteps, what has always caused me the most heartache is when I discovered that I unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings. There is no opinion, no Tweet and no disagreement strong enough to make me want to carve someone up just so I can make My Statement. I’ve also never called anyone ugly names, criticized their core beliefs or demanded a call-to-action from them publicly. I never get personal and I never take a hurtful low blow just to win.
Here is my opinion on what’s going on in the news, if anyone cares:
The Confederate memorials are symbols of some sort, and have deep meaning of one variety or another, to everyone, regardless of which side of the race debate you fall. If I were in charge of making this decision, I would remove them and put them in museums. If it will bring some peace to our country, and if black people in America could heal and get some closure to this part of our history with their removal, I would be totally okay with doing that. To destroy them, however, is simply Orwellian. I know too much about what destroying monuments, and erasing history, and forgetting the past, can do.
Forgetting what happened is more dangerous than anything else.
My goodness, I saw on the news this morning that the iconic Stone Mountain carving of the Confederate Generals in Atlanta is now in danger. Someone, or perhaps a lot of someones, are demanding that it be removed. In 1990, I was 18 years old and absolutely ignorant of American history. I watched the July 4th laser light show on the side of that mountain as I lounged on a blanket in the grass, staring up into the summertime Georgia sky. I listened to Lee Greenwood’s songs and Elvis Presley’s rendition of American Trilogy and felt such pride. That night branded itself on my mind as one of the most moving and emotional moments of my life because that was the night I fell in love with my country… my American country, and I promise you, I was blissfully oblivious to the racial connotations of that imagery.
I could argue that most white Americans exist in this same state for the greater part of their lives.
The angry race-baiters are giving the White Supremacists way more credit for their numbers and their influence than they deserve. If the Stone Mountain monument comes down, what’s next? This country’s historical figures are being turned into evil, hatable men, compared even to Adolf Hitler. I am terrified of the day when I hear that Thomas Jefferson’s statues, Andrew Jackson’s statues and George Washington’s statues will be forced to come down, too. They were not evil men. They were American legends who behaved predictably for the times in which they lived, but who are now being judged against a totally modern standard of propriety. The end of their days are coming. Taking George Washington down? Can you imagine? I am deeply afraid I will see this in my lifetime.
I blame television and 24-hour mass communication for this next-generation rudeness. I blame them for the environment of demand we are fostering. I cannot conceive of a scenario where I would seek out a complete stranger to berate them in front of thousands of other people for something I take personal issue with. Who am I to demand that someone do anything to make me feel better? Telling someone, “Take down that statue! Issue an apology! Make a statement using just the right words that will make me happy!” I don’t have the right to do that. Who is programmed to think this is acceptable?
I don’t owe anybody anything just because I’m white.
Privileged? According to what standards? But if I agree that white privilege exists, (it does) will that make everyone happy or does it make things worse? Am I blissfully unengaged in most of this nonsense? I try to be, but it’s hard. I don’t hate anyone. I don’t want to fight with people, I won’t insult others, I won’t hurt strangers.
If you are watching American news or engaging in global social media, you are being conditioned to participate in this aggressive method of responding to each other. Your conscience is being eclipsed by ideologues who rant at you from a tv screen and make you feel things that are unhealthy. The media is teaching us to hate one another. Close your eyes to it.
I hope you don’t hate me. You don’t even know me. Hopefully if you read this, you’ll at least understand me.
What I’m trying desperately to say is perfectly expressed in this brilliant, witty Tina Fey piece. I would argue, however, that there’s no reason she needs to insult people. Like me, she must think she is funnier sometimes than she really is. Unlike me, she can get away with it because she is a comic genius. -DQ