American Trilogy: Race, Sheetcaking and the Media

PC: Instagram @goldenpoppyprints

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 Congressman, a man who, in his 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 would she know?) because I hadn’t spent the entire week prior indoctrinating my mostly-white students about the deteriorating civil rights of Black Americans. She ascertained all of this 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? They don’t even know me.

Southern. White. Republican.

Racist? No. No one who actually knows me would ever use that word to describe me.

Those first three descriptions of that woman ‘Dawn Quarles’ 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 to sum me up as a racist so they can then judge me and how I perform my job.

I know only tidbits about what’s been happening in Virginia this week, or in Kissimmee, or in Boston. We have three American cities in turmoil, and that’s all I really know. 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. To be honest, though, it’s good enough that I just know the basics. 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.” They might also say I must think that if it’s not ‘my problem’ it’s not really a problem, right? People believe that all white, Southern women of a conservative nature turn a blind eye to institutionalized racism because it’s uncomfortable. No, that’s not it exactly. I just don’t see anything in the behaviors of these activists that makes me want to join them. The Free Speechers and the Black Lives Matter marchers are not using diplomacy, love, logic, reason and common sense to achieve anything. They’re throwing punches at each other after blowing up strangers’ Twitters and plus, I’m allergic to violence.

Wait.
Maybe some are using love, but the media doesn’t want me to see that!

What if I emailed someone and told them they needed to go to church more often? What if I posted a comment to an acquaintance suggesting they shouldn’t (or should) spank their children. 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 them down and berate them because I feel I have some duty or obligation to set them straight and give them the what-for?

PC: Instagram @sjwar_maid

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Here is my opinion on what’s going on in the news, if anyone cares:

The Confederate memorials are symbols of some sort or another to everyone, regardless of which side of the race debate one falls. Remove them and put them in museums if it will bring some peace to our country, and I would be totally okay with that. To destroy them is simply Orwellian. So wrong, in my opinion.

What do I do with this stuff churning around inside my brain??? I put it in my own blog and I make it available in the kindest, most polite format I know how. I haven’t sought out a hashtag to retweet or a debate to engage in and I certainly didn’t go trolling for a fight with people I don’t know.

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. Not just my Southern country (and yes, I am proud to be a Southerner), 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, and most white people won’t understand why this is being allowed to go on except that a bunch of angry black people and their super liberal white friends demanded that it be so. Continuing to attack Southern icons will make everything so much worse. 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’re not bastions of bigotry! They were American legends who behaved appropriately (perhaps predictably is a better word) 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. Bowing to similar demands now endangers them all. 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’ve got an 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. I never owned a slave and I never discriminated against any black person anywhere, ever.

Privileged? According to what standards, exactly? Blissfully unengaged in this nonsense? Thankfully so. I don’t want to hate anyone. I don’t want to fight with people, insult others, hurt strangers, or allow people to have to pay for the mistakes of the past that no one alive today ever made.

The answer is found in the source of the question. 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

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About Dawn Quarles

Dawn Quarles is a high school political science and American history teacher who moonlights as a blogger and writer. She lives on Pensacola Beach, Florida.

Comments

One Response to “American Trilogy: Race, Sheetcaking and the Media”

  1. Andrea K. says:

    We just love you, Dawn Quarles! We have got your back, and we know personally you are one of SRCo.’s best and finest teachers.

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