I really don’t want to write about racism today.
My Facebook feed has been a steady flow of articles, memes, and rants about white supremacists, Charlottesville, free speech, racism, Arpaio, and He Who Shall Not Be Named.
And I don’t think any of them made any difference.
Well, I think they’ve made people mad. They’ve made me mad, no matter whether I agreed or disagreed with them, or whether I actually investigated the facts behind them. But I don’t think they changed anybody’s mind.
I don’t think anyone has ever had a core belief challenged by a meme. And even when I agree with the viewpoints of some of my friends, the articles and rants they share are frequently full of fallacies, emotional appeals, and exaggerated/decontextualized data.
If anything, they may actually be solidifying the other side’s beliefs by presenting an opposition to fight against.
So I’ve been trying to avoid talking on the subject, because I don’t think I have anything to say that can change anybody’s mind. I don’t want to start another poorly-researched internet fight that puts both sides at each others’ throats. I really don’t want to write about racism today.
I work at a public library. Working in public service, I’m privy to a lot of unpleasant interactions between people. Usually a few minutes pass, and the frustration rolls off my back.
Sometimes it comes home with me.
Fifteen minutes to close, a woman comes up to the desk to check out, her two kids in tow, about two and six years old. As I check out her books, she tells me that a man yelled at her older child because the younger one was being too noisy. “He made the older one cry.” I glance over at the man. Though too far away to make out what’s being said, he is glaring at the woman. I apologize for her bad experience, wishing there was something else I could do to make things better. There never seems to be anything I can do.
A few minutes later, the man comes up. “I’ve been trying to work, but I can’t because of those…………..children.” He pauses for a long time mid-sentence, trying to find a word that won’t get him in trouble. The pause communicates his contempt in a way that will be hidden if this conversation is written up later. “I guess they don’t raise these [nationality] kids to be polite where they come from, but this is a public library, not [nation of origin]!”
I bite back the reply that two-year-olds tend to make noise no matter what color skin they have. And the reply that, just because a family looks different, it doesn’t mean they haven’t lived here as long as he has. And that the public library is, as one might guess from the name, open to the public. And that, if you have a problem with a child’s conduct, perhaps you should say something to the mother, instead of his six-year-old brother.
Because there’s nothing I can say. Nothing I say will change this man’s mind. Nothing I say will rebuke him. Nothing I say will do anything but stoke the flames that are simmering across this nation.
There’s a quote that gets passed around from time to time: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s a cute quote, but what bothers me is the assumption that everything falls neatly into those two categories. What do I do about things I can neither change nor accept?
I don’t know. I don’t have any deep thoughts to wrap up this post. I can’t fix the world, and I’m not okay with the way it works. Sometimes I just need to talk about it.