“That’s Not Telling It Like It Is. It’s Just Wrong.” – Barack Obama

The President made this remark in his state of the union speech this week.  He was referring to what I think of as “the politics of hate”:

“…that’s why we need to reject any politics — any politics — that targets people because of race or religion. Let me just say this. This is not a matter of political correctness.”  (Transcript of President Obama’s State of the Union Address, White House website, 1/13/16)

He went on to add:

“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong.” (Ibid)

This really hit home with me, because it addresses one of the most often-used arguments to support bigoted, ignorant politicians – “he’s just telling it like it is.”

The implication is that whatever is said is fact, and that the person who repeats it is being candid.

Well, that’s half right, anyway.

The person who states ideas like this – for example, that all Muslims are violent – is being candid.

But he/she is not stating a fact.  He/she is stating an opinion.

Opinions are not facts.

This would all seem to be obvious, wouldn’t it?  Yet, we see it time and time again, this phrase used to justify some very hateful and false ideas people seem to be spewing all over the place right now.

And it’s not just about Muslims – it’s used to support hatred against the poor, the disabled, minorities, women, neo-Pagans, Catholics…you name it, someone will hate it.

This statement is also often paired with “freedom of speech” arguments, such as “We have freedom of speech in America, so I can say what I want and you have no right to tell me to shut it.”

That’s true, up to a point.

Your hateful speech is protected, as long as it doesn’t incite violence or panic (the classic “shouting FIRE! in a crowded theater” argument), and/or isn’t specifically directed at someone else (“Hey, look, a fag – let’s go get him”, that causes others to chase someone down and beat him/her).

What I don’t get is, why would anyone be proud of speaking hatred against other people?

And, of course, the other side of this is that, yeah, we do have the right to tell you to shut up.

In the past few years, I have watched politeness norms dwindle to virtually nothing, on the internet especially.  Now it seems to be affecting person-to-person discourse, as well.

Famous people like Donald Trump have made it fashionable to say all kinds of untrue and hateful things, under the guise of “telling it like it is.”  And I continue to be deeply disappointed in some people – particularly friends who I never considered thought those kinds of ugly and untrue ideas – who have “come out of the closet” and revealed just how much they hate all kinds of people who are different from them.

I’m glad that the President mentioned something about that.  I’m thrilled to bits anytime anyone in the public eye points out how wrong it is to think/speak this way.

And it wouldn’t be so bad if it were confined to the internet.  Or confined to certain groups of people, or certain places (though I recognize where one lives does make a difference)…

It’s bad because it’s everywhere – on the bus, in the places I volunteer, in grocery stores, and other public places I have to go into.  I can’t escape it unless I don’t leave my apartment.

Some of it is unwanted remarks by strangers who assume I will agree with them (this is usually a white person making a racist statement), some of it is one or more people speaking very loudly on public transportation with the intent that everyone hear them, and some of it is directed at me – usually every time I go grocery shopping, because I use food stamps.

I cannot remember a time in the past year where I went to the grocery store and wasn’t confronted by a shopper behind me who stated:

  1.  They can’t afford the organic food I am buying.
  2.  They think it’s wrong that I buy other kinds of food using “their” tax money (last time it was a small cake for my birthday, just last Monday).

I can turn off my computer or go to other webpages and so on.  I can’t turn off other people.

“You’re being too sensitive,” I can imagine some think this about me.

But think for a second – what if you heard this stuff every time you left your apartment, in several different places, day in and day out, year after year.

Can you imagine what that’s like?

It wears on you.  Like I wrote before, like water on stone, it erodes something inside you.

It skews your opinion about humans in general, because after awhile it seems as if everyone you encounter is a mean-spirited bigot who can’t wait to either commiserate with you, or to put you down.

And if you call them out on it, as I have on occasion, they try to backpedal and say that you “misunderstood” them.

That they didn’t mean you, they meant all the other people on food stamps who buy organic food, or who buy ‘junk food’.

Um no, they most certainly did not mean that, because they addressed their remarks directly to me.  Me, who is standing in line with quinoa and organic vegetables.  Which they apparently cannot afford.

I would wager that they spend much more than the $35/week in food stamps that I spend.  So they’re really not even being truthful.  What they mean is they think organic, healthy stuff is too expensive (no argument from me there), so they choose not to buy it.

They want to spend their money on something else, which is their right.

I don’t.  What happens is I run out of food before the month is out, and then I either do not eat or I eat some “emergency” thing like ramen.

But that, too, is a choice.  A choice they will never have to make, and one they do not understand.

They don’t even think about it, all they see is someone not spending their food stamps in a way that they think is appropriate.   I’m not sure what they think we ought to be buying, actually, but if the food bank is any indication I guess it’s canned vegetables and beans.

Even if I agreed with that, do you have any idea how heavy that is, lugging a month’s worth of canned goods home on public transportation?

See, no one thinks that deeply about anything.  That is one of the reasons for this blog, to let people know what it’s like to live this way.

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