Friday, June 1, 2007

My Mother. Oh, My Mother…

I get a forwarded email from my mother. She got it from her friend Racist Homophobette (who hasn’t yet figured out why her oldest son is unmarried at 45 and doesn’t date).

It purports to be a screed by Andy Rooney. It’s not – Rooney’s quoted on Snopes saying he’d like to sue whoever started this nasty, racist piece as he feels it’s damaged his name.

The gist: why can’t white people have things for themselves if black people have special things like magazines and TV networks – isn’t that reverse racism? Followed hard upon by no girls in the Boy Scouts, guns don’t kill people people kill people, homosexuality is bad, why don’t those immigrants speak English and why do they get any social services, tattoos and piercings are bad (it’s pretty wide-ranging) and wraps up with, “since 86% of Americans believe in God” (which one?) we should tell the other 14% to “shut up and be quiet.” It concludes with “If you agree, forward this, if you don’t, delete.” Ah yes – speak up and be heard, unless you disagree, in which case shut up and be quiet.

And me, I can’t let it lie.

I address the misapplication of non-specific pseudo-statistics, point out that my brother is gay and my friends (I avoid the words ‘lovers’ and ‘clients’, tee hee) are black, mention that I’ve been beaten (briefly) by cops so maybe they’re not always right, and ask if Andy Rooney really said this, or did someone else throw his name on it and start sending it around?

I get personal:

…naming a majority as a reason for rightness reminds me of "well, all my friends are doing it..." …I'm a little embarrassed that my mother, who taught me to stand up for what is right instead of what is convenient and popular, would send me this…Up to you whether you forward this back to Racist Homophobette.

I, of course, cc it to all the family members my mother cc’d it to.

My brother points out it’s not Andy Rooney. My aunt replies back that it doesn’t matter who wrote it, it’s their opinion, “some valid points, some invalid.”

And you know, it occurs to me that it does matter who wrote it. If it's a
public figure, we weight their words more heavily than if it's just some internet nobody taking advantage of not having to spend money to spread around their words. Would Homophobette have sent it to all her friends if it was from Joe Blow she'd never heard of?

My mother is from a generation where the internet is a way to do business and a fun toy, but I get most of my news and information in this way. It personally benefits me to call people on lies, misrepresentations, and lack of accuracy in the emails they forward to all their friends, because I'd rather have an internet that's more of a library and less of a bathroom wall.

More importantly, it matters who forwards it. Would my mother – or even her friend – write in a public newspaper, with their name attached, the same sentiments? It’s safer to mass-forward an email supposedly written by a funny columnist without thinking very much about the subtle hate speech involved. When you forward an email, you endorse what it says. In this case, explicitly, as per the last line of the email. I'm not comfortable letting my family think I'm willing to go along with gay-bashing, immigrant-bashing, and racism, and "just delete."

I write to my aunt (cc-ing to everyone, why withhold the potential for family drama?)

…casual hate speech is worse than deliberate hate speech, because we take it in without thinking when it comes in a funny email instead of from a guy in a white hood. Maybe I'm one of the horrible PC people the original writer alludes to - but if he had the guts to sign his real name and stand up for what he believes, his polemic would carry a lot more weight.

Which leads me to think, am I the pot? You are, after all, reading an anonymous blog. But there is a difference, not only in that I am not claiming to be someone more important or more established to give weight to my opinions, but also that I have a persona you can use for context. You may not know Mandy, but you know “Mandy”, and she accepts comments, answers emails, and engages in dialogue when people disagree.

Feel free to forward...the name is Mandy Muse.


G said...

I often get these emails of slacktivisim in the in-box from various fam membs and although many are subject to a rageful forefinger on the ole "delete" button, I also fire back a seething "give me a fking break, blah, blah!" rant that is typically met with "oh that's just Gina, she's on the left therefore she is wrong" I wonder when different opinions became wrong and not a beginning to dialogue?

Out Of The Anonymous Closet, Gina G.

Fanta_Cee said...

Oooo I love calling these types out. I also get a private vindication by including the Snopes link so they can go see how dumb they look. It's always the same friend who sends them to me; and I've contemplated blocking his email address just because it hurts my brain to read such blind ignorance. Kudos to you. :-)

The English Courtesan said...

Well helloooooo Mandy Muse! This is an interesting one - I'm a firm believer in freedom of expression but I agree that by forwarding these ideas and/or attributing them we give them respectability and credence which they don't deserve.

One of the most frightening things to me about racism is that often those who seek to justify it are surprisingly eloquent. Dressing it up in rhetoric with fallacious examples doens't make it right but it's one of the reasons why extremist parties like the National Front in the UK have succeeded in local elections in certain areas. Their logic is fundamentally flawed but their campaigns are well-planned and executed and dressed up in similarly 'reasonable' language.

On a personal level I should confess that I'm a non-confrontational coward as a general rule, especially with my family. So I'd probably just have quietly deleted it and hissed over my keyboard. That's why I like you - you have guts! :-)

Livvy xxx

P.S. Apologies for the deleted post - my typos this evening are atrocious as you already know! What would I do without Mandy Muse to spot my muddles? :-)

Ruby said...

Bravo, Mandy!! Like Livvy, I seldom challenge my family on their beliefs because I don't like to rock the boat. Thankfully, they're a little more enlightened than the brand of racism you described. But they are very homophobic and staunchly pro-life. I feel like there's nothing I can say to change their minds, and we all politely agree to avoid those topics.

You've inspired me to be more assertive.

Mandy said...

Gina - I think I have the opposite problem - my family is saying that all opinions have a right to be heard equally when I am saying that some of them are wrong (or lies)...I also get, Oh that Mandy, she's so reactive...Love that word "slacktivism".

Fanta_Cee - Yay, Snopes! I'm still debating whether to send it back to the original forwarder...

Livvy - you are so right. I find it interesting that some of the most successful political campaigns are based on fanning the flames of things people want to believe but won't admit on their own.

Ruby - glad to be of service :) It's so hard to pick one's battles, isn't it?