Outliers Can Not Be Used To Excuse Our Own Bias

There’s the thing people do on Facebook. They find lone outliers from an opposing group that actually agree with them, and share out those voices like it is their public permission slip to feel the way they do. I see it quite often in regards to race issues and with the stuff that happened this week, it seems to be a growing phenomena.

Progressives/Liberals talk a lot about systemic racism and how we need criminal justice reform. This is often done by spotlighting how black families – especially in poor neighborhoods – raise their kids with a completely different approach to law enforcement than white people do. So…OF COURSE…periodically I’ll see friend or family from the others side of the spectrum, share out a video of a black man saying he LOVES cops and has never had one problem when/if he gets pulled over. Nevermind that there is evidence supporting that fact that there does exist racial bias, this person who shares out this video wants to use this ONE PERSON as their excuse not to admit the system is racist, even if the evidence proves otherwise.

We – as a country – were going through a “We Love Michelle Obama” surge awhile back (I mean, aren’t we always?) and one of my conservative-voting FB contacts chose THAT MOMENT to share out a video of a black woman talking about why she hates Michelle Obama. This was that family member’s way of also not liking Michelle Obama and this lone voice allowed her to do it an not be racist because…LOOK! A black woman agrees with her!

It’s not always about race either…I recently saw a video shared out by a Christian family member of an “atheist” (the way the person spoke it was really hard to believe she was actually an atheist because I know a shit-ton of non-believers and none of them ever spoke like that) saying that forcing employees to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” was against the first amendment and they believed that EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE AN ATHEIST. Conveniently this was shared out the same day I pointed out that Happy Holidays is more inclusive and why wouldn’t you want to include more people in your well-wishes?

So yeah…users on Facebook like to find the video of ONE person (usually from the cultural or racial group their views might offend) who supports their views and they do it as a way to support their lack of empathy or understanding of the group they disagree with. “Look! I don’t have to understand the importance of inclusive speech because this atheist agrees with me!”

I also saw this one time when someone shared out a Facebook status saying that – as a Mother of a child with mental handicaps – she was not offended by the use of the word “retarded” in casual language. I mean, is it that hard to NOT use a word that has documented negative impact? We have to find the outlier that gives us permission to keep using a word that upsets a large majority of our community?

And then – the occurrences this week that spawned me writing on this topic. There is historical and cultural evidence of white people dehumanizing black women via restrictions on their hair, TONS of evidence and TONS of current black female writers discussing this and yet…AND YET…I know people who find ONE YouTube video of ONE black woman who says, “Bill O’Reilly didn’t say anything racist!” to share out on Facebook so they’re not forced to have to face the fact that their own comments about hair might be racist.

I see it with liberals too. There’s this weird habit of finding those Change Of Heart Trump supporters who are now vocal against him and using that as an excuse to be crudely vocal agains the administration. Liberals also like to use Warren Buffet as their “business outlier” as proof they don’t have to listen to conservative economic policy because this rich guy agrees with them.

But lately – especially with race issues – I’m seeing it more and more with white people basically looking for videos of black people saying the things they want to say but can’t. And it’s making me a little stabby.

It’s Always About Race.

Most of the time if something big is happening in the world, I wait for someone better to write about it and then I use their words as a jumping-off point. Especially if it deals with race. I take a quote of someone wiser and source it, and then build my thoughts from their wisdom. I’m not great at seeing something happen and then formulating my thoughts myself without influence from smarter people.

Especially 100% of the time when it deals with race. I need guidance.

But this morning I’m at a loss. Two things happened yesterday that are very closely related in terms of race and misogyny and microagressions and I really want someone else to have written about this already so I could piggy-back and add my own comments…but it seems no one has yet. So I’m going to try to just throw my thoughts and feelings out there and hope I don’t do it too terribly.

I saw the video yesterday where Bill O’Reilly snarked on on Maxine Waters – a black Congresswoman from California – by saying, “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.”

And then, separately, Sean Spicer said to April Ryan – a black reporter at his briefing yesterday, “Please, stop shaking your head again.”

I want to discuss those two moments and how they represent similar moments in my life.

My first instinct is to always shift my perspective away from racism when I see and hear microagressions like this. I mean, we’ve heard white women get mocked for hair and attitudes before, so why are these comments “racist” in nature? This is a self-protecting instinct I’m now aware of because racism has become subtle in our society and we’re all so defensive against accusations of it. To protect our dignity, we have trained ourselves to say, “It’s definitely misogynistic, and he’s definitely an asshole, but that’s not inherently racist.

But then my immediate second – more aware – instinct is: It’s always racism.

First of all…the hair comment: Let’s start by pointing out that any comment on any black woman’s hair is always rooted in racism. It may be subtle, but until we recognize the history of indignities black women have had to suffer because of their hair, we will never see the racism behind the remarks. Hair makes us feel “safe” because it’s not skin. We can inflict regulations on how a black woman styles her hair that we never put on a white woman and we can pretend it’s about hygiene or professionalism and it makes us feel safe because we’re not talking about skin color. Regulating hair for black women has been a way to hold authority over a race without mentioning the race itself. The military has finally rolled back most (all?) of the regulations targeting black women and their hair but here is a good piece about it before these rollbacks. When Black Hair Is Against the Rules.

But in many settings, black hair was still a battleground. In the 1980s civil rights groups led boycotts against the Hyatt hotel chain after it terminated a black female employee for wearing cornrows. In 1999, couriers for Federal Express were fired for wearing dreadlocks. And this past fall, 7-year-old Tiana Parker was told her dreadlocks violated her elementary school’s dress code in Tulsa, Okla., and 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke was threatened with expulsion from her private school in Orlando, Fla., because her natural hair was deemed a “distraction.”

So we must remind ourself: For a black woman? Her hair is the target seen the most. And jeezus, Maxine Waters’ hair actually follows all of these “rules” people have inflicted unfairly over the years and someone STILL snarks on her hair. Because it is the “safe” go-to when insulting a black woman because it doesn’t relate to skin color. But as history has shown us? It always relates to skin color.

Now…let’s visit the other incident.

“Please, stop shaking your head again.”

Another frequent indignity a black woman has to deal with is defending herself against the “Angry Black Woman” trope. Now, this should be something all women can relate to a little bit because we all know that if we get angry at work, we’re being emotional. Whereas if a man gets angry he’s being powerful. So we can all recognize that comments about attitude are inherently misogynistic. But the “Angry Black Woman” trope is another that has been used in history to belittle the response of any black woman towards injustice. If a black woman rages about something? The thing that triggered the rage is dismissed the second she is painted as an Angry Black Woman. It’s how the system shifts focus away from what makes her angry. So if she wants to be taken seriously, she has to remain more calm than her white or male counterparts. This is misogyny AND racism.

Long attributed to black women who have dared to stand up for what they believe in, the “angry black girl” archetype Stenberg refers to is one that reduces having an informed opinion to having a plain ol’ attitude problem. Source

I guarantee you white men shake their heads at Sean Spicer in that room daily. And while he may accuse them of promoting agendas like he did April Ryan, he never mandates they stop shaking their head. Because that’s not a weapon we use against men. Angry men are powerful so we don’t spotlight that. Angry Black Women just need attitude adjustments, so we can minimize their response by spotlighting their “attitude.”

Now, the reason I wanted to talk about these things is because – in my sphere of friends and families – it’s the comments like these that I have previously ignored making me part of the problem in continued racism. I’ve pretended I didn’t hear similar comments numerous times before. I don’t know if it’s living in the South, or if every white person my age has this experience, but I’ve been in countless situations (family, friends, work) where comments about a black woman’s hair or attitude are made and then promptly glossed over by me and every other white person in the room.

(Sidenote: Let me just say I’ve seen my husband call stuff out before. He’s my idol in many ways. He cares not about upsetting people no matter how much he likes or respects them. But I am not like that.)

It comes as no surprise that I fear conflict. And I fear shooting the word: RACIST at people I otherwise like/love and/or respect. But these occurrences yesterday with a bigger spotlight – and the loud blowback I’ve seen from the women of color I follow – have reminded me: WE CAN NOT LET THIS STUFF STAND.

The scary thing about calling these things racist is that we all have to realize that – based on the society we were raised in – we’ve probably said this racist shit too. I mean, I don’t have any concrete memories in my head so I trick myself into believing I’ve never said it, but I’ve ignored worse and does that make me better?

So I’m looking at those two instances yesterday and imagining comments made at a social gathering, or a family gathering, or a professional gathering. Let’s say we’re all watching the news and someone says what O’Reilly said. What do I say? What does someone like me – the avoider of ALL face-to-face conflict – say in situations like this? How do you tell someone their words are racist without calling them a racist? Because the POINT of addressing the comments is to enlight the person, right? To open their minds to the subtle racism we all partake in and don’t realize? So angering them won’t teach them…right? How do I address these issues in a way that might actually open their eyes a little?

Here are my attempts.

Person A: “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.”

Me: “You know what? I learned recently that there has been a long history of black women being persecuted unfairly because of their hair. Even in the military they were held to different standards which required more time and effort just because of their hair. These were terrible indignities only afforded to them because of their race, so I’ve come to understand that any comments about a black woman’s hair carries racist undertones. Therefore, I am trying to teach my kids that – even if think they’re being funny – comments about a black woman’s hair are unacceptable. I just don’t want our words to unintentionally carry any historical reference to racist indignities, you know?”

Or what about with a similar Spicer moment


Person B: “I wish she would stop shaking her head like that.”

Me: “You know what? I was reading recently about how the Angry Black Girl archetype is one used to oppress the voices of black women. When a black woman was angry in the civil rights movement, her words could be dismissed by painting her in this way of just needing an attitude adjustment. Since then I’ve noticed even I seem to reflexively dismiss the voice of an angry black woman and so I’m trying to recognize the racial undertones in commenting on the attitude of a black woman. Because, let’s be honest, we wouldn’t call out a white man for shaking his head, would we?”

I know there are people that say, “Tender-footing racism does no good.” But I learned, and am continuing to learn. Not because someone called me a racist, but because someone kindly pointed out the racism in my words. I don’t want to pass on the opportunities to do the same in the future. I want to be brave. I want my kids to see me calling out these moments instead of glossing over them so that they can learn to do the same.

Raising My Standards

I’ve been thinking a lot about a term I’ve heard more and more in the last several years: Microagressions. It’s usually used in terms of how we slight members of marginalized communities. How we’re all a little racist or misogynist. Since that term has entered my vernacular, I’ve noticed a lot more subtle bigoted behavior. This has heightened my awareness of these small behaviors that are often just subtle way to be…well…mean.

Most of us probably look at ourselves as good people. We come forward with donations when a community member needs support, we offer condolences when someone experiences loss, we suffer sleepless nights after global tragedies. And I do believe all of this is good. I know that by those standards I’m very good. But…the more I have looked at my life the last few years, the more I have noticed my own tendency towards small slights of other people (these microagressions) – and it’s making me take a harder look at how I define “good” in my world.

I think the rise of social media and the ensuing surge of stories of terrible people has allowed us to excuse ourselves more and more for smaller slights. I mean, I haven’t gone on a racist rant in the middle of a store and told a person with brown skin that Trump is going to kick them out. But I’ve seen no less than three similar videos of other people doing that since the election. I mean – that asshole is a TOTAL RACIST. And because I see that type of behavior shared out regularly, I have defined that behavior as “bad” and by default myself as “good” without recognizing the smaller negative acts I may commit daily.

You know how we all have an increased fear of kidnappings because our media allows us to spread stories of kidnappings regularly so we feel like they’re common? I feel like the same phenomena is happening with “evil” behavior and we are now looking at these videos of terrible people doing terrible thing and using THAT behavior to define “evil” and by default the rest of us are “good”. But you know what? When I really think about microagressions or small slights, I think I’m doing a disservice to myself and to others by setting the bar so low to be considered good.

So I’m taking time to think about things like my retweets. That’s probably an area where I give myself the most “buffer” area to be mean. I don’t usually use my own words to slight others, but I sometimes laugh at the words other people use and therefore retweet them because I think they’re funny. And somehow – even though they’re mean – I remove any responsibility for them because they’re not mine. Sometimes there are tweets insulting Trump supporters or Christians and they kinda hit home to me and make me laugh so I retweet them but that’s kinda dickish, you know? I mean, do I get to absolve myself of the harm they do because they’re not my words?

I mean, it’s no secret that I dislike Trump and I’m trying my best to be proactive in fighting his agenda. But I think that can be done without being mean. And let me clarify: I DO NOT THINK ALL CONFLICT IS MEAN. I think it’s important in the scope of history and change not to tender-step all of our conflicts. But I do believe there’s a way to be “mean” that isn’t remotely productive and sometimes I retweet that type of stuff because – I’ll admit – it makes me laugh.

If you can’t see that image above it’s a tweet I retweeted that says: “Seriously. Donald Trump addressing Congress feels like a fever dream I had after I had my gall bladder removed.”

And it made me laugh. So I retweeted it.

But then I started thinking about how when people posted stuff like that about Obama I got my feelings hurt. I mean, it’s one thing to say, “This policy is terrible and here is why:_____________” But it’s another thing to say, “This guy on my TV doing his job is giving me terrors…” Do you see the difference?

I’m not saying because I retweeted that I am somehow evil or mean. Or not “good” by some definition. I’m just saying that I am not really looking at my actions alone because compared to the greater scope of the internet…I’m freakin’ Ghandi!

And I know this is the time where a lot of people like to say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself!” And I’m not beating myself up over it, it’s just a new perspective I’ve been adopting lately. And honestly? It started with noticing small microagressions from other people that hurt my feelings. Small slights/jokes people make against liberals and their “snowflake” status, or about atheists, or Obama supporters, or feminists. Those tiny comments from otherwise “good” people that prickled my sensitive heart. My reaction to small slights from other people just heightened my awareness of it, and am trying to think about how words have power, not matter now “small” they are.

Just because you’re not standing from a rooftop screaming, “Liberals are ruining America!” doesn’t mean you’re “accepting” of all different political views. Just because you’re not changing your Facebook Cover photo to “F*CK TRUMP” doesn’t mean you’re helping mend the political divide in our country. I just feel like I’m letting myself get away with snarky behavior because it’s not as bad as some, but when I’m on the receiving end of that same behavior? It stings. So I’m reevaluating how I define “good” in myself.

And it’s not even just: “IS THIS MEAN?” It’s also, “WHAT IS THE POINT?” When I leave a comment or make a tweet – is there a point? I mean, it’s okay to just be silly, half of the shit I write online is just silly. But sometimes I find myself playing the, “Me too!” card in a moment that belongs to someone else. Like if someone writes a Facebook status about something difficult and instead of providing them comfort, I take the open door to talk about MY OWN similar problem…what is the point? Is this what the person was hoping for? No. They wanted comfort. Sympathy. How can I provide that without making it about ME?

I’m trying to remember that words have power, even if they belong to other people. I’m trying to remember that being “good” is a spectrum and just because I’m not on the “evil” side, doesn’t mean I’m 100% on the “good” side either. I want to go to bed at night proud of who I’ve been and not worried that I may have hurt the feelings of someone I respect. I want to be confident that I put more good into the world, than bad. I want to feel like I did my best at being kind.

I want to raise my standards.

The illusion of difference.

Nikki and I have been talking body types a lot. I talk about how I’m not in my “race day body” right now – but as I pick up my miles that body will make an apperance. However, I also talk about how there are things I’ll miss about this body – like how I really like my boobs at this weight. She knows I love this body for some reasons but that as I run more I’ll thin out again for my big race, but I’ll never get TOO thin because that’s just not my body type. I talk about that, how my body is best for running at a certain size, but never as small as some of the runners we know and that’s fine. That’s THEIR body. I talk about how some clothes fit better on THIS body but won’t fit right on my race day body. And that the trick with ANY body is to find the clothes that make you feel GREAT about your body and wear the shit out of them.

There’s a certain dress style that I love but the waistline hits me weird and somehow makes me feel shorter than I am. I use that as an example, I’ve even tried one on before to show her what I mean. But a high-waist/empire-waist dress? Those make me feel SO TALL, and I love those dresses. I explain to her, that when we’re shopping for clothes she needs to feel GREAT in what she chooses. We do not need to shop based on what her FRIENDS look great in, but what she FEELS great in.

And a lot of this works. She really seems to grasp that not all of us have the same body and things that look great on women we love, don’t necessarily work on us. And that there are outfits you will find that you look at yourself in and think YES! THIS IS THE PERFECT OUTFIT! But then your friends might try on that same outfit and it doesn’t look as good. Or vice versa – you could borrow clothes from your friend and it won’t quite look the same on you. I guess I’m trying my best to lay the groundwork so she doesn’t unfairly compare herself to others or expect clothes to look the same on her as they do her friends.

But all of this has been hitting me as incredibly futile lately because…EVERYONE ON TV LOOKS THE SAME…EVERYONE ON THE MAGAZINE COVERS LOOKS THE SAME…EVERYONE IN THE MOVIES LOOKS THE SAME.

Yes, there are anomalies, but for the most part every face she sees on TV, in the theater, and on magazines is attached to a long, lean body. Maybe it’s been photoshopped, but for the most part they are ALL THE SAME. So while I’m home trying to provide real-world examples of the variety of beautiful bodies in the real world, she turns on the TV and everyone is lean and perfect.

And this is the part I struggle with.

She sees our friends and family and gets that there are different bodies but she turns out our favorite superhero shows and all of the girls look the same. Long and Lean. “Perfect” bodies to the eye of an 11-year old.

This is the same with older women and the beauty industry’s hatred of wrinkles. No one puts wrinkly faces on magazines or on TV shows or in movies except when they need a grandma-aged character. But if you need/want a middle-aged woman? She’s not showing wrinkles so we start to think wrinkles are not normal and suddenly everywhere I turn there’s ads for $250 anti-wrinkle “systems” that we’re supposed to be using.

DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY DONUTS I CAN BUY FOR THAT MONEY?

We all live with two realities. The one that we see around us every day in our sisters and our coworkers and our friends and family: Many beautiful bodies in many beautiful shapes and sizes.

But then we turn on the TV or look at a magazine and every female body looks the same: Long, Lean, Perfect Skin.

It’s very easy to see how we all get such distorted ideas of beauty. Women hate their wrinkles because no one on TV or in the movies has them. Girls hate muffin tops because everyone has flat bellies on magazine covers. Women are ashamed of rolls under their bra strap because no one on TV has extra pounds ANYWHERE. We see the beauty of variety in the real world, but not in the world that sells us clothing and food and cars. That world all women have the exact same body: so of course we think any variation is bad.

I don’t really have a point other than just expressing frustration that no amount of coaching at home about the different kinds of BEAUTIFUL bodies can erase the fact that the media we all ingest is homogenized. We can all name the same actresses that don’t fit that standard mold, but how many of those women have been cast with that body because that body is part of the punchline? How many times is the bigger women used as the source of comedy?

Hollywood tends to cast gay men being gay, black women being black, and fat people being fat. What we need is gay characters that could also be straight, or black women being cast in parts that allow them to be something where “blackness” is not the story, or fat women being cast in a roll that could be just as funny being played by a thin women. If the comedy REQUIRES the character be fat, then we’re not normalizing anything.

We are all complex in our beauty and our flaws. And the older I get, the more frustrated I get that the media we consume – more often than not – only casts outside this mold if the story is about how the character does not fit the mold. Let’s see more characters that don’t fit that unrealistic “beauty” standard, and then just go on living their normal lives. I want to see a character in a main storyline that is gay, or has brown skin, or does not have a lean body…and I want to see that character be involved in a story that doesn’t relate to ANY OF THOSE THINGS. I want to see a Melissa McCarthy cast in a roll Jennifer Lawrence could have played and it not changed the story. I want to see Jennifer Hudson cast in a roll that Emily Blunt could have played and it not changed the story. I want the main character in an action movie be gay and the only reason we know that is the background shots of his family portraits featuring his husband.

It’s just hard to convince my child that our world is a mosaic of differences when she doesn’t see it reflected back in Hollywood. Hell, we don’t even see it reflected back in our government. Our representatives are more overwhelmingly straight, white, Christian men…at a much higher percentage than our actual population is.

I’m just discouraged lately, I guess. I’ll keep delivering the messages but it sure would be nice if the people who choose magazine covers and movie leads and TV cast would back me up once in awhile.

Back To Reality. Again.

Coming back from vacation is hard. ESPECIALLY when you made a point to disconnect for an entire week. But we came back Friday, I left for Knoxville on Saturday to visit my aunt in the hospital, she died that night so I came back on Sunday to work for ONE DAY and close on my house and then I left again on Tuesday to go back to Knoxville where we had non-stop services and time with family and then we left to come back home yesterday and I woke up this morning having no clue about what day it was or what time it was or what city I was in or what time zone I was in and WHY IS THIS DOG SNIFFING AT MY FACE?

Oh yeah. I’m home. I have to walk my dog.

We all curled up on the couches last night to catch up on our Superhero TV (Flash and Supergirl) and so I stayed out of the world of “reality” for a little bit longer. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in the news or even in my friend’s and family’s lives. I’ve opened social media just enough to share out photos of family so other family could see and to update everyone on where I was. I was going back and forth so often, no one could really keep up with where I was.

So today I need to spend time tethering myself back to reality in some way because I’m very out of touch. I’m not sure the best or most organized way to do that. I had a routine before two weeks ago: News, politics, blogging, work, home, etc. Now I’m just frazzled. Part of me almost wishes it was Monday because I’m going to start the “re-tether” process and then BAM! it’s the weekend.

But I’m back. It was so great to see family and I wish we had more happy occasions to celebrate so we didn’t just gather at funerals. It was great with cousins and with aunts and uncles and most importantly: I got to see my brother and his wife and kids who drove 22 HOURS to Knoxville. WITH TWO SMALL CHILDREN. CAN YOU IMAGINE?

And it was also great with Nikki. She wanted to go with me. She actually went with me to visit Marie in the hospital last Friday and then I came by myself Saturday and she came back with me to the services. It was great spending that special time with her. She heard a lot of family stories and memories, she experienced a Catholic Mass, she met a WHOLE LOT OF NUNS, it was great.

The one BIG BAD thing that happened was in the chaos, she left her pillow pet at the hotel when we checked out and when we called they didn’t have it. I guess someone stole it? We know that’s where she left it (it was pretty soon after we checked out that she remembered) but they don’t have it anywhere and she is DEVASTATED. And dude – I get it – I still have my “animal” from my childhood and I’m 41. I’d be broken-hearted it if disappeared. She’s too old to “trick” with a new one and hers had been loved too long for a new one to suffice. We’re going to try to get a replacement SOMETHING, but we’re not sure what. But even that idea isn’t appealing to her.

So – please send thoughts out into the universe that the hotel finds the pillow pet and calls me. I’ve lost hope as it’s been several days. And think of me re-tethering, my anxiety is such that it snowballs when I’ve had too much chaos in my life and I can feel myself at that brink now so I need to re-connect to the people and the obligations and the things that keep me grounded as I feel like I’m floating away amidst a whirlwind of travel and sadness and memories.

Here’s to settling in to normalcy. It’s been awhile.