I wasn’t alive during the US Civil War or even the civil rights protests in the 1960s, but when I study those times it is clear that the United States was divided. There were groups of people who saw themselves as so different that they could not be contained by the same nation. There was such anger and hurt, injustice and resentment that many people at the time did not believe the country could ever be reconciled.
And maybe in some ways, it never was.
Other problems came up and the deep rifts between groups became submerged for a while, but they did not go away. In fact, they have returned with a vengeance. Today it is easy to imagine a war between sides in the United States.
And I am not a peacemaker. I stand on one of the sides. On my side there is so much rage, pain and fear for the future. I feel rage when I hear the news. Yes, rage. I may not show it on my face because I’m with my kids or sitting in a waiting room with strangers. But my most basic reaction to current events is rage against the greed, indecent selfishness, self-destructive delusions, raw bigotry and careless destruction going on at the highest levels of our society.
But I am also steady enough to understand that on the other side there is deep fear and resentment as well. And they too feel rage.
The other side feels unjustly blamed and accused. They have only been trying to get by and build good lives for themselves. They are sick and tired of always being the ones who have to give back and retreat—for that is how they see themselves. The people on the other side—not the insanely wealthy few, but the people—have watched their hard-won standard of living slip, their income shrink and their self-image be trampled.
I’m not claiming to be objective. I do believe there is right and wrong. But I believe wrong can fiercely and truly believe it is right.
Take for instance the incident at a Brooklyn corner store that has been going around the internet. For those, who heard about it even later than I did or have been doing healthier things than staring at screens, let me explain.
First, a video surfaced of a woman at a corner store in Brooklyn who was distraught and calling the police. She said someone had grabbed her “ass” and it was a nine-year-old boy. This would be enough for any controversy, but add in the fact that the woman is white and the child is black and you’ve got an explosive American brew.
In the video the woman acts indignant and injured and is clearly also anxious, feeling outnumbered by people who disagree with her handling of the situation. Even another white woman comes up to her and tells her to stop. Her reasoning isn’t that she doesn’t believe the other woman. She is simply saying that you don’t call the police on a little kid. You handle it. You talk to their parent or give them a stern “no, that’s bad touching.” You don’t call the police.
The 911 operator seems to agree and although the voice of the operator isn’t clear on the video, the woman hangs up unhappy with the result.
Now given the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice over the vehement objections of about half of the nation because of untried allegations of sexual assault the issue of believing a woman alleging harassment is a fiery topic.
On the one hand, this was a child—not an older teen like Kavanaugh was but a small child. On the other hand, as any parent of a smaller-than-average or disabled child knows, kids that age can still be vicious. And just as the allegations against Kavanaugh pointed out, although sexual harassment by a minor may not warrant prosecution, it can point to a lasting problem of character and ethics.
Should the lady have called the police? No, if she had been grabbed on the buttocks by a boy, there would be reason for a discussion with him and his parent.
Except… a week later surveillance video emerged showing that the boy simply walked by the woman in front of his mother and a younger child. His backpack brushed against her. That was all.
Some will take this to mean that the woman maliciously made the whole thing up. Some will even grasp at it as an example to put up when women accuse men of sexual assault. If this woman could “make it all up” then how can we say others don’t do the same.
It is worth considering the social atmosphere of extreme tension and division this is taking place in. Here is a woman at a corner store in Brooklyn. She is part of the powerful, white majority in the country, a majority that has been blamed very publicly for much of what is wrong in our society because of the history of white colonization, racial oppression and structural racism.
But she is also a woman and as we know, the vast majority of women really do encounter sexual harassment and a huge portion experience violent sexual assault. This woman could easily have experienced sexual assault in the past.
And whether we like it or not, in Brooklyn she is likely a racial minority in the immediate area and likely to feel both resentful and threatened. Most people of color treat white people like people, sometimes with a bit of caution and hesitation, but without open hostility. But there are those who, in reaction to structural racism, are hostile to white individuals, particularly to those who may be oblivious to their role in continuing racial injustice.
This woman likely felt a lot of racial tension in her neighborhood. She was likely afraid of young black men because of stereotypes and the social divide that keeps her from having positive experiences with them.
And she fears sexual assault from all men, because statistically it’s a real danger.
So, I am not one hundred percent convinced that she intentionally made it up. A couple of weeks after the incident there was another interview with her in which she still claims she was grabbed, despite the obvious proof of the surveillance video. I hazard to guess that she felt some ridges on the child’s backpack and mistook them for fingers. I can easily believe she thought the child had scraped his fingers across her “ass.”
Trivial? If it were real, it wouldn’t have been trivial. It would have warranted a good talking-to and any black mother worth her salt would have been on the kid like a ton of bricks. Life expectancy is short enough for young black boys as it is. No mother needs to add actually being disrespectful toward women to the already considerable risk factors a black male child faces.
To those who point to such an episode and say “See! You liberals only believe women when it suits you,” I would say that our outrage is not against the woman’s allegation per se. Our anger is over two things. First, you don’t call the cops on a nine-year-old who is unarmed and non-threatening. You talk and you be a grown-up. The fact that she did call the cops and did not try to talk about it shows that she automatically saw this boy as so bad that discussion would be pointless.
Second, at least part of her wrong assumption in the first place came from her racist conditioning to see young black boys as bad and dangerous. She felt an uncomfortable sensation and turned around and saw a black boy and her immediate thoughts were negative.
Should she have turned around and checked to see what was going on when she felt an odd sensation brush by her? Sure. If she’d met the kid’s eyes she would have seen that he hadn’t even noticed her. If that wasn’t enough, she could have engaged in conversation and quickly understood what was what.
It is not a racist infraction to feel something brush suggestively against your butt and spin around. Unfortunately, women have good cause.
What is racist is to let indoctrinated and unsubstantiated fear take over and make judgments of others far beyond the facts because of their race (or other irrelevant characteristics for that matter).
And people, I know things are tough and divided right now. But could we at least agree not to call the police on little children?