The Toxicity of Revenge Culture

Every time something tragic happens – particularly when it’s heightened by racial tension, like the murder of George Floyd – it seems the worst of humanity comes out of the woodwork. Alongside news of protests, police brutality and burning buildings are countless streams of people – usually white – caught on camera being aggressively racist, inciting or causing violence, and all-round being essentially despicable pieces of human garbage.

It isn’t clear whether this seems to happen more during times of public outrage because racists are fighting what they see as a threat to their way of life, or if it’s just that the rest of us pay more attention at these times, but from calling cops on non-threatening black men to assualting young girls trying to stand up for Black Lives Matter, there has been no end to the instances of hate directed at the people who are trying desperately to fight for their freedom and equality.

The good news, of course, is that in today’s society of smart phones and everywhere-cameras, it’s become increasingly difficult to act like a bigot in public without being caught. And in the instances where these outrageous performances are recorded and uploaded to the internet, they often go viral – a swift dose of karma to the perpetrators.

And karma feels good. It’s undeniably satisfying to see a racist cut down to size; it feels good to watch as someone unbearably proud of their whiteness is ripped apart on social media.

The problem is that this isn’t an answer to racism. It isn’t an answer to intolerance, or bigotry, because the people who were initially the agressors become victims of hate themselves, and even if it feels like they deserve it, many of these people’s lives are destroyed by their acts of intolerance. What happens then is that these people, who clearly believe in their own superiority, don’t learn not to be a bigot; they learn to hide it. They don’t learn to change; they learn instead that they were right all along, and that the people they hated deserve that hate.

Nearly every one of these stories I’ve seen of people abusing others from a delusional position of authority has ended with them losing their jobs, their homes, and at times even their families. Corporate sponsors cut ties, employers fire them, and they’re left with no means to live – and worse, the stain of being branded forever a racist indelible on their reputation.

Now, I’m not advocating that these people ‘deserve’ better; I don’t believe in judging others without knowing them, and an individual act of racism does not a racist make – just like being wrong once doesn’t make you wrong all the time. But what happens is that the internet allows people, from the relative safety of their online anonymity, to pass judgement nonetheless on people they’ve never met and know nothing about.

But what I do believe is that the answer to racism doesn’t lie in avenging the victims, or in destroying the establishment. By taking everything away from someone who made a racist remark or acted out against another person because of their inherently misplaced beliefs, we’re only reinforcing the notion that the ‘others’ are indeed bad people, and that they’ll be punished for speaking out. It fosters a false victim mentality, and breeds a culture that actually causes racism to fester and grow. Rather than looking to themselves to ask why this happened, these people will simply blame the oppressed for oppressing them.

No – the answer to racism lies in education. I believe strongly in the inherent goodness of humanity – the idea that people are good at heart (at least to some degree), and their upbringing and education is what shapes their personalities. As you navigate life, growing older day by day, it’s likely that you’ll end up choosing paths that fit in line with your taught beliefs naturally, which only reinforces those notions and ideas that, for many of us, remain subconscious all our lives. It’s easy to teach a four-year-old to play nice with others; it’s much harder to change the outlook of a forty-year-old.

And some people, of course, are taught so poorly in their childhood, and live a life that so strongly reinforces their negative beliefs, that they quickly become irredeemable. This happens in all walks of life, of course, but since we live in a society that has always favored white men over all others, it allows for those immutable personalities to rise to power more easily than those with more open minds, which allows them to make the rules and define the society we live in to their own liking … leaving room to grow for the systemic racism and misogyny that has rotted the heart of this country for centuries.

But these people – these truly ‘bad apples’ – are generally few and far between. Most people, I think, have the capacity to relearn their world-view in the face of new information, so long as it’s presented in a way that doesn’t uproot everything they’ve ever known. People fear change, and will cling desperately to unfamiliarity. By wreaking revenge on people who are outwardly racist, we’re only causing further damage to the idea of peaceful equality. You can’t build yourself up by tearing others down.

So what I suggest is this: next time you see a story on Facebook or Twitter about a racist being put in their place, ask yourself – am I really so different? Have I never laughed at a racist joke, or worried more about passing through a black neighborhood than a white one? Anyone can say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and whilst many of the acts making the rounds truly are deplorable, who are we to decide their fate? Getting someone fired for poor behavior when they aren’t even working is akin to vigilante justice, which is a dangerous thing to throw around.

I’ve heard it said that racism isn’t black people’s problem – it’s white people’s. In that context, I think it’s as important to listen to the racists as it is to listen to the oppressed. If we actually give everyone a forum to speak intelligently – rather than forcing people into acts of aggression because they feel their voices are unheard – I think there would be a much better opportunity to help those people with racial biases to actually understand themselves better, gain insight, and perhaps – just perhaps – grow and change.

I suppose what I’m really trying to say is that we shouldn’t celebrate vengence on those who would oppress others. That doesn’t make anyone a better person. Instead, we should focus on celebrating those people who are willing and able to change. Celebrate those who can learn to love, not those who have only learned to hate.

Who have you seen grow or change in the past few months? Who can you celebrate?

Thought of the Week: Are They Really So Different?

A child and a grownup…but which is which?

A child and a grownup…but which is which?

It’s a funny business, living with a child. It’s a little bit like living with a mooching flatmate who is quite a bit smarter than you. (And shorter, which sort of makes up for it.)

You see, when you’re talking about children in the hypothetical (as in, “we might want kids some day”, or “aren’t your sister’s kids wonderful?”), they seem a little bit like kittens: small, furry and adorable. They’re supposed to giggle and coo and drink from a bottle and smile with a little toothless smile. Or say things like, “Daddy says mommy gets grumpy when she sits on rags, but I don’t see why she doesn’t just get up.” They’re supposed to hold your hand crossing the street, and be suddenly polite when your parents are over.

Uh…right.

What tends to happen is they cry and vomit on you, shit on your shoes and flush your car keys down the toilet, say things like, “Mommy, daddy said not to tell you he drank six bottles of beer last night,” and then suddenly they want to read to themselves at night, and tell you off for using bad language. There isn’t really a gradual change (at least that’s how I remember it); one day they’re a tiny little brat, and then suddenly they’re more of an adult than you are.

And that’s the funny – and scary – part. Children, of course, are supposed to emulate their parents. They’re supposed to try on mommy’s lipstick, cut themselves shaving with daddy’s razor, check themselves out in big brother’s high heels; it’s what they call growing up [side note: I think that might be where I went wrong]. And you think that you’re supposed to be in control of that process. After all, the whole reason to have kids is so that you can raise them in exactly the opposite way to how your parents raised you.

-Pluto-a

It’s perhaps as likely as anything that children come from here.

The thing is, you’re not. Whatever you think you will be/won’t be/ought to be/would be if your wife didn’t nag you so much, that’s exactly what won’t happen. You turn around, and there’s this little four-foot nothing person that looks and acts like…well, like you, only better. Naturally, you ask where on Earth this person came from. Who let them in? Do they have a driver’s license? Should you offer them tea, or put them on the next flight to Pluto?

Children make themselves from what they find around them. And that is probably about the only thing that you have any say in. You see, we’ve raised Little Satis (through no deliberate thought) to speak, to think, to read and to understand. I think what might have happened is that this opened his eyes to see what was around him. And what he saw was us telling him we love him, yelling at him because he won’t clean his room, reading to him at night, and telling him for the millionth time to turn the damn light off when you leave the room (us swearing, too). And this made him. Would you like to know how I know?

Because now he tells me off for leaving the lights on. Reminds me to give him his vitamin. Points out that mommy will be angry if I leave clothes on the floor. Wakes up early because he doesn’t want daddy to be late and lose his job. Tells me to write things down as they come to me because I know I’ll forget.

And quite suddenly, I’m not sure who the grown-up here is. He’s telling me my music sucks, and I’m really sure that’s supposed to be the other way around. He’s giving mommy foot rubs, and telling her she watches too much TV. That nurturing environment? All of sudden he’s taking care of us, the incompetent grown-ups.

Then again, maybe that isn’t too bad a thing. After all, we’ve already taken care of him for eight years; it’s about time we got something in return.

daysarejustpacked