Yesterday, my friend Allen posted a conversation he’d had where Allen suggested the laws, slavery and other racist systems of the United States had outcomes that were equivalent to genocide. TrollFriend responded that clearly Allen had no understanding of genocide or the evils and atrocities committed in the name of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and others. This is a laughable proposition; Allen has a grad degree in history, but happens to be of African American descent. Then, someone told Allen to “ignore the troll,” and he replied, “nah, he’s actually a reasonable, likable guy, not a troll.”
Except TrollFriend was acting like a troll. His assumption of ignorance, his dismissal of AH knowledge and experience, and mostly his attitude of superiority and knowledge are the epitome of troll behavior. But, because AH knows him to be a decent human being, even as the victim of troll behavior, he had to ensure that TC was not labeled a troll, aka, a “bad person.”
This is an inherent flaw in all of our thinking. We want to believe there are good people and bad people. Corrupt people and trustworthy ones. Cheaters and faithful. That these two groups are made of fundamentally different people, and there is no overlap. But that is not how the world works.
I’m not arguing against the existence of bad people. I know there are people who sample from honey pots that do not belong to them, who cut off drivers in traffic because they can, or who take public jobs just for the accolades and attention. There are people who hate women and want to dominate them and make a pattern out of raping or at least coercing them to have sex regardless of the woman’s desires. There are hurt, broken people who deal with their own sense of powerlessness by becoming bullies. Malevolent narcissists, psycho/sociopaths, antisocial personalities, sadists, abusers and cruel people exist.
But what if most acts of cruelty, rape, racism, sexism, cheating, corruption, and trolling are propagated by people who are mostly good, decent, kind , broken human beings? What if we can’t divide the world into good-guys and bad-guys and tell the difference between one and the other?
Because the worst things I’ve ever experienced or seen were propagated by otherwise good people. An employer who failed to fire the offending employee after a case of sexual harassment, because the plaintiff had quit anyway and, “didn’t have a legal leg to sue us.” Most of the time this boss pushed for women’s empowerment and would not tolerate even the hint of sexist jokes in the break room! This leader wrote policies with a thoughtfulness to racial and sexual inclusion that were LAUDABLE and should be used in more places. But when it came down to a very clear choice between “path of least resistance” and “uncomfortable confrontation with a charismatic bully” she choose the easier path. (I’m looking at you, most Christian churches, it’s not limited to the RCC).
Racism would be SO EASY to deal with if it were a question of racists and the rest of us. BUT so many policies that look value neutral on their face have necessary and logical racist, sexism or classist outcomes. Property taxes – a primarily local business – pay for schools. But this cycle keeps repeating itself: people of color buy a few houses in a neighborhood => one or two families move out of the neighborhoods because they want to “be with their own” => values begin to slip because too many people are selling => more landlords (rather than homeowners) purchase homes and don’t care for them at the level of an owner (nor do tenants, why should they?) => values continue to fall => lower incomes mean lower spending & lower values=lower taxes. All of a sudden you end up with underfunded schools. And that’s not even going to touch on the impact on teachers, students and administration from the falling morale and vague sense that “things are going the wrong way.”
Who knows? MAYBE one family in this cycle was racist enough to actually look around and go “ew, i don’t want to live next to those people” PERHAPS a few families simply thought “huh, the neighborhood isn’t what it used to be.” That’s about all it takes for white flight to begin. But are the 4th, 5th, 6th families racist? PROBABLY NOT. they simply see the trend to schools faltering and values struggling and decide to find something more stable. at some point, the middle-class families of people of color ALSO move out because their motivations for moving in were – STABLE VALUES AND GOOD SCHOOLS.
They aren’t moving out because they are racist. But we see an example here of how racially-toned-shared-subconscious-assumptions end up meaning that people of color are blamed for being the cause and have to pay the greatest price.
Racism, Trolling, Even the sexism that too often leads to “acquaintance rape” or “date rape” are not because there are monsters hiding at every party.