Thursday, May 11, 2017

How do we confront racism and support people who do? A brave woman in Portland and tube riders in England pose some questions.

(LATE WORD: We have heard that the store removed the flag. Let's hope and work for a time when the Stars and Bars are gone everywhere and forever.) 

There is a Facebook video which is gaining lots of traction showing a woman and her baby at the Extreme Deals store in Portland (600 SE 146th Ave) getting into a confrontation with some store employees and customers when she objects to the presence of a Confederate battle flag rug at the store. This is a white "soccer mom"-looking kind of person who seems like she is trying to do the right thing and she suffers a great deal of intimidating abuse from the clerks and the customers who step in. The video wins people over because she stands up, baby in tow.

A look at the Yelp reviews from the store shows that some of the customers are good with the flag and good with the abuse and are going to step up their shopping there because a white woman did the right thing and stood in there for justice.

It's hard to draw full conclusions from a couple of minutes of video on Facebook. It could be an old video, perhaps store management intervened (as they should have), perhaps people are doing the right thing and pressing the company to remove that flag, apologize and discipline those racist employees and discourage racist customers from showing up. Those are possibilities, and we don't get a final word from the video or the FB posts. It doesn't matter to me if the woman making the video set the situation up, as has been suggested: if the flag was there, she did the right thing. That said, I wish that she had had others with her. And if the facts jive, then people need to be out there protesting and making concrete demands. It's not enough for the rest of us to just take our money elsewhere when these things happen; that woman deserves support, and what she did should be habit for the rest of us.

This could all have gone a different and better way were there more white people around willing to take aggressive stands or defend people who do. We're so doped with "being polite" and "not wanting to cause a fuss" or seeing things from a consumer point of view or just so intimidated by the far-right and the racists that we let stuff go. And that's wrong. The woman in the video gets it right; she makes a public break with whiteness. If she lived down the block from me I'd be at her door with cannoli and balloons. And if the video is the complete story, I would be out there with a sign.

Meanwhile, I saw the following from England. We need to practice and get better at this. This is the kind of thing which should have happened when our sister confronted racism:

A funny thing happened on the tube. Two young, fairly affluent looking racists on the Victoria Line started hassling three teenage hijabis, calling them "smelly foreigners". It didn't seem, from what I heard, to be a focused anti-Muslim thing. It was about getting a sadistic kick out of baiting them, and enjoying their outraged responses.

A woman was trying to talk the girls down -- because, though plainly not intimidated, they were obviously distressed -- saying "ignore them", and telling the young men to "grow up". When they resumed their 'banter' about having to share a tube with a bunch of "foreigners", an elderly black man sitting near them said, "who the fuck are you calling a foreigner?" Which was a good point: their actions were bewilderingly self-endangering, and they didn't look the least bit up to defending themselves. This guy was ready to get up and lamp them. I blurted out something like, "just get off the train you fucking pricks". I wish it had been a more clearly political response than this but, when my knee jerks, it swears loudly. The woman laughed and said "everyone point at the racists", and there was a ripple of a few people jeering them and telling them to "get off".

The backlash unsettled them. They stood there trying to look smug and defiant. I suspect there was a minority in quiet sympathy with the idiots. There was a lot of embarrassment and looking at feet -- and there is nothing the English fear more than embarrassment. There were also, initially, some irritated glances at the girls raising their voices. But the racists looked uneasy, isolated, nervous. They were lucky someone didn't deck them. The teenagers they'd tried to bait looked pissed off, rattled, but also far more confident than their harassers. Once the guys had left, an older man approached the teenagers, apologised to them and complimented them on how they'd handled themselves.

I'm not sure what conclusion to draw from this. In other circumstances, I could imagine that going far more horribly than it in fact did.

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