From the back seat, I heard my daughter state matter-of-factly, “They just littered.”
“Who just littered?” I asked, curiously.
“Those boys,” she explained. “We just passed them, and they threw garbage on the ground.”
Some old man “Get off my lawn” anger rose in me, and for a millisecond I considered turning the car around so I could shout at the kids.
Then I glanced in the rearview mirror.
As quickly as my desire to yell rose, it dissipated.
The teenagers were African-American, and instantly what should have been a simple case of an adult telling a kid not to throw garbage on the ground suddenly became an opportunity to be a viral video of a white guy yelling at a black kid.
Because that’s where we’re at; it’s easier to knee-jerk and cry “Racism!” than it is to understand any situation.
I will grant you: racism is all too real, and all too prevalent. Barbeque Becky, the woman who called the police on an African-American picnic? I’m gonna go with racist there. Cornerstore Caroline, the woman who screamed that a young African-American boy grabbed her butt when that wasn’t even close to true? Likewise: racist.
But what about Key Fob Kelly, the woman who wouldn’t let a stranger into an apartment building in St. Louis? People said she was being racist, but it turned out she was married to a black man. In that case, she simply did not want to let someone she did not know into a secure building.
Sure, when the TV show Seinfeld presented a scenario where he didn’t let a neighbor he didn’t recognize into his building, it was hilarious. Hilarious, and it made sense; no one really wants to let someone they don’t know into a secure building. Hilarious unless, of course, that scenario involves a white woman and an African-American man. Then she’s a horrible person and a racist. I mean, that’s the only logical conclusion.
Likewise with Permit Patty, the woman who called the police on a child selling water outside her building. The story blew up because Permit Patty is white, and the child is African-American. But why go straight to racism? Why can’t it be that Permit Patty is simply a bit of an asshole who is easily annoyed by children, and leave it at that? Or, maybe I’m going too far by calling her an asshole. Maybe she was just having a bad day, was upset by the noise—which is what she said—and everything got blown out of proportion? Why is it the worst-case scenario is the one we want to believe?
Because that’s how internet justice works. Internet justice is about quick, extreme reactions.
I get why, and I understand the tension.
When you have a president calling racists “fine people,” yeah, it’s a huge problem. When you have swaths of white men angry over African-American football players exercising their constitutional rights before a game it shows there are enormous race issues in America, and those issues are the fault of racist, white Americans.
That said, I’m just not sure knee-jerking to “racism!” as your default response to every situation is going to make anything better.
Because if I, as an adult, can’t tell a kid to pick shit up off the ground without being accused of being something other than a grumpy old man, things won’t ever improve.
Is the author of this article a racist, out of touch old man? Read this and decide.