Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sometimes I ask myself "Self, why did you move out of Louisiana?"

Actually, I never ask that.

But here's a really obnoxious news story out of Louisiana anyway.


Strange Attractor said...

Wow, he let's his black friends use his bathroom and everything.

The arrogance here is pretty staggering.

Betsy said...

A friend of mine pointed out to me that in our rush to point out the hypocrisy and arrogance of this man, we are missing an opportunity to have a conversation about what exactly "racist" means. I think she is probably right. Clearly, this man's concept of racism is very different from many UUs (just to pick a group...I think it's probably different from many people/groups).

I think Bardwell's statement about letting black friends "use his bathroom and everything" is the key to understanding (even if you don't agree with) his idea of racism.

This article does not state how old Bardwell is, but he says he's been a JOP for 34 years. Even if you assume he was licensed at 18 (which seems unlikely), that means he came of age in 1957. In the south.

His statement about bathroom use, to me, reflects his understanding of racism to mean segregation. Since I'm already making assumptions about what this man believes, I will carry the argument one step further and say that his understanding of racism is one based in physical behaviors. He does not PHYSICALLY separate from blacks, and he does no PHYSICAL harm to them (e.g., lynching). I think it very likely that to him, he’s come far in race relations.

Again, all of this is not to say that what he did was right or acceptable, but rather to point out that merely shouting “racist” at the man won’t promote a dialog (when does shouting ever but that is another issue entirely) nor will it help him understand why so many people object.

kimc said...

Betsy -- I was just motivated to say that your post was very much in line with our first principle. What motivated me was that I just read another of Robin Edgar's posts complaining that UUs don't live up to what he wants us to live up to. I thought maybe a positive comment was called for to balance the negative.... (and I promised myself that I wouldn't read any more of Robin's posts.... oh well, I'll try again....)

PG said...

"His statement about bathroom use, to me, reflects his understanding of racism to mean segregation. "

But he wants people to be segregated in marriage. Wanting to uphold anti-miscegenation laws that vanished in 1967 -- almost as long as he's been a justice of the peace -- is seeking the physical segregation of the races from each other.

hsofia said...

Whether the man IS a racist or not is beside the point. What he is DOING is racist.

Betsy said...

PG - I see your point, and I think if Bardwell were here that would be one of the best starting places for having a discussion. What I’m trying to get it at is even though we view this as blatant racism, HE doesn't view it that way, even if his viewpoint fails in internal consistency. He wouldn’t be the first person to maintain an incredible level of cognitive dissonance when it comes to race relations.

Hsofia – Again this is an interesting distinction between belief and action. Can one do something (that we perceive as) racist without being racist oneself? I’m not sure the two are truly separable.

hsofia said...

Betsy, who has time to determine whether someone is a racist? ANYONE can do the most outrageously obvious racist thing (like this dude) and still claim to "not be a racist." So are we going to spend time going back and forth ... "yes, you are." "No, I'm not." "Yes, you are." "No, I'm not."

Nobody has time for this.

This guy explains it: How to Tell People They Sound Racist.

PG said...

Can one do something (that we perceive as) racist without being racist oneself? I’m not sure the two are truly separable.

I think people can certainly perceive something as bigoted when it may have actually been due to ignorance. For example, when trying to clarify on a radical feminist discussion board that I wasn't a guy (which they initially assumed I must be because I disagreed with them), I referred to myself as a "woman-born-woman" because this was the term I'd seen on another radical feminist board, used to distinguish women who were recognized at birth as such from trans women. (I hadn't heard of the word "cis-gender" at that time.) One of the commenters immediately declared that I must be trans phobic, because "woman born woman" was a bigoted, hateful term. It turned out the prior radical feminist board on which I'd commented was known for being trans phobic, while the current one was in favor of trans equality, so the terminology used at the former was perceived as hateful at the latter.

I think the commenter who attacked me genuinely, albeit prematurely, thought I was prejudiced against transgendered people because I used a term that she associated with such prejudice. And now that I've thought about the term, I understand why it is considered trans phobic, with its implication that simply because someone's true gender wasn't recognized at birth, that person wasn't "born a woman."

So at least based on that experience, I think one can say or do something bigoted without having any bigoted intention, but your reaction to people's criticism is the test of your character. If I had refused to apologize for having offended people and if I had insisted on using the same term even after being told it was offensive, then I think it would be reasonable to assume I really was trans phobic or at least extremely insensitive to trans people's concerns. However, my course of action was to apologize (while also standing up for myself as NOT being trans phobic), and to learn more and especially to learn terminology that was not biased.

Similarly, if this justice of the peace had reacted to the uproar by saying, "I realize that I should not carry my personal beliefs into my job as a government official, and I apologize for having done so, and if I am factually wrong about there being a higher rate of problems in interracial marriages and for interracial children, I am open to learning about this," I think he would come off as a lot less racist than he has. Ignorance isn't morally wicked, but deliberately clinging to ignorance is.