One thing I find utterly baffling in the whole Walt Baker thing is the amount of people who want to sit around and argue about what’s in Baker’s heart. Like we can’t know that what he did was racist, because we don’t know what’s in his heart.
On the one hand, I get that this is a way that religious language leaks into secular culture without us realizing it. If you can sin by lusting in your heart, even if you never act on it, even if you never even tell anyone, I guess the opposite can be true–that you can act any old way you want, and as long as your heart is pure, no harm no foul.
I don’t understand this, I’m not sure it’s theologically sound, but I see where it comes from.
But it can’t just be religion framing our thinking.
I was thinking maybe it’s just as simple as “I, too, want to be able to do dumbass shit and know that my buddies will step up and smooth things over for me, so I’d better do it for others.”
But the more I think about it, the more I think that this is probably not the case, at least, not all the time.
Because it sounds too much like the “But he loves me” wife-beater defense.
You know, where a person’s outward behavior is atrocious but a person manages to convince herself that there’s some secret inner goodness that can be brought out either by affirmation of that goodness, proper behavior, or just loving said abuser enough.
Which, of course, puts me in the mind of all of the college-rape stuff that came out over the weekend.
And then I realized, I think, what’s going on. Folks have been groomed to provide cover for assholes, to believe that any one of us, at any moment, could be doing something completely ordinary we didn’t mean anything shitty by and someone, somewhere will pounce and declare us racist or sexist or whatever.
And, yeah, that could happen. It does happen. Not very often, but it does.
But then, usually, a decent person says, “Oh my god, I had no idea that doing x was a problem for y reason. Wow. I am sorry.” And then they don’t do it any more.
Or they get weirdly defensive and insist that they didn’t mean anything by it and everybody gets angry and there’s a huge fight, but eventually, once tempers have cooled, they see people’s point.
But the thing is, much like the dude who just doesn’t get that you need to make sure your partner is willing, but who can eventually hear it and get it and grow up and move on, this is a very small minority.
The asshole abusers need us to believe that those groups of awkward mistake-makers are largely the norm and that the asshole abusers are the slim minority in order for the asshole abusers to move around freely being abusive assholes. They shape our beliefs in order to provide themselves cover so that they can have access to victims.
And this is the same, no matter what your political persuasion.
This thing I want to say is a tricky point to make because I believe that play hostility between friends is fine. I engage in it, people I love do it. So, if you have friends you know very, very well, you might be able to joke about a public figure they like being a monkey (either because of stupidity or race or whatever) and they might joke with you in return. I might have a friend or two who could call me “bitch” and still be my friend afterward, but that number is vanishingly small.
Calling President Bush a monkey is mean. Calling Michelle Obama a monkey is mean. Before it is anything else, it is mean. It’s a hostile act. There may be some people with whom you can joke with hostility.
But that number is very, very small.
Most people recognize hostility for what it is. Regardless of what is in your heart.
And that Baker would send this email to this batch of friends, at the very least, indicated that he seriously misjudged with whom he could be hostile in a joking manner.
I called up my dad the other day and read the joke to him to see if maybe it wasn’t some old racist thing that had just had two new folks swapped in to fit current events. And after, I read it to him, he was mad, “Why would you make me listen to that racist crap?” he asked.
And that’s the other piece about the Baker story. If these are his friends, why would he make them read that racist crap?
Some folks have speculated that it’s because he thought they would agree with it. But I think it’s clear from what even Baker said that he expected that he was sending this email to folks some of whom feel positively towards Ms. Obama. He expected they’d be a little put out because he was being hostile towards them (but in a joking manner), but it seems that, in the end, he thought they’d just take it.
That’s a fucked up dynamic.
Ha, you know, it reminds me of Super Troopers, where everyone’s pulling pranks but Farva can’t figure out where the line between funny and scary is. In the end, he’s a bad guy. Even if you can understand how he got there.