— Would You Defend, in Public, Victims of Hate That You Witness?

September 28, 2013 at 10:25 am | Posted in Online Ministry | Leave a comment

In the four years I’ve been a declared UU, I heard only one sermon in which the minister preached that we must act immediately when witnessing hate speech and inappropriate jokes told at the expense of others.

Have you ever done that? I have but my track record isn’t anywhere near as good at it as it should be. I keep trying, though. Being white, I’m not on alert the way my sisters and brothers of color are. So when a friend, with whom I’m in a pastoral care relationship, began to tell a joke using a highly stereotypical accent meant to convey African American culture, I was stunned. I wondered: How do I address this as it’s happening while still maintaining a pastoral, loving heart?

The friend is suffering from the worst form of breast cancer possible and going through chemo and radiation. The layers of skin on the bottoms of her feat burn constantly, peel and fall off. She’s in very bad shape.

And yet, the joke. To add insult to injury, the characters in it were stand-ins for this friend’s colleagues at work. This friend is white, a human resource professional, and a lesbian.

It took me about 5 minutes to figure it out. With the joke over, I said I was uncomfortable with it and also the way she told it. I asked her if she knew anything about the lives of her co-workers and their families. No, she didn’t. A few minutes passed. I asked her gently if she could understand why I might be uncomfortable with the joke.

She really couldn’t and then said that I just couldn’t take a joke. Couple more moments passed in silence. Gently, I told her that I care about her and would be there for her but under the condition she consider that it’s not okay to tell jokes that take pot shots at human dignity and inherent worth – regardless of race and also especially because of it. I chose to not say I’d withhold my support if she didn’t refrain from such jokes in the future. I chose to not say anything threatening to someone fighting for her life.

She said she would consider what I said. As she continues to heal, I will find an appropriate time to return to this subject with her. Maybe she’ll even bring it up the next time I see her.

Recent changes in laws, a black president and many other advances that work to even the chance for equal treatment in this country are all heartening. Nothing, however, says that things have really changed more … than average citizens speaking out in their daily haunts in the tangible world — and not just online, where people can hide behind anonymity.

There’s a contemporary version of the old TV show Candid Camera called “This Hidden Video.” It recently has created a number of episodes that explore human behavior in the face of ugly hate speech and behavior.

This show has told me more about how this country is changing for the better. Watch the below video of an incident in a Texas restaurant in which a waitress refuses to serve a lesbian couple and their kids and verbally abuses them. Other diners intercede. Meanwhile, while the ensuing scene is hopeful, watch what happens when the scenario is repeated with a gay male couple in the same restaurant. The differences between the two incidents show that biases against gay males can still run much deeper than those for lesbians.

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