Calling All White People, Part 37
(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)
By An Average White Guy
TODAY’S EPISODE: Stop looking for “excuses” for racist outbursts
[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]
So, on Sept. 24 a Los Angeles CVS store became—instead of a place to grab a quick bag of M&Ms and a Coke or your latest prescription refill—a venue for a racist tirade by a woman named Heather Lynn Patton that included liberal use of the N-word as well as statements that apparently she’d be only too happy to kill every n****r if only the law would allow it.
This post, however, is not about Heather, though I’ll be referring to her again throughout it, I’m sure.
You see, the reason I’m writing this post and why the headline talks about the need to stop making excuses for racists is that even before Heather had been definitively identified and outed on social media and issued an insincere apology and lost her job—even before she herself blamed the outburst on being drunk—I saw on social media no shortage of people suggesting that she might be mentally ill or intoxicated or whatever and we should withhold judgment and contempt for her.
And yes, these posts (in my observations at least) generally (that is to say, all) came from non-right-wing white people (because the right-wing white people by and large wouldn’t have felt a need to label it racism nor perhaps even consider it wrong nor make excuses for it). So, it was largely moderate or liberal white folk trying to pawn off her racism as the effects of something beyond her control (leaving aside the fact she was, if actually drunk, also driving under the influence, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be trying to advocate for patience and tolerance if she mowed somebody down with her car as a result).
I suppose that wouldn’t make the situation particularly worthy of a blog post here at BGIM Media given all the other racists caught on video over the years and posted online. Except that I’ve seen this before. Not every time a white person yells racist epithets and threatens violence against non-white people, but often enough.
What I have seen is a notable amount of willingness by people who claim to be aghast at racism to explain away the racism as the effect of mental illness or drugs or something similar.
Now, look, I’m not saying mental illness cannot cause racist outbursts. As a professor of psychiatry noted a 2002 commentary, delusional effects of schizophrenia or extreme cases of bipolar disorder can be the primary cause of some racist outbursts rather than something that simply amplifies racist beliefs separate from the mental illness (though I disagree with the way his article seems to edge toward suggesting “extreme racism” might even be a form of mental illness rather than simple a symptom/sign of some kind of existing mental illness already in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—and there are reasons to be very wary of categorizing racism as mental illness). But that’s pretty rare overall.
And having seen my share of people with fairly intense forms of Tourette syndrome, I’m sure there are people with that condition who might randomly shout out the N-word without any racist intent behind it (though I’m pretty none of the people in that kind of case would clearly articulate hatred toward a group of people and a desire to kill them like Heather did, nor use the N-word in such a systematic way).
So, given all that, showing any kind of serious desire to take a “wait and see she might be mentally ill” approach with a Heather like this one (or even a Harold) seems to me more a way to protect a fellow white person than anything else. Because it’s become clear in recent years that most white people hate being called racist even when they clearly are and when they clearly embrace racism, and even liberal white people “knowledgeable” about racism often bristle when a person of color so much as suggests they might have done a specifically racist thing). Whiteness has a tendency to protect itself, and “open minded” “non-racist” white people are often all-too-quick to defend other white people against charges of racism.
The same thing applies with the intoxication angle. Why should we withhold judgment about Heather and her ilk because she might be drunk? Or be willing to forgive her because she said she was drunk?
Look, I’ve never done hard drugs, so I cannot speak to what some of them might do to one’s outlook on race, but my inexpert knowledge suggests to me that even if a really wild drug drives you to eat someone’s face off—as some of them do—I’m pretty sure it doesn’t cause you to discriminate on the basis of skin color when you eat that face. And even if it does, again, that’s a really rare case like a delusional schizophrenic episode that involves a racial focus.
No, what intoxication does typically is to loosen you up to do what you were probably inclined to anyway. Being drunk tends to make a person more open. If they are already in possession of violent tendencies, they let their violence loose. If they are already touchy-feely types, they might become more so. If they are already goofballs, they become sillier.
My dad had a tendency to get violent when he was drunk in his younger years; it’s why my mom left him. But in all my memories of him, I don’t remember him ever being violent even when he was intoxicated, because he had gotten his anger and violence under control—not because he stopped drinking (in fact, he got charged with driving under the influence once when I was a teen, and he drinks a fair amount every day even now, as far as I know, even though he doesn’t go for full-on drunk anymore). The drinking didn’t cause the violence. It just helped to unlock a flimsy door leading to a nasty room.
Being drunk doesn’t suddenly make you want to shout a word that is pretty universally understood in the United States to be one of the nastiest things a white person can say and also want to express your desire to murder people based on skin color. Being drunk just makes you less willing, in the case of someone like Heather, to resist the urge to burst out openly with your racist beliefs.
No, Heather was a racist. And considering that the vast, vast majority (as in, almost all) cases of stuff like this has nothing to do with any kind of impairment, none of us should be rushing to defend a person who behaves like that. Even if you think you might be protecting some fraction of 1% of the population by being careful, that doesn’t help the 13% of people in the country who are Black and get called the N-word far too often and experience all kinds of verbal, psychological, social and physical violence as a result of specific racists and pervasive racist practices and systems in this country. If your job is to throw a large population of oppressed and violated people under the bus to save a microscopic number of people who are almost never going to show up on the radar (i.e. be filmed and posted online), your priorities are out of whack.
Yes, we should be what we can to protect marginalized people (like the mentally ill) and seek help for people with addictions—just like we try to make sure there are accommodations for people with disabilities and such. But you do not protect a vast number of horrible people to protect a tiny number of innocents. Providing wheelchair-accessible entrances and exits is good; not allowing people with infectious diseases to go to hospitals because some people there are immuno-compromised is stupid. Being quick to caution that a racist act is the result of something beyond the person’s control rather than an expression of actual beliefs and actual hate is the latter.
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