So, a week ago I woke up in the morning and pulled out my computer. I dashed off a quick post about a sex-talk I had had with Anna. The idea had been in my head all week and this was the first chance I had to write it down, which I did thinking it might get a chuckle or two. I had Lolly read it over and we laughed at our awesome daughter. Then Lolly remembered some pictures we got for free of Anna that would never be used elsewhere and we slapped those suckers on the post, and I pressed publish.
And then that post became my second-most-read post ever? Shared over five thousand times and counting on Facebook? #1 on the “parenting” sub-Reddit? Seen by thousands upon thousands of people? (Side-note: could somebody please explain Reddit to me? My BIL has tried several times but I still don’t get that place. It kinda intimidates me.)
This is how blogging works, apparently. My most popular post was something I spent probably 20 hours on over the course of several months, and it took every ounce of my soul to find the courage to press “publish.” And my second-most-popular post (which admittedly, only saw about a tenth of the traffic–if that–that the first one saw) took me 20 minutes and a quick read-through directly after rolling out of bed and taking a pee one morning.
Welcome to the Internet, people. Things are crazy here.
Then, later this week…
I posted a story about Lolly and the girls at a park. And things got very interesting in the comment section.
I wanted to follow up on that post because it garnered a response I hadn’t anticipated. The basic premise (if you’re too tired to click and read it) was that an old man asked for pizza at the park, even though it was obvious that it was for my girls. Lolly gave him one. Then he gave it back after Lolly basically begged him not to for reasons of sanitation.
As I went to publish the post, Lolly (who was the one who had this experience at the park) noticed that I hadn’t mentioned that the old man was Asian (which he was). I told her I didn’t think it was a crucial detail because the story stood alone and I’m very sensitive to stereotyping and the assumptions of white privilege (though as I’ve learned in many, many multi-cultural classes and trainings over the years as a therapist, everyone has racial and cultural biases, and it is usually those who believe they don’t who are the worst offenders because they are in denial about their own blind spots–just see the comment section of the post in question for evidence of that!). Lolly, on the other hand, thought it was a crucial detail for reasons having to do with good writing: isn’t good writing most compelling when it accurately represents an occurrence? And wouldn’t mentioning a person’s race be important in creating an accurate mental picture of this thing that actually happened?
I thought she had a really good point. But the thing I was most interested in was how different our impulses were on this issue, and how strongly we both initially felt about them–almost like “obviously it is this because of this.” Usually Lolly and I are in agreement about most things having to do with writing. But on this, we both had gut reactions that were diametrically opposed and very strong.
So, we decided to do an experiment. Instead of deciding one way or the other, we left the question as to whether his race was crucial or inconsequential open for comments. I did so as vaguely as possible so as not to influence people’s perceptions (we didn’t even clarify which of us thought what).
And that’s when things got really interesting.
It turns out, we all feel pretty strongly about this issue, but there is no consensus whatsoever about the conclusion! For any comment that said race was inconsequential, you could find another listing (legitimate) reasons why it might be important and help provide context. And, just like Lolly and I did initially, people seemed to feel very secure in their answers for the most part–almost like their answer was the only possible answer.
Then, of course, there were some people who got mean (accusing others of racism, making broad sweeping generalizations about religion, accusing Lolly and me of purposley implying that the fact that the man was Asian had something to do with his behavior (which, for the record, neither Lolly nor I believe–it seems apparent to us that he had some form of dementia much like my own mother does, which many of you pointed out)). I found these responses especially ironic because they embodied what I feel racism does–making pejorative assumptions about people you don’t even know based on little to no information about them as people (and I should point out that we all have had moments in our lives when we have done this). Also interesting is the fact that these responses generally came from folks who professed some expertise on matters of race or culture. I think it is interesting to juxtapose those mean, accusatory responses with other responses where readers kindly discussed customs of different cultures in a non-accusatory, informational way. The latter seemed to help inform people, which actually expands people’s worldview and makes this planet better. The former appeared to make people feel bad and defensive, which limits dialogue accomplishes little.
All in all, I think every single person who posted did so with very good intentions, hoping to make our world better, and hoping to give the man in the story a fair shake, and hoping to diminish profiling and stereotyping. So thank you for being willing to share your thoughts. It was a fascinating exercise, and I hope we can all walk away from it with further insight into the reality that there are many ways to view the same concept, and that even though we might come to completely different conclusions, very different viewpoints can have total legitimacy and very good intentions.
And isn’t a lesson we all could use? I know I can.
Thanks for broadening my perspective. I really love you guys. And I do mean you. Yes, you, with the nose.
In closing, here’s a funny picture of Tessa: